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Electric cars are here to stay…
Electric cars are here to stay…
Electric cars are here to stay. Global electric vehicle sales will top 2 million in 2018 and sales in China alone will exceed 1.5 million1. Barring a cataclysmic event or sudden development of a new technology, we will see ever increasing numbers of electric vehicles in the future. Several European countries are talking of banning petrol and diesel cars by 2040. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) forecasts that up to 45% of car sales in Australia will be of electric cars by 2036.
So, how are we responding to these projected needs in the planning, development and building sectors? One word: Inadequately. Buildings and infrastructure designed and constructed today will be around for many decades to come, and it makes no sense not to incorporate facilities for electric vehicles.
Anywhere cars are parked will need charging stations – residential developments, retail complexes, entertainment venues, offices, transport interchanges, airports, hospitals, medical centres, sports arenas, schools, etc… We will expect charging facilities just like we expect running water and mobile phone service.
We see projects daily at WT Partnership’s (WT) offices which do not reflect the forecast increase in electric vehicle usage. Plan after plan, drawing after drawing, there is a conspicuous absence of consideration when it comes to our country’s emerging transportation requirements.
Few defined standards for charging stations currently exist. While the industry is gravitating towards a small number of norms, much remains in development. That said, electric vehicle charging stations can generically be grouped into three categories; Level 1, 2 and 3 chargers which are suited to different locations (top up chargers vs. full re-charge), have varied time frames for a full recharge (from 20-30min up to 6-8 hours), and with differing electrical input requirements (using Society of Automotive Engineers(SAE) terminology);
The installation of a charging station is, however, more involved than just deciding what type to install. Physical space, electrical infrastructure, and payment all need consideration in the base design. Retrofitting space and infrastructure into a building designed without charging stations will be significantly more difficult and expensive than including them in the original design.
Looking ahead 20 or 30 years, based on what we know today, it is not unreasonable to expect 30% of cars to be electric. The designs we produce today, therefore, need to include (at the very least) physical space for chargers, in addition to structural and systems designs which will not prevent or preclude the future installation of charging stations. Chargers need floor area, and will also require bollards for protection from vehicle impact, which will remove ~0.5m from the length of a car park space. For a residential situation, the design should allow for a charging station for every space, so either already ‘optimised’ narrow roadways get ~1m narrower, or the car park needs to get larger. Reducing the number of parking spaces is not an option, and if it is a basement car park the cost of ‘digging a bigger hole’ would dwarf the costs of charging stations.
Electrical infrastructure is foundational to the incorporation of charging stations in buildings. Simplistically an additional 1000kVA substation will be required for every 90 charging stations. An entertainment venue or shopping mall could have 500 charging stations, so will need the spacial provision and electrical capacity for 6 additional substations, and each substation will also need a significantly sized distribution/metering panel to supply the charging stations. On-grade car parks will need underground conduits to every space, and these provisions are all significantly more expensive and difficult if not part of the initial construction.
We also need to factor in who will pay for the power. In a residential scenario, this should be simple, i.e. the tenant or homeowner. In a building with multiple units, each charging station needs to have a security feature, such as a card-swipe linked to the building security system, to avoid a tenant plugging into his neighbour’s charger. The power to each charging station will also need to be separately metered (at additional capital expense) and these meters linked back to a utility service provider. The costs and added complexity of these additional system interfaces being set-up and maintained must be part of the design planning and costing.
In a tenanted office, does the employer or employee pick up the cost of the power? If it is the employee, how is billing processed? Does the employer receive a bulk bill and then absorb the expense or pass it on to the respective employees? How are these plans of power usage developed? Will there be an introduction of peak and non-peak charging hours by the power suppliers?
In a retail or entertainment venue, would the mall/stadium/venue owner or operator make the charging stations free-to-use as a means of attracting customers and then recover the costs through marginal increases in rents, or would an EFTPOS-type system be added to the charging stations?
Why are we not addressing these issues now? Capital costs are certainly a factor. Building owners and developers are often not willing to add ‘unnecessary’ costs to construction. As design and construction professionals, we have a duty to elevate the conversation. We must ensure that our advice, guidance and contributions yield designs compatible with our evolving transport needs. We can inspire and influence our clients to be innovators in building communities that are ready to face tomorrow. Electric vehicle charging stations will be a must in the very near future. Let’s get ahead of the curve and demonstrate our expertise in planning for that future.