Navigant Research Blog

DOE Promotes Workplace EV Charging

Lisa Jerram — February 24, 2013

U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu announced a new EV charging initiative last month at the Washington Auto Show.  This was the Secretary’s last new program launch before he announced he would be leaving the DOE.  The DOE’s “Workplace Charging Challenge” is intended to encourage U.S. employers to install EV charging for their employees.  The goal is to increase the number of employers with workplace charging by tenfold within 5 years.  Program participants make a commitment to “develop a plan for workplace charging in at least one major company location” – 13 companies have signed up so far.

The focus on workplace charging highlights the general consensus that PEV drivers will charge up most often at home, but that the workplace is the second most likely place for charging.  This is somewhat in contrast to the heavy focus placed on public charging spots by the media, some EV charging companies, and indeed the DOE itself.  The DOE’s two biggest EV charging initiatives, the EV Project and ChargePoint America, together lead to over 4,000 charging units being placed into publicly accessible networks.  In his remarks, Secretary Chu noted that many potential PEV customers live in apartments or condos and would rely more on workplace charging since they would not have a dedicated garage unit.

Pull, Not Push 

The workplace charging market faces some of the same challenges that the public charging market does.  One question is: how much should the employer actually charge for the use of the units?  For now many workplace owners will do what the public station owners have done and not charge anything, viewing the charging units as a way to attract and retain employees.  Longer term, they may simply bill employees as they would for parking. This issue is less daunting for the workplace sector than for public charging simply because the workplace units will not be intended as a revenue generator; however, this lack of potential revenue is also why employers need to be encouraged to install EV charging stations, which will cost thousands of dollars. Another potential problem will come as the fleet of employee vehicles grows. Businesses will then have to manage the energy use and, in particular, the potential for incurring demand charges when electricity use spikes.

The DOE workplace charging initiative also reflects the new fiscal environment for the DOE (and indeed all government agencies).  The DOE is offering no specific financial incentives for workplace installation through this program, although employers can take advantage of federal tax breaks for installing EVSE that were reinstated for 2012 and 2013 with the fiscal cliff legislation passed at the end of 2012.  Compare this to the $130 million that the DOE provided in 2009 and 2010 for the EV Project and ChargePoint America programs, via the stimulus package.  Given the political focus on reigning in government deficits, we are not likely to see such an ambitious effort, with a matching price tag, in the second Obama Administration, but we will see smaller-scale funding grants – for example, through the Clean Cities program.  Overall, though, the U.S. EV charging market will be moving forward much more on its own now, with companies and technologies rising or falling based much more on the market pull and not government push.

Workplace EVSE Unit Sales, United States: 2013-2020

(Source: Pike Research)

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