The United States is in the midst of a national mobilization that will transform our communities and roadways, not to mention the vehicles we drive. The federal government has set an aggressive goal of having half of all new vehicle sales be electric by 2030, and the auto industry has responded forcefully. General Motors plans to produce only EVs by 2035 and Volvo plans to be fully electric by 2030.
These changes will have an enormous impact on cities, developers, institutions and property owners with parking assets who must now figure out how to add EV charging to their parking areas, how much to add and, most importantly, which technology to implement. The federal government is doing its part with a massive national investment in EV charging infrastructure that will improve charging capacity across the United States, but private owners and entities must also act. Now is the time to start creating an EV plan.
It’s anticipated that the bulk of EV charging will occur in parking facilities or private parking areas. Most drivers will charge their vehicles overnight, as they return from work. Others will charge in parking facilities serving their workplaces, or while they shop, go to restaurants, or enjoy entertainment venues. Ultimately, charging will be available wherever people park their vehicles.
Because municipal and state regulatory agencies have already begun to implement EV charging standards, developers and owners in many parts of the United States don’t have the luxury of waiting to figure this out. But, as a rule, these standards only provide requirements that EV charging capabilities be added, and in some cases how many chargers are required for individual uses.
They don’t mandate — or even provide guidance about — which types of technologies owners should use. And as you start to create your EV plan, that’s a vital issue.
DON’T BE RASH
With the pressure of regulatory requirements and the impending influx of electric vehicles into your parking assets, it may be tempting to find a quick solution or the cheapest option for efficiency’s sake. You may want to get it and forget it.
The problem with this approach is that it can tie your hands in the future as you continue to add EV technology to your facilities and the technology evolves. If you do this, you may find your avenues limited. Because you chose the quickest or cheapest option, you may not be able to access new technologies that can improve the charging experience for your tenants or customers as they are introduced.
For instance, if you make a hasty choice you may end up with a closed system with chargers that can only be operated with software provided by the hardware provider. Why is this a problem? With a closed system, your EV chargers can only do what that provider equips its tools to do. If your tenants and customers need additional capabilities, you are out of luck. And if they lag other EV brands in developing new offerings down the road, you are stuck with inadequate equipment and its capabilities (or lack of capabilities). Or you can replace it at great expense. Also, if your equipment has issues, you may be limited to the closed system’s service and repair network, which can lead to lengthy delays and long equipment down times. Also, repairs could be very expensive because you are stuck relying solely on their providers.
So, with a closed system, you are held hostage in a number of ways. You’re limited by their hardware development. So, if they don’t add features in the future that other EV providers do offer, you will be stuck purchasing equipment or software that won’t meet your needs. Unless you change systems, which would be costly. Or you may have to run two systems. Also, you become a “captured customer,” with limited or no negotiating leverage when purchasing new equipment. So, you are hostage to their pricing model as well.
Or, what if you serve different use cases with different patron bases? Perhaps your parking facilities serve a variety of user types, such as hourly parkers, permit parkers and long-term resident parkers. Or maybe your facilities offer different pricing models with transient parkers paying one rate for charging and tenants or permit parkers paying a discounted rate. Not all the major EV software providers can manage such a variety of users.
If your software isn’t able to cater to different use cases and patron bases, you won’t be able to serve your customers adequately. This can put you at a significant competitive disadvantage when trying to attract charging customers or tenants who require charging facilities. And if you are locked into a closed system, you can’t just switch to new operation software; you need to either live with your equipment’s shortcomings or rip your chargers out and replace them.
This will be a particularly acute challenge for parking owners who want to take advantage of business opportunities presented by the failures of others to choose the right equipment. As a parking owner, if neighboring garages and lots, retail and hospitality complexes, or residential developments choose systems that can’t accommodate different use cases or all of their patron bases, the drivers who can’t get their needs met will look elsewhere for user-friendly and reliable charging. This will present an excellent opportunity for owners wishing to monetize their charging services. If you can offer more convenient, efficient and effective charging, you’ll have a tremendous competitive advantage. The equipment you choose, particularly the software that runs it, will be the most important choice you make.
If you hope to monetize your EV charging equipment, a closed system presents additional disadvantages. First and foremost, you’ll need to share a large portion of your revenues with your EV provider. Doesn’t it make more sense to install equipment that will allow you to keep the revenues you are generating by offering EV charging?
Sometimes these providers even insist that users join their network to charge with their equipment. That’s great for EV hardware providers because they have a captured customer base; but it’s not necessarily good for parkers who want to charge their vehicles in your parking facility. Requiring them to join another provider’s network isn’t exactly the definition of good customer service. In addition to aggravating your parkers, this approach dilutes your brand. You want the equipment that you are paying to install, and which is serving your patrons, to carry your brand, not some third party’s. And you want to have the flexibility to manage your equipment the way you want to, not the way some technology provider dictates.
URGENCY VS. OPPORTUNITY
It’s understandable that parking owners may feel a sense of urgency when it comes to choosing and installing EV charging equipment. But don’t make the mistake of merely putting chargers into your parking facilities just to meet regulatory requirements. Do your homework because not all charging equipment, and not all charging software standards, is created equal. Identify your short- and long-term goals for your plan and find the hardware and software that will provide the reliability and flexibility you and your patrons need, and which can grow and adapt as your needs grow. If you do, you’ll have an EV charging solution that will meet your needs for years to come.
Bob Andrews (email@example.com) is founder of Zevtron, an EV charging solutions company.