Pecan Street EV neighborhood research subjects gather for a family photo.

Quietly Getting America EV-Ready

From Palo Alto to Denver, American cities are starting to amend their building codes in preparation for an increasingly EV world.

BYLINE: Bill Moore

America is evolving, at least in the arena of electric vehicle infrastructure. Quietly, city, county and state building codes are being amended in preparation for the time when there will be millions of electric cars on the road, most of them recharging overnight.

The mile-high city of Denver is just the latest to revamp its building code requiring homebuilders and developers to make any new home or duplex they put up after October 2016 "EV-ready." That means they will, writes the Denver Post, "need to have the right electrical wiring to support electric vehicle plugs in their garages. At the least, the new homes must have conduits leading to the electrical panel."

The logic here is pretty simple. It may cost less than 10% of what it might otherwise to retrofit the home after it's built. Putting in either the wiring or the conduit through which future wiring can be snaked for the electric car charger in the garage or carport will run only about $200-300, as opposed to ten times that later down the line.

Denver's city council unanimously approved the building code change, along with others seeking to protect firefighters and thwart illegal marijuana growers. In doing so, they are following the lead of other cities around America who are trying to get ahead of the curve on steadily accelerating electric cars sales, which experienced in November, December and January of 2015 and 2016 respectively, year-over-year sales growth. The new Chevrolet Volt, alone, saw a 42% increase in sales for December 2015 over 2014. according the sales tracking website, InsideEVs.

While total plug-in electric car sales (pure electric and electric hybrids) for 2015 where down slightly from and estimated 120,000 in 2014 to 115,000 in 2015, according to Green Car Reports, the end of year uptick strongly suggests EVs are not only here to stay, but they are the "Future In Motion" with Bloomberg's New Energy Finance prophesying, "that in just six years, the biggest obstacle to the sale of EVs - they cost too much - will be obliterated and cars that run on electricity will cost less than those that run on dead dinosaurs."


"By 2022, the unsubsidized total cost of ownership of BEVs [battery electric vehicles] will fall below that of an internal combustion engine vehicle."

"From there, the report projects a steadily increasing rate of adoption, reaching global sales of 41 million -- 25 percent of total market share - by 2040," notes Wired.

It also should be noted that while less than 1% of all new car sales in America are plug-in models, in Norway the number now is already at 28%, and the country is aiming for 100% by 2025.

In California, which has the highest number of registered EVs in the nation, cities there have already enacted building code revisions similar to those now being adopted in Colorado where Boulder County, north of Denver, earlier enacted EV-friendly building code amendments. The Golden State's statewide building code already requires commercial property developers to "provide electric capacity and access to power for 3% of parking spaces."

As of December 2015, the city of San Francisco significantly upped the ante by proposing all new multifamily and new commercial buildings provide 20% of their parking spaces with access to a minimum of 8 Amps of electric power and 40 Amps per circuit. This power must be distributed in such a way that any parking space in the facility on any floor can access the power. States the amendment:

"These requirements facilitate the use of EV charging management systems that will make it possible for buildings to install additional chargers, at minimal cost, for more of their parking spaces as many as 100% of spaces if needed in the future. (The charger management systems allow multiple chargers to be operated on a single circuit.)"

In effect, the city fathers are saying that all new buildings in San Francisco must be ready for the eventuality of 100% of the vehicles being electric in one form of another.

As in interesting side note, there is no similar provision for hydrogen refueling infrastructure for what seems obvious reasons: hydrogen is a highly inflammable gas that requires extensive exhaust ventilation for building safety.

In San Francisco's case, the state's Air Resources Board (ARB) estimates the cost of the proposed EV-Ready Building Code at $114 per parking space as opposed to an "estimated cost of $3,750-$6,975 to retrofit existing buildings with electrical EV charging infrastructure."

Among California communities, Palo Alto pioneered the change, its city council voting 8-0 on June 16, 2014 to require "all new multi-family developments, office buildings and hotels to provide the needed circuitry for easy installation of car-charging equipment. The requirement follows the city's action last year, when it passed a law mandating that every new single-family home be wired for electric chargers." One year earlier it had passed the same ordinance for new, single family residences.

Naturally, home builders and developers aren't especially pleased with the requirement, but then they don't have to bear the cost of retrofitting homes and businesses after the fact. And they can pass this relatively trivial cost on to the buyer or the tenant.

Of course, requiring wiring or conduit in new construction is one thing, providing sufficient electrical current is quite another. What happens, it was long argued, when all those electric cars in the neighborhood plug in at the same time: would it bring down the grid?

There is one neighborhood in America that's already answered that question. Austin, Texas has, in one of its neighborhoods, the highest concentration of electric drive cars of any place in the country. Here there are 21 Volts, 8 Leafs and one Tesla in 30 families, all of whom agreed to have their EV charging patterns monitored. What the Pecan Street research group , a 501C3 located on the University of Texas Austin campus, discovered was instead of all those EVs being plugged in at the same time, only 22% were plugged into the grid during the sensitive 3-7 PM time window when the grid is most vulnerable. The remaining 78% of EV owners charged their cars between 10 PM and 12 midnight with the average charge time being 114 minutes. When a Time-of-Use (ToU) pricing scheme was offered, the number of EV drivers plugging in during the peak 3-7 period dropped to 12%.

Just as intriguing, the average monthly electricity cost to charge their cars was $23.56. Pecan Street CEO Brewster McCracken pointed out, "How many people can run their gasoline cars for $23 a month? Because that's what's effectively happening."

Expect more communities to start adopting similar building codes; and not far behind them, or in some cases, way ahead of them are companies like AT&T and Schneider Electric.

Working in collaboration, these two Fortune 500 companies not only are anticipating those changes, but they recently released a "proof-of-concept" plan to better manage the widespread charging of electric vehicles, especially in the workplace, using AT&T's Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in concert with Schneider's EVLink charging stations.

Says Schneider's Pierre Sacre, director of Electric Vehicle Solutions in North America:

"Around 50 percent of today's electric vehicle charging stations in workplaces aren't connected. As a result, facility managers have limited capabilities to manage and operate their charging stations..."

In reporting on the AT&T Schneider proposal, Energy Manager Today elaborates:

"In [their] vision, the stations will have more than one power level. A fluid formula will be needed to determine the order of recharging and which power level to use. It is important that low battery power not impact the organization's fleet. It is the sort of task that the IoT and the platforms into which the data it collects excel: How to most efficiently get all the necessary cars charged when each potentially must be ready at a different time. This type of intelligence will become increasingly important as the percentage of vehicles that run on batteries grows."

The technology also aims to figure out how much, if anything, the employee needs to be charged for their personal vehicles that are plugged in while at work.

From the home to the workplace to the shopping mall, communities and businesses, large and small, are starting to think seriously about a completely different mobility infrastructure where plugs (or wireless charging pads) become ubiquitous and electric cars not only are personal means of transportation, but also integral parts of a cleaner, more resilient power grid.

First Published: 2016-03-18

Pages Viewed: 569

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