March 2022 / Vol. 27 No. 3
By Mike Majewski, Director, EVSE, Atom Power
There has been significant buzz surrounding the Biden Administration’s $5 billion plan—the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Plan—to build out the nation’s electric vehicle (EV) charging network over the next five years, and for good reason. The country is quickly embracing transportation electrification—from a Super Bowl jam-packed with EV ads costing more than $6 million each to major investments by industry leaders like Ford and General Motors in EV and battery factories.
With an estimated half a million EVs sold in the U.S. in the past year and the trend only rising, states, cities, and utilities are preparing for an increased demand for EV chargers and the infrastructure required to support the additional electrical needs. With this, quite a few challenges will complicate transition if it’s not appropriately planned.
Electrical Infrastructure Challenges Ahead
From zero-emission mandates to an increased focus on corporate sustainability, there are plenty of reasons why fleet owners and multi-family property owners are looking to leverage the $5 billion in government EV infrastructure funding. After all, consumers want to buy EVs, and the new bipartisan infrastructure law is helping transform something that was once “nice to have” into a reality for many Americans.
Electrification is a crucial part of the world’s transition to clean energy. Yet, investing in more EV chargers isn’t the only answer. It’s also essential to pay attention to the electrical infrastructure supplying electricity to the EV chargers. Without a mechanism to help manage the electrical demand and consumption, specifically at installation sites with numerous EV charging stations, the country’s electrical infrastructure isn’t ready for millions of EV owners to plug in.
Automated Energy Management and EV Charging
Whether commercial or multi-family, all buildings have thresholds on the electrical load or demand they can utilize from the electric utility. This demand fluctuates throughout the day, with the highest demand point during a month being the “peak demand.” When electricity use goes above the baseline peak demand, electricity will cost more.
Adding EV charging infrastructure to any building can significantly increase the demand for a building’s electric service. If this additional demand exceeds the building’s current service, the utility will require costly infrastructure upgrades.
For instance, if a building has an electric service rated at 500 kilowatts (kW) with a historical peak demand of 300kW, adding 20 EV charging stations rated at 11.5kW (48A) of new load will exceed the current 500kW service. The property owner will need to upgrade the building’s electrical infrastructure to meet the new service capacity. Not only is this a costly solution, but the timeline to implement the desired EV infrastructure can be pushed out over a year based on site surveys, permits, and the capital equipment required (CapEx), especially if rumblings of extended transformer and switchgear lead times are accurate.
Instead, shifting the focus to energy management as a significant part of the EV adoption equation will highlight its role in reducing CapEx. Commercial building owners, multi-family property owners, and fleet owners can avoid costly service upgrades and predictably manage their monthly energy consumption by leveraging a dynamic Energy Management System (EMS) in combination with a centralized and flexible EV charging system.
Advanced EV Charging with Solid-State Digital Circuit Breakers
Circuit breakers are an essential safety device in every home and commercial space with the sole purpose of mechanically protecting an electrical circuit from damage caused by current overloads and shorting circuits. While a crucial component of any building, these switches haven’t changed significantly in the last 100 years and need a modern upgrade, especially with the rise of EVs.
One solution is to use a UL-listed, solid-state digital circuit breaker. This advanced EV charging solution charges EVs from the digital circuit breaker housed in a centralized smart panel, using a unique EMS system to keep electricity costs low.
Because the digital circuit breaker is the charger and is housed safely in the centralized panel, it’s typically protected in an electrical room or mounted to an outside wall out of harm’s way. Since all of the “smarts” remain covered in the centralized smart panel, the charging pedestals at the individual parking spaces are basically bollards with a simple electrical connection from the panel. There are no costly replacements or repairs needed if the pedestal gets damaged since there’s nothing in it except a junction box. Adding more charging points is as easy as installing another breaker in the panel. Any certified electrician (typically already on-site at the facility) can install and do repairs or replacements should they get damaged, further reducing operating and equipment costs for property and fleet owners.
EV charging solutions can offer more flexibility and dynamic charging capabilities when coupled with energy management. When connected to the upstream building meter, the system can regulate EV charging in real-time based on building load fluctuations to ensure the peak demand is not exceeded, saving the building and fleet owners on utility fees. Traditional scheduling and charging profiles can be adjusted for further energy consumption savings.
A Bright EV Future
Currently, states and cities across the country are implementing “make ready” programs and policies to mainstream EV adoption. States like New York and California are offering rebates for property owners to reduce costs associated with building out EV charging infrastructure, while cities like Seattle and Atlanta require new buildings to plan for EV infrastructure at the time of construction. These programs and policies indicate that there is a bright EV future ahead.
When paired with EV charging, energy management is an ideal solution to support these “make ready” goals and make EV adoption more financially viable for property owners around the country. There will likely be many more hurdles on the road to the electrification of everything, but dealing with exorbitant utility bills and costly capital expenditures on infrastructure don’t have to be part of them. Instead, leveraging dynamic energy management solutions with a smart centralized EV charging infrastructure can make meeting the growing demand for EVs easier, safer, and less cost-prohibitive. ei