How to Lighten Electrical Load to Support EV Infrastructure

June 17, 2014 By Ken Sapp

Ken Sapp

Plug-in electric vehicle (EV) pioneers Nissan and Chevy are in their third model years. Ford, Fiat, Honda, Mitsubishi and Tesla have all introduced EVs and BMW is launching two luxury EV models in 2014. This popularity of Long Range EVs means sales of electric and plug-in hybrids could eventually reach 1 percent of the giant annual new car market – approximately 150,000 more EVs on the road every year.

As the technology matures, infrastructure improves, and more and more auto makers enter the market, EVs have become more affordable and attractive to consumers. With President Obama and the federal government committed to getting a million low and no-emission vehicles on the road by 2015, it seems EVs are on the brink of mainstream adoption.

With the increasing sales and growing mass market appeal, now is a good time for facility owners to contemplate offering EV charging amenities for employees, tenants, and visitors. EV drivers usually “charge up” at home while they sleep, but will expect to be able to “top off” while at the places they spend their time – at work, while dining or shopping, or enjoying recreation and entertainment events.

This means investing in EV infrastructure could become a real competitive differentiator in attracting the EV driver population, retaining customers and occupants, meeting government regulations, and ultimately improving profitability. In today’s competitive landscape, facility owners can no longer ignore whether or not to install EV charging stations.

Get Charged Up for EV

There are several considerations when it comes to investing in electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE). Affordability is one such consideration. Many local governments and public agencies support acceleration of EVSE as well and offer their own rebates and incentive programs. For example, California Governor Jerry Brown announced a $120 million dollar settlement to fund the construction of a network of 10,000 EV charging stations across 1,000 locations throughout California. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Charge NY, an initiative to create a statewide network of up to 3,000 public and workplace charging stations over the next five years.

With such support available, it’s more affordable than ever for building owners and operators to purchase and install EV charging stations. However, there are other factors that can dramatically affect the cost of an installation. For example, can your existing electrical infrastructure handle the increased electrical load brought on by EVSE?

EVSE will increase your electrical draw and could overload many current electrical systems, as well as significantly raise the cost of your electricity. If your property was built prior to the 1980s, your electrical infrastructure might be outdated and unable to handle the new load without a complete retrofit. This could add greatly to the cost and scale, and negatively impact your decision to embark on an EVSE project.

Lighten Up to Offload Electricity

Fortunately, there are innovative solutions to this problem. One of the most popular and cost-effective options is to reduce the overall electricity load of the facility before EVSE installation through a lighting upgrade.

Lighting is often the lion’s share of a facility’s energy consumption – up to 39%. Older facilities often have old fluorescent light fixtures and magnetic ballasts that house inefficient T12 or high pressure sodium lamps. Typically operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, this outdated lighting scenario can really drain the grid as well as make energy costs skyrocket.

The first step is to swap out older light fixtures with state-of-the-art T8 lamps, LED’s or other high-efficiency lighting, and replace outdated ballasts with electric ballasts that allow light levels to be programmed to dim during non-peak hours.

Take Control for Maximum Energy Reduction

While upgrading the lights will provide impressive energy improvements, this alone might not offload the circuit enough to support charging stations. To deepen the energy reduction potential and reduce peak electrical demand, the new lighting needs to be paired with advanced lighting controls that include wireless controls, occupancy detection, daylight harvesting and bi-level tuning.

Why wireless? Wireless lighting controls offer the same or better functionality as traditional wired controls systems but at a lower cost and with easier installation. Wireless systems generally don’t require modifications to the existing electrical wiring or addition of new control wiring and can be easily modified to adapt to changing space needs, schedules, or energy reduction strategies through reprogramming. These systems also provide a centralized, web-based dashboard for facility managers so they can track and monitor energy use and adjust controls in real time over the internet from any computer, anywhere.

Consult an Expert

As you can see, installing EV charging stations has the opportunity to improve tenant and customer satisfaction but evaluating your electrical infrastructure is an important part of the project. The EVSE market is rapidly evolving and can be challenging. To reduce confusion and potential risks, it is best to work with an EVSE installation expert that also has energy efficiency expertise to ensure long-term success.

Ken Sapp is vice president of Energy Solutions for ABM.

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