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EV Recharging in Parking Facilities: Problem . . . or Opportunity?

 

(Image credit : David Holtzman, from the Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles via Facebook.)

Technology always moves faster than the capability of human society to absorb the change. Point-in-case is the rapid growth of electric and hybrid vehicles. These mechanical marvels are a growing niche of the international automotive market. Are they an opportunity for parking facility owners . . . or a problem?

EV Owners Jockey for Prime Recharging Positions

What do with EVs is a growing challenge for parking operators. EV owners vie for position near official – and unofficial – charging stations. Many mobility managers who are parking operators have embraced this trend. They have installed charging stations and meter out either the space in time parked (often at a special rate) or the watts consumed.

Some managers, such as the one above, have selected the default “Just Say No” response to anything new.

A popular choice in the industry, Chargepoint, for example, sells and finances EV charging stations with metering capabilities, such as this one. These are mission-specific devices. They are built to enable rapid charging at higher voltages and amperages.

This is unlike the “charging station” in the photo above, which is a simple 120 volt receptacle in a parking garage wall. The receptacle was likely installed to aid in maintenance, provide spot lighting or running small wet-dry vaccuums. However, the receptacles in the PAC garage are evidently being usurped in the absence of a plan to address the growing numbers of receptacle-devouring EVs.

120 Volt Systems Not Ideal for Recharging

As people often do when taken by surprise, they will react instead of act, as seen in the image taken from a recent post on the Shoupista page in Facebook. The sign does not address the problem.

Many EVs can charge – albeit slowly – on 120 volt systems, like the one in the photo. In the course of an eight-hour workday; however, even a 120 volt system can deliver a charge sufficient to drive 30-40 miles. If a driver can find a “free” place to recharge, that is certainly a benefit. Sort of . . .

Downsides to Having No EV Plan: Fire and Cost

As the sign in the image implies, there are some risks to this “free service”. EVs do not charge as efficiently at low voltages. Batteries, particularly older, lithium-ion legacy types, can overheat and even catch fire. While it has been rare, it has happened, for example here and here.

The parking garage may have issues with providing this service as well. EVs may draw 12-14 amps while recharging. A circuit that has only 15 amps – a common size – may trip if a recharge is underway and an employee starts the microwave in the break room.

GM, the maker of the ground-breaking Chevrolet Volt certainly has some reason to take notice of these types of incidents. The safety of its customers . . . and its profits . . . are at stake. Upon study of these types of incidents, it concluded its analysis (available here):

The moral of the story? The condition (worn, damaged or age) of the electrical outlet in the wall is often the culprit due for the increase in temperature to the UL certified cord,” Peterson said. “If the AC wall plug feels hot while charging, then the owner should simply unplug the charge cord and have the AC wall outlet replaced by a qualified electrician.”

So a fire could be caused by the EV. Or a fire could be caused by the facility wiring. Or both. Knowing this, and seeing the condition of this particular receptacle in the PAC garage, it would seem wise for an EV owner NOT to insert one’s plug into any random receptacle one comes upon in a dank parking garage. Nor would it seem apropos for a facility manager to allow such insertion, not knowing the condition of the EV. Recharging should always be consenusal. Ahem.

There is also the cost of this “service” to consider. An average EV might require 20 kW to reach a peak charge (this might take 12-14 hours). At an average cost of USD$.12 per kW, this yields a total of about USD$2.40. If the daily rate for parking in the facility is, say USD$10.00, this represents a substantial 24% discount (subsidy) to the EV driver. Other than saying you’re “green”, there’s not much advantage to the operator in this scenario.

Without a clear policy on EV recharging, you can also get into confrontations with people who believe that your electricity is free (for them anyway). See here where a dispute over recharging ended up in court. This type of event – or series of events – may have been what led to the situation addressed by the sign, above.

A Few Suggestions . . .

We will address charging stations in more detail in the future. However, a few lessons can be gleaned here:

  • A sign, like the one above, is a customer-unfriendly way to solve the problem. We’re going to unplug you and cite you? And then “Thank you”? If the “decision” of management is not to participate in EV recharging, a licensed electrician can place a lock box over the receptacle in a few minutes to secure it from abuse. End of “misunderstandings”, “unpluggings”, “citations” and “thank you for not rechargings”.
  • Mobility managers with parking operations should embrace EVs as a business and environmental opportunity. It’s also a blast from the past. In the first half of the 20th century, many parking facilities pumped gasoline, for example. Today’s EV recharging is a redux of that trend that died out with the spread of the purpose-built parking garage.

(Adjacent image credit: https://www.pinterest.com/steveboxdorfer/old-gas-stations/)

  • Most fair-minded EV customers understand that electricity is not free and are willing to pay a bit extra for a recharging service. Dovetailing a recharging service with other premium services such as reserved or valet parking may also be attractive to some patrons.
  • If you are considering EV recharging, your facility electrical system needs to be examined and repaired to meet the higher demand created by rapid-charge EVs. Be warned: this cost may exceed all other expenses of buying and installing the equipment for a recharging service.
  • Choose a professional solutions provider for the installation and maintenance of the point-of-service. Ensure that your equipment matches your program’s intent (e.g., is power supplied at no charge, charged as a premium parking space or per kW, limited by time, etc.)

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