Charged Up

By on Dec 10, 2018 in Energy, News

ENERGY STAR® certifications have gone mobile. Originally geared toward properties and consumer products, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) efficiency program now includes a scoring system for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

In December 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its inaugural ENERGY STAR specification for electric vehicle chargers. An ENERGY STAR-certified charging station is defined as using 40% less energy than an uncertified one. As EV technology increases its foothold in the marketplace, its capabilities and ENERGY STAR endorsement offer substantial cost, convenience and sustainability benefits.

Moving toward EV-compatibility

EV sales are expected to top 1 million by 2020, up from about 200,000 in 2017. Some observers predict EVs will be the dominant mode of propulsion for cars by 2030, making charging an increasingly significant value consideration for multifamily and commercial property owners.

Driving EVs and using ENERGY STAR-certified chargers can produce:

  • Savings—EVs cost about half as much to drive per mile than standard gasoline-powered vehicles, according to this calculator. Property owners hosting charging stations for tenants and customers can control costs by anticipating the need for new EV equipment, upgrading electrical service to accommodate it, taking operations and maintenance costs into account, and researching incentives that make installations easier and less expensive
  • Efficiency—EVs convert about 59–62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels, whereas conventional gasoline vehicles convert about 17%–21% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels
  • Convenience—Most EV charging happens at home or work, giving property managers who offer this capability a competitive advantage. But what if those places aren’t available? Locate the nearest public charger location in the U.S. here
  • Smart technology—Some ENERGY STAR-certified EV charger models use Wi-Fi technology for remote power monitoring and control of the charging state of the connected vehicle. These “smart-grid ready” products can also help households and property managers take advantage of special energy bill savings programs offered by some local electric utilities

With EVs becoming increasingly viable, many residential managers are striving to make EV charging stations an amenity for attracting sustainability-minded residents, right up there with the community pool or onsite gym. A survey conducted by Shelton Group in the fall of 2017 for the National Apartment Assn. found that EV charging stations are moderately to extremely appealing to 53% of renters considering an apartment community. And, DOE says, “Workplace charging can help attract and retain a cutting-edge workforce and demonstrate leadership in adopting advanced technologies.”

Resources catching up

The EV charging infrastructure hasn’t always kept pace with EV demand. “Typically, EV charging locations correspond to popular places such as city centers, shopping areas, train stations, and university campuses. These highly visible, highly active places tend to be host to relatively short parking times and high rotation rates, so they only meet the daily charging needs of a few users,” researcher and educator Carolyn Fortuna observed on the clean technology website CleanTechnica in May 2018.

Moreover, noted another CleanTechnica contributor, hosting EV charging facilities poses unique challenges for multifamily housing property managers, foremost of which is potentially limited electrical wiring and transmission capability. Multiple plug-in vehicles create “a significant high-density draw on the grid that can easily overwhelm the electrical system of a multifamily housing complex,” assuming the building owner has agreed to invest in EV charging equipment in the first place.

Government entities, including the EPA with its ENERGY STAR certification, and private interests are making investments to overcome these shortcomings and make EV technology more accessible. DOE’s Workplace Charging website and Clean Cities’ Workplace Charging Toolkit, for example, offer resources for helping employers and communities implement EV charging programs.

While states such as Indiana and Minnesota add registration fees for battery electric vehicles, the federal government and some states offer tax credits for purchasing certain types of EV. EV drivers in Hawaii and Maryland may use high occupancy lanes regardless of the number of passengers and are exempt from parking fees. See other examples of EV regulations and incentives.

Filling an early niche

EVs were a hit with the automobile-buying public after debuting back in ’89. That’s 1889, more than 60 years after the first crude versions went into production. By 1900, 38% of U.S. cars were powered by electricity (with 40% powered by steam and 22% by gasoline), vs about 1% today.

EVs faded by the mid-1930s with the development of better roads the discovery of cheap Texas crude oil. They came back in vogue in the 1970s and even went extraterrestrial when U.S. astronauts rode electricity-powered Lunar Rovers on the moon. Interest waned again amid EV performance limitations before state and federal development incentives in the early 1990s inspired automobile producers to take another look.

Finding a mass market

In 1997 Toyota introduced Prius as the first mass-produced hybrid. Subsequent government and private investments created 18,000 residential, commercial and public chargers by 2013. The price of batteries, EVs’ most expensive components, dropped by 50% within four years in the early 2010s. By 2017, according to University of Michigan researchers, 16,000 US public charging stations and about 43,000 individual charging connectors or plugs were in use. DOE counts about 855,000 plug-in passenger vehicles on the road today in the U.S., with consumers having 23 plug-in electric vehicles and 36 hybrid models to choose from.

ENERGY STAR-certified charging stations combine with ENERGY STAR benchmarking to offer potentially huge benefits for consumers, the environment, and multifamily and commercial property operators. According to DOE, “If the U.S. transitioned all the light-duty vehicles to hybrids or plug-in electric vehicles, we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 30-60%, while lowering the carbon pollution from the transportation sector by as much as 20%.”

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