Despite a recent slowdown in demand for electric vehicles (EVs), industry experts expect that the North American electric car market will grow in the coming years. This is based on growth factors including financial incentives, increases in battery performance and government policies designed to reduce carbon emissions.
“Government policy (incentives and subsidies) has been critical in driving growth in both the consumer and commercial markets,” said Maria Acosta, director of product management, commercial/industrial, Leviton Manufacturing. “For consumers in the United States, the federal government provides an income tax credit up to $7,500 based on car battery size and Canada has a similar incentive for up to $5000 (CAN) at point of sale under their iZEV program. Apart from this, there are other utility, local and state/providence level incentives, often in the form of rebates.”
“The residential EV charger market is going to see the fastest expansions with the adoption of EVs and the roll out of numerous new EVs from all the major auto manufacturers, including new trucks and SUVs,” said Tom Gilbert, national account manager—IMARK, Siemens Industry Inc. “The key factors driving this adoption are lower cost of ownership, increased ability for charging, battery technology allowing longer drive distances and incentives promoting the change to EVs.”
According to Leviton’s Acosta, 2019 saw a shift from government direct subsidies to policy approaches that rely more on regulatory and other structural measures—including zero-emission vehicle mandates and fuel economy standards that have sent clear, long-term signals to the auto industry and consumers.
Improved innovation and affordability of electric cars is also a factor driving growth. “The prices of lithium ion batteries have fallen significantly over the last few years and industry experts estimate it to decline further over the next few years,” Acosta said. “This already has helped reduce the price of some EVs now available in the United States to under $45,000, including the most popular Tesla Model 3.”
Fleets are at the forefront of a new revolution in mobility. Tracking and data management on usage and location creates efficiency and reduces costs. As technological progress in the electrification of two/three-wheelers, buses and trucks advances, conversions by companies such as Amazon, FedEx and UPS have spurred increases in the demand for charging stations.
“We see tremendous growth in the fleet and commercial vehicle markets being driven by new higher density battery technology, faster DC charging and new regulations in cities banning the use of gasoline (ICE) vehicles for commercial transportation,” Gilbert said. “As companies like Siemens continue to invest in new technologies and services to support EV adoption like faster AC and DC charging, open communications and integration to other renewable sources like solar or battery storage, the common barriers we have seen from companies and individuals are coming down. The growth patterns for fleet and e-bus markets are growing at an extreme rate to meet carbon dioxide reduction initiatives and compliance with many new state and city requirements.”
In addition, on the commercial property side, businesses can profit by offering charging stations to employees, customers or tenants as a “value-add” differentiator reaching a different kind of clientele.
Obstacles to Broader EV Adaption
Many challenges stand in the way of increased EV sales. “Changes in government incentives confuse consumers,” Acosta said. “Some states are charging EV owners fees that experts claim are higher than what the drivers of equivalent gas-powered vehicles are paying in gas taxes. In addition, lower gas prices and a lack of a sufficient number of charging stations that are unevenly distributed across the country. Today, there are about 10,700 public EV charging stations in the United States, compared to 153,000 gas stations. Consumers still see limited EV models to choose from relative to conventional cars. However, major automobile companies have plans to increase their portfolio in upcoming years, and of course Tesla has set the bar higher.”
The Role of the Electrical Contractor
Understanding wiring requirements and installation codes related to EV chargers are basic requirements for electrical contractors interested in serving this market. Distributors who are aware of state and local incentives can provide important support to the electrical contractor on a job. “The traditional contractor has been getting involved with EV charger installations for many years, especially on the west coast, and has become a key part of the overall PlugtoGrid solutions at Siemens,” Gilbert said. “Certified EV installers are showing up all over the United States and have clearly helped to improve the customer experience.”
In general terms, a certified EV installer is an installer with specialized knowledge of the requirements of the installation and charger. “For example, Leviton partners with ChargePoint for our commercial/public charger, which is our Evr-Green 4000,” Acosta said. “We currently offer a One-Year Parts Exchange Warranty, which is included with every charger. The requirement for coverage is that the installer take an online course (approximately two hours), which is the ChargePoint Installation Training Certification Program. This program allows installers to become a certified EV installer under this warranty, gives an excellent overview to the entire process and takes an installer from site assessment all the way through power-up and pinpoint-ing. Upon successful completion of the program, installers will receive a certificate of completion and a PIN required to activate the chargers. The training is free of charge.”
Gilbert added, “At Siemens we have a series of certified installers who have been trained to install our products and provide support when needed. This is not mandatory nor a requirement as many installers (certified and non-certified) across the nation install our chargers. We provide technical support via a 1-800 line and offer online training videos for general contractors, installers, etc. to use.”
As contractors work with the owner or project manager, they should understand the long- and short-term needs of the end user so they can recommend the right type of charger. Most customers still do not understand the options and features available with EV chargers including some that are non-networked (plug-and-play) and others that are networked and have monthly fees for data management. “The electrical contractor has become an educator in the selling cycle, and they will count on their distributor’s support,” Acosta said.
Types of Chargers
Level 1 chargers are plug-and-play ready for EVs with smaller batteries. Level 1 equipment plugs into a standard 120-volt AC electrical outlet and requires a dedicated circuit. The output is 12 to 16 amps. Because of its size, this charger requires a full day (about 4 miles per hour) to charge an EV and is primarily used by consumers in home applications or to “top off” their battery. This type of charger comes standard with electric cars. The connector standard is an SAE J1772.
Level 2 chargers require a dedicated 240-volt AC circuit with an output of about 32 amps and add about 25 miles of range per hour. These are the most popular chargers being used in applications from residential to commercial and public space. The connector standard for Level 2 chargers is also an SAE J1772.
“Since most EV sales in the United States and Canada are for residential use, I would say Level 2 chargers are most popular because they are easy to install and competitively priced so the sale potential is always growing,” Acosta said.
In North America, only Tesla cars require adapters to connect to Level 1 and Level 2 chargers. “For example, The Tesla Model S uses the Type 2 charging standard, which is used for both AC and DC charging, but the cars are supplied with chargers for J1772 connections,” Acosta said. “Car manufacturers occasionally partner with charger manu-facturers to offer a full solution in car buying. The partner relationship between car manufacturers and charger manufacturers is one of convenience to the customer. It simply means that the car manufacturer is working with a supplier to manufacture the charger that comes with the car, or as a full-service option to the end user. This does not exclude the end user from using another manufacturer (if the connector is appropriate for the vehicle). Generally, these partnerships have white label agreements.”
Gilbert added, “Auto manufacturers have partnered with EV charger manufacturers to provide a brand-labeled charger for their vehicles. These chargers are designed to the auto manufacturers’ specifications. These cars can still use all the standard AC/DC chargers provided in the United States and Canada. Some car manufacturers like Tesla will have a unique plug style that will only work with the Tesla chargers. However, all car owners will carry an adapter plug, and they can use any EV charger in the United States and Canada.”
DC Fast chargers convert electricity to DC to feed power direct to the car battery. DC Fast chargers require inputs of 480+ volts and 100+ amps and can produce 80% to a full charge for an EV with a 100-mile range battery in slightly more than 30 minutes. These units are much larger and higher priced, so the most common application is for fleets, but they are also ideal for public spaces requiring a quick charge such as highway rest stops, although charging fees are usually higher.
DC Fast chargers use a different connector standard than Level 1 and Level 2 chargers. Leading fast charging stan-dards are SAE Combo (CCS1 in the United States and CCS2 in Europe), CHAdeMO and Tesla (as well as GB/T in China). Not all electric cars can be charged with the use of DC Fast chargers. At this time, most plug-in hybrid EVs don’t have this charging capability, and some all-electric vehicles can-not be charged with a DC Fast charger, so users must be aware of their connection capability before they plug in.
The DC High-Voltage Plug-In charger is typically used for commercial fleet and depot applications. This unit will provide 150kW of power and utilize a multi-dispenser design allowing one power control cabinet to support up to four remote dispensers. As with the other chargers, this charger provides open charge point protocol communications with ethernet, serial and cellular communications to a remote cloud service.
The Overhead Pantograph High-Voltage DC charger is commonly seen along a street or at a bus stop. These chargers input between 300kW to 600kW of energy in minutes to charge an e-bus on route. These units can also be installed in a depot environment where they are installed in the ceiling allowing hands-free charging for the e-buses. Both styles offer open communications with ethernet, serial or cellular communications.
“The DC Fast Charger demand will continue to increase as newer vehicles come on the market with larger capacity batteries,” Gilbert said.
The biggest difference in the AC and DC fast-charging markets is the charger-to-cloud service offerings. “Some EV charger manufacturers still employ a proprietary communi-cations method that lock an end user into a specific charger and one cloud service provider,” Gilbert said. “At Siemens, we deploy a completely open ecosystem allowing the end user to use our chargers with other cloud solutions or our cloud solution with other EV chargers. As for communications to the vehicle, these are closely controlled by regulations and codes and each EV charger supplier must adhere to those requirements. The physical charging plugs also vary slightly with the J1772 being the most popular, but the CHAdeMO, CCS1 and Tesla plugs are also being used.”
Building Infrastructure for EVs
Since 2015, building codes in California have mandated electrical wiring for EV chargers be included in its building. For the rest of the United States, it is still optional. In many cases, EV-ready and EV-capable provisions at the point of the initial build could save a huge amount of time and money in the long term. “Building codes generally require that the infrastructure be in place to facilitate the possibility of a charging station in the future,” Acosta said. “For one- and two-family dwellings, it’s related to allocating circuits the way you would for an air conditioner and have at least one parking spot with access to a dedicated 40-amp, 208/240-volt branch circuit.”
For multifamily units, some requirements may include charging stations for a percent of parking spaces with dedicated electrical circuitry and capacity to handle a charging station. This would require infrastructure changes at the panel and sub panels. Even EV-ready marked electrical panels near parking spaces have also been specified. “These requirements will add up-front cost to the building process, but they may pay off in the long term for the building owners and avoid future costs to upgrade and retrofit,” Acosta said.
As the demand for EVs and EV chargers has grown, the charging infrastructure continues to improve. “For the consumer, gas savings and reduced maintenance allow buyers to quickly recoup on their investment even though many consumers are more concerned with reduced emissions and their carbon footprint,” Acosta said. “For the commercial customer, the availability of EV chargers in multiple-dwelling units may attract more sophisticated home buyers and increase sales. In addition, building management can install chargers that offer networking capabilities to monitor usage and charge users a flat or monthly fee. In public or shopping area spaces, having an EV charger can increase business traffic.”
In North America, chargers must pass strict safety standards through testing by organizations such as UL or CSA in Canada. Beyond that there are many varied options in aes-thetics and capabilities in the market. “Aside from having the option of Level 1, Level 2 or DC Fast, some chargers are ‘non-networked’ meaning they just charge the EV with no tracking of use or user,” Acosta said. “Other chargers are ‘networked’ meaning they offer to track usage via a cellular or Wi-Fi network to bill or manage the charger. Some chargers require activation through an app or RFID cards while others are plug-and-play.”
IMARK Electrical members who want to effectively partici-pate in this market should “participate in the manufacturer’s training, obtain demos of the chargers, stock AC chargers for quick-ship applications and have contacts with general contractors, engineering firms and municipalities,” Gilbert said. “The EV market is changing very fast, so a distributor needs to invest the time to ensure their staff is fully up to speed with the products and market in general.”
Acosta added, “They should also have some understanding of the needs of the owner or questions to ask (do they want to generate revenue or just offer free charging to customers and employees for example) and have some knowledge of the capabilities of the chargers they offer so they can support the electrical contractor with their questions.”
The transportation electrification wave is growing at a tremendous rate around the world. This can be seen in the billions of dollars associated with auto manufacturers, EV spend with cities/governments and battery plant expan-sions. “This growth is driving an increase in demand for the entire PlugtoGrid offering of electrical infrastructure, chargers and cloud solutions,” Gilbert said. “We have seen the adoption of new electrical codes and city regulations over the years, which has set a foundation for an increased focus on EV in new construction. These building owners are now coming back to purchase EV chargers spurring the growth in retrofit applications and new construction.”
Given the growth reasons and incentives indicated previously, EVSE installation opportunities have developed from just residential applications to more technical and profitable commercial applications such as parking lots, MDU locations, workplaces, retail, hospitality and fleet. “As a result, distributors and contractors are vital parts of the supply chain in being able to support the end user with turnkey solutions for all their wiring needs. A lot of interest can be measured by Leviton’s digital data—our EVSE web-site page has the highest traffic out of all commercial and industrial product lines, and our EVSE social posts receive the most engagement out of all C&I product lines. This commercial interest is expected to continue growing in the upcoming years.”