Development magazine first reported on the charging station needs of electric vehicles in the Spring 2010 issue. Back then, the topic wasn’t top of mind for commercial property owners. Now, momentum is increasing as plug-in cars become more visible on the nation’s highways.
Currently, there are more than 45,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Pioneering developers such as Stiles and First Potomac Realty Trust are testing the waters as part of their long-term commitment to sustainability. Others, such as Simon Property Group, are forging ahead, having installed approximately 50 EV charging stations at shopping centers and malls in multiple states. By 2017, a new report from Pike Research forecasts that more than 1.5 million locations to charge vehicles will be available in the United States, with a total of 7.7 million locations worldwide.
Commercial property owners can choose between purchasing the equipment and managing any revenue flow themselves, or partnering with an electric vehicle service company to handle some or all of the details. Service companies such as 350 Green, Car Charging Group and Plug-in Vehicle Solutions offer an alternative by assuming the capital cost (and risk). While the property owner may have to pay for equipment installation, these companies handle the maintenance and set up the fee structure for customer charging.
An Owner’s Perspective: Adapting to Tenant Need
First Potomac Realty Trust currently has two car charging stations between two of their properties, Three Flint Hill and Atlantic Corporate Park. “We started researching the potential benefits of installing the stations when the president of a company interested in leasing space at Three Flint Hill mentioned that he had an electric car. It was that deal that drove us to move forward on the installation process,” remarked Judith A. Tria, vice president, property management.
“One of the ways real estate developers can do their part to fuel electric vehicle adoption is to provide car charging stations as part of the amenity package at appropriate sites. The two suburban properties selected are acting as test sites to judge the success of the initiative on a building-by-building basis. Tenants have become more environmentally conscious and do ask about issues such as green power, recycling and sustainability, so adding an environmentally friendly amenity to a property is one way to show this attention to tenant need,” noted Tria.
After a thorough research process, First Potomac contracted with Annapolis, Md.-based SemaConnect, a developer and producer of smart EV charging stations and EV driver software. SemaConnect has a client list that includes Johns Hopkins University and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, among others.
Initial calculations projected the costs to range from $3,000 to $7,000. In the end, the Three Flint Hill installation cost approximately $5,000. The main determining factor of the cost is where the station is located on the property and its distance from the main power source to the building.
According to First Potomac’s contract with SemaConnect, there are no maintenance costs for the first year, but they will start paying $25 per station/month in the second year. “That fee will cover 24/7 call support, software upgrades, cellular communication costs and systems health monitoring. The actual installation at the site took only two days with SemaConnect managing the surveying and permitting processes. Though there is a revenue sharing option, First Potomac made a conscious decision not to charge tenants at this time. Usage can be monitored on a regular basis, so if it shows potential for a strong revenue stream, charging for the service could be re-evaluated. While there were no government incentives, First Potomac will receive LEED points for having the stations on site. The cost of installation and maintenance is so small when compared to a major redevelopment that it made good business sense to do it,” said Tria.
Understanding the Options
SemaConnect notes that the price for charging stations varies so it’s hard to determine whether the price is stable or not. Charging stations fall into a few categories that must be determined first with these questions:
- Is the station for residential or commercial use? (commercial use costs more)
- Is the station Level I, II or III (DC Fast Charging)?
- Is the station “smart” – does the station simply charge a vehicle, or is there wireless and data connectivity inside the station itself? Is it networked? Wireless stations use cell phone service and technology to communicate with each other, SemaConnect servers and software. Without wireless, there is no data collection about usage.
- Is there software associated with the particular station that brings an added benefit to the electric vehicle driver who is using the station and the station owner managing the station? Software allows drivers to access information on their usage and text messages and/or emails when their vehicle has completed charging.
This SemaConnect electric vehicle charging station can fully charge a car in as little as three hours. The unit’s power demand is equal to that of an electric oven or dryer.
“Commercial chargers typically cost $1,000-$6,000. There are government programs that give free stations, but even with those programs, many commercial real estate companies would rather purchase a station from us outright and be able to control their return on investment with our software capabilities for new revenue,” said Naly Yang of SemaConnect.
SemaConnect’s stations are roughly $3,500 with free software. Electric vehicle charging station prices range from $.50 to $5.00 per hour and more. SemaConnect builds its own stations so the payment is very flexible. The stations can be in an open network or restricted only to tenants with RFID cards that work like EZ passes used by commuters.
What about the Parking Garage?
According to Walker Parking Consultants, the sales of electric vehicles are ramping up slowly. They believe that market penetration adequate to reach even five percent of vehicles on the road is at least a decade in the future by even the most optimistic projections. Walker recommends providing service in new parking facilities to charge three to five percent of office/retail parking stalls, but installing only a few charging stations now.
According to Walker, Type II chargers which meet Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J1772 standards, fully charge most models in four to eight hours and cost about $2,000 to install, although some subsidies for installation are available. Mary S. Smith, senior vice president, Walker Parking Consultants, recommends installing a commercial charging system such as Charge Poin™ and charging users for the recharge during the day to get revenue. Having to pay for charging will also encourage people to recharge at night, at home, which will reduce the number of chargers a property owner would have to install.
Smith says that DC Fast Charging units are not yet ready for prime time. There is still no SAE standard for Type III charging, which will charge to 80 percent in 30 minutes, better serving short-term customer parking. The early models of Type III chargers are significantly more expensive than Type II with most costing $30,000, although Nissan has introduced one at $10,000 per unit. However, until SAE issues a standard there is no assurance that all EV models on the road will have a universal plug. There is also a potential issue with the power supply for Type III charging; the early models require 400 to 500 volt, 230 amp service. Power to commercial buildings in the United States is typically 480 volt but only 200 amps and thus may not be adequate to truly achieve a quick charge. Therefore, Smith does not yet recommend Type III charging at this time.
“The other issue that has begun to arise is accessibility,” notes Smith. There are currently no specific ADA requirements for electric vehicle recharging. It is further very difficult to design an accessible parking stall with a recharging station that is universally accessible because the plug-in point on the vehicle varies by auto manufacturer. Walker Parking Consultants does recommend that specifications for charging stations require that the controls and operating devices meet requirements for reach ranges, which can be met by most units on the market now. They further advise all owners installing recharge stations to adopt the ADA reach range guidelines for gas stations, which are available at www.ada.gov/gasserve.htm.
Types of EV Charging Stations
Type I: You “plug-in” your vehicle to a standard 120 Volt outlet at home. Pro: Everyone has it. Con: It takes 20+ hours to recharge some electric vehicles (EV) fully, i.e., Nissan Leaf.
Type II: Pro: Has the J1772 standard plug-in from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). It charges an EV in around four to eight hours. The price can range from $700-$6,000 dollars, based primarily on how technologically advanced the station is.
Type III (DC Fast Charging): Pro: Known to recharge an EV in about 30-40 minutes. Cons: There is still no SAE standard plug. The high cost of building the station and the extremely high cost of installing it.
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