EV (Electric Vehicle) Infrastructure: What It Is And How Installers Can Get Involved
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
As the clean energy movement gains steam, more homes and businesses are installing solar energy systems and electrifying their vehicles. Currently, zero-emissions vehicles make up less than 1% of cars on the roads in the United States, but that number is expected to increase dramatically.
General Motors pledged not to sell gas-powered vehicles by 2035. In California, Governor Newsom announced that only zero-emissions cars and passenger trucks will be sold by 2035.
The majority of electric vehicle owners charge at home, and 40% own solar systems, according to SolarEdge. The rise of zero-emission vehicles creates an opportunity for solar companies to install the residential and commercial charging infrastructure needed to make the shift. Likewise, solar energy can help power these vehicles instead of relying on fossil fuels from gas stations.
What Is EV Charging Infrastructure?
There are different types of charging equipment for electric vehicles, known as electric vehicle chargers or electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE). The charging infrastructure industry created a common standard known as the Open Charge Point Interface (OCPI) protocol between EV charging stations and a central management system to facilitate communication between different vendors.
It is helpful for solar installers wishing to install electric vehicle chargers to get familiar with the different types of chargers available. Many solar companies also install EV chargers, especially Level II models.
Level I Chargers
Most electric vehicles are compatible a Level I charger. Although this is the most economical charging option for most households and businesses, it is also the slowest. Level I chargers use 120-volt power and therefore do not require any electrical system upgrades.
Unfortunately, it only charges a car about 2 – 5 miles of driving range per hour, and a full charge can take 24 hours. Thus, this option is impractical for some due to long charging times but may be sufficient for many commuters. Both Level I and Level II charges use a J1772 port.
Level II Chargers
This option allows for 10 – 20 miles of charging per hour and uses 240-volts of power. Most EVSE ports at public charging stations are Level II, with a smaller amount of Level III chargers. Level II chargers come in various amperages, typically ranging from 12 amps to 80 amps and typically ranging from 3 – 20 kilowatts of power. Some Level II wireless chargers do not require connecting the vehicle to the charger with a cable. These are expected to increase in prevalence with technology advances.
Numerous manufacturers make these devices, but they require 240-volts running from the breaker panel to the device. Some household appliances also use 240-volts, like many electric ovens or water heaters.
Level III Chargers
Also known as DC Fast Chargers or DCFC, these devices are primarily used in commercial and industrial applications. Unfortunately, they are prohibitively expensive in many applications because they require specialized equipment. DC fast charging can provide an 80% charge in 30 minutes, making them ideal for roadside charging.
Not all Level III chargers are compatible with all vehicles, and these devices use either a CHAdeMO, CCS, or Tesla port, and they don’t use the J1772 port found on Level I and Level II chargers.
Electric Vehicle Range
One critical aspect of EV ownership is the driving range. This depends on the capacity of the battery and the efficiency of the vehicle. Because EV chargers are not as widespread at gas stations and they take longer to refuel, range anxiety can be a big issue for EV drivers.
The EPA rates the range of various vehicles, which spans from 110 miles for the Mini Electric Cooper to 353 miles for the Tesla Model S Long Range. Likewise, the efficiency and battery capacity of different vehicles varies. For example, the 2021 Tesla Model S Long Range battery capacity is 82-kilowatt hours, compared to a 32.6-kilowatt-hour battery in the Mini Cooper.
There are also a variety of plug-in hybrid vehicles on the market. These enable drivers to run in electric mode with power from the battery for a particular range. Then when the battery is depleted, the car automatically switches to use gasoline in an internal combustion engine. As of 2021, there were 32 different plug-in hybrid vehicles on the market in the United States.
Current EV Infrastructure
Currently, the charging infrastructure is owned and operated by a variety of public and private entities. As electric vehicles become more prevalent, it is critical to have fast and convenient charging infrastructure in place as drivers transition away from the internal combustion engine. Although most electric vehicle owners like home charging, this can be difficult for apartment dwellers. Likewise, it is essential to have vehicle charging options away from home, in shopping centers, parking lots, and workplaces.
Some employers offer charging opportunities to employees to encourage electric vehicle ownership. Often, there are more EV chargers in high-density areas, available to use when people wish to access them. In rural areas, drivers typically have fewer chargers available, adding to vehicle range issues.
The Future Of Elective Vehicle Charging Infrastructure
The most robust charging infrastructure exists in California, where the government has invested over $2 billion over the last decade in electric vehicle incentive programs, including equality in the distribution of chargers. Yet, a more robust charging infrastructure is needed to meet the growing demand for charging throughout the United States. Also, studies have shown that chargers aren’t evenly distributed in predominantly Black and Hispanic California neighborhoods, raising equality concerns.
The Biden administration plans to expand the electric vehicle charging network, and its infrastructure plan dedicates billions to this cause. However, some investment is needed for the electrification of the transportation industry, especially in charging.
Likewise, the Biden administration aims to have half of the all-new U.S. vehicle fleet electric by 2030, and he has the backing of U.S. automakers. Of course, such an achievement will also require a massive increase in charging capacity.
How Can Solar Installers Get Started With EV Infrastructure?
Because the electric vehicle industry requires a scaling up of infrastructure, it presents a prime opportunity for solar installation companies to grow their businesses and diversify their service offering. In fact, installing electric vehicle chargers requires similar knowledge of electricity and should be completed by a certified electrician. Many solar companies already have licensed electricians on staff and can easily expand their services.
Likewise, solar panels and electric vehicle chargers go together like wine and cheese or peanut butter and jelly. And, many solar shoppers also own or plan to own an electric vehicle in the near future. As a result, some will be interested in installing an electric vehicle charger now in preparation.
In many cases, it is also a good idea to oversize the solar system in anticipation of the additional load of electric vehicle charging. Estimating the extra load can be a bit tricky and depends on how much they drive the electric car, its efficiency, and where they charge. All of these scenarios present an opportunity to increase sales while offering more value to customers.
Building The Next Generation Charging Network
As the U.S. gradually electrifies the transportation sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, work is needed to create the charging infrastructure necessary to power these fleets. In addition, it creates a valuable opportunity for solar installation companies to expand service offerings to provide more renewable energy options to customers. The proposed infrastructure bill could help accelerate the deployment of a charging system and EV adoption.