First Look - Charge It Up

Spring 2010

It’s no surprise that places like Walnut Creek and San Jose, Calif., are on the forefront of sustainability. With the anticipated arrival of the Chevy Volt in late 2010 and Nissan Leaf in 2012, parking garages there are gearing up for electric cars. Two or three years from now, competition could ensue from parking garages that provide charging stations and those that do not, said John Judge, Associate Vice President, Desman Associates.

Judge noted that while there are upfront costs involved -- the charging stations themselves and the required electricity infrastructure -- real estate owners in California are installing charging stations as part of their sustainable initiative, keeping a share of the electricity revenue generated from the stations.

One additional feature of the electric vehicle initiative is the opportunity for advertisement. When the electric infrastructure is installed, the California owners use the feature in a broadcast effort regarding the overall development and the availability of the car charging technology. One nice feature of the vehicle charging stations is that they can typically be accommodated without an increase in building space compared to a traditional parking layout.

According to Walker Parking Consultants, details of the infrastructure requirements for plug-ins are not quite ready for prime time. The Society of Automotive Engineers has not yet issued its standard for recharging couplers, which would be a coupler that would extend from a fast-recharging station to plug into the vehicle. It must not only carry the power, but communicate data about the vehicle being recharged, and have safety features (i.e., shut itself off if somebody forgets to unplug it and starts to drive off.)

In addition, devices are in development that would allow plugging in the vehicle upon returning home from work, but not begin charging until 10 p.m. or later. Why? Because it will be significantly less expensive (many estimate one half) the cost to recharge at home at night, when there is the most capacity in the grid for recharging.

Given that there will almost certainly have to be incentives to recharge vehicles at night, Mary S. Smith, senior vice president, Walker Parking Consultants, recommends that real estate owners constructing new parking garages assure that there is adequate power capacity to the building to "fast charge" vehicles at three percent of the stalls in commuter and transient parking facilities. An owner wishing to be as green as possible probably should only provide recharging stations for at most one percent of the stalls, adding more recharging units as needed.

Smith recommends installing a commercial charging system such as Charge Point™ and charging customers for the recharge, in order to encourage night-time recharging which is far more sustainable.

For more information