DC charging stations provide a significant benefit to electric vehicle (EV) drivers by allowing them to recharge in 30-60 minutes. But while the market for DC chargers is growing, it is doing so at a relatively slow pace, thanks to the cost and complexity of deploying the chargers. A new report by North Carolina-based firm Advanced Energy on its DC fast charging deployment coordination project describes how the company found five hosts to deploy DC fast charging stations, provided for free of charge by Advanced Energy. The report serves as a useful primer on EV charger installation generally and fast charging specifically. It also gives a sense of how the public charging infrastructure market, while continuing to grow in key markets, is still in an early adopter phase that requires infrastructure companies to spend significant resources educating potential customers and guiding them through the planning and installation of EV charging.
Advanced Energy launched this initiative to deploy up to 10 DC fast charging stations for public use in North Carolina in March 2013. Sixteen host sites applied for the equipment, with five ultimately installing it. The site selection process highlights the practical considerations that must be taken into account by businesses interested in offering DC charging. In this program, host sites are responsible for both installation and operational costs. With installation costs expected to range from $20,000 – $60,000, a free charger becomes much more expensive. Not surprisingly, these costs were two of the top factors that prevented some applicants from deploying stations.
The Cost of Power
Installation is also a barrier for Level 2 commercial charging, as the cost of trenching or boring from the charger site to the electrical breaker box are significant for any type of charger, Level 2 or DC. Limiting the distance from the circuit breaker to the charger is essential to minimize installation costs, but it’s not the only consideration. The site also has to be one where a DC charger, with its large footprint, can fit without reducing the parking space. The report also recommends that the chargers be placed away from other infrastructure and nearby trees. And of course the spot must be readily accessible by drivers.
In addition, the DC charger’s power requirement is a major cost factor. The chargers use three-phase 240V or 480V input; if the site is not already equipped for this, it is a significant added expense. Then there is the issue of ongoing power demand. Thirty-kilowatt (kW) and 40 kW DC chargers run the risk of triggering demand charges for customers if they exceed a certain level under their utility rate agreement.
Successful But Unprofitable
The good news is, the sites that installed chargers are seeing rapidly increased utilization. Two spots — a large retail outlet and a municipal center – reported around 500 sessions combined in the third quarter of 2014, up from 350 over the previous two quarters. Energy demand per session has also risen. Note that the stations are currently free to use; nevertheless, given that this is very early in the deployment of these stations, and there are fewer than 3,100 PEVs in all of North Carolina. The success of these DC chargers provides evidence that, if you install them, drivers will come.
This conclusion is also supported by the experience of the first fast charger deployed on the Chargepoint network. The 25 kW Fuji fast charger, operated by charging services company Evoasis, was installed at a Marriott in San Juan Capistrano, roughly halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. After 18 months, Chargepoint reported that the station had delivered 2,900 charging sessions. While the station was free for the first few months, Evoasis began charging $10-15/hour in early 2013. Usage remained steady and Chargepoint reports that the station generated $10,000 in revenue over its first 18 months.
However, the 250 sessions a quarter reported for the North Carolina stations is less likely to make DC charging adoption look like a profitable enterprise for the near-term, given the expected cost of $30,000-$60,000 to purchase and install. At this stage of the EV market, DC charging will likely require either innovative financing options – perhaps leasing to own or financing with no interest; offsetting incentives, either from government or programs such as this; or alternative revenue models like advertising.
Tags: Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, EV Charging, Transportation Efficiencies
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