How to expand your EV charging business

Shane Thomas from installers ICEE Managed Services explains why electric vehicle (EV) workplace charging units and related infrastructure represents a major business opportunity for electrical wholesalers.

A silent revolution is happening on our roads. The almost noiseless electric vehicle (EV) is moving from a minority interest to the mainstream. A clear sign is big investments by major car manufacturers. Many already offer one or more hybrid or purely electric models. In the future, some will be going further and dropping the internal combustion engine altogether.

Helped by government grants over several years and aimed at the private vehicle buyer and the commercial market, EV numbers are multiplying. Government motives are simple but essential – cut toxic pollution from vehicle exhausts, improve air quality at the local level and support steps to reduce global warming. By the year 2040 UK legislation will end the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans. The public recognise these important points and principles. Increasingly, the EV is becoming socially and ethically acceptable. More and more people are buying them.

The trouble is, a nation-wide infrastructure of battery re-charging points lags behind vehicle uptake. EV charging provision has to become as ubiquitous as petrol and diesel filling stations are today. Every village, town and city, including motorway service areas, must offer enough EV charging facilities to cope with demand. This applies to short-distance travel as well as longer journeys. Today, if you drive an EV there is always the worry about finding a place to re-charge, before it becomes an emergency.

To accelerate better availability, the government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) offers grants to buy and install charging equipment. This initiative is aimed at both the residential market and the workplace. As many already know, for the electrical wholesaler this trend offers important new business potential.

A wake up call

In business terms, the management of any organisation where many employees drive to work is waking up to a stark fact – employees will want to drive EVs (not forgetting e-bicycles, electric scooters and motorbikes). When they get to work they will want to know they can re-charge so they can get home later with a safe margin. No one is going to risk venturing beyond the range of their fully charged battery if they can’t re-charge, or top up, anywhere and anytime they choose.

Re-charging a battery seems simple, but in the case of EVs and the workplace it is a little more complicated. Take an organisation employing 100 people. By year-end, 10 per cent may want to drive EVs. Allowing for extra capacity and expansion, this means installing at least 15 chargers. What effect will this addition have on the building’s power supply, be that an office, factory, hospital or super-store, or anywhere with a large or small car park?

As the trend develops and numbers increase, when EV drivers get to work and plug in, this may cause a significant spike in power demand, with a drop when employees leave later. Will the overall supply and the distribution network require beefing up? What’s more, how will the electricity be paid for? Will it be offered free, chargeable at the point of use, or automatically deducted from an employee’s salary? Will normal and fast charging be offered? As an addition to the electrical supply system, how will all this demand be monitored, metered and managed?

Many aspects must be thought through and planned by the customer for an EV charging installation. At the start, a thorough site survey will help ensure nothing is overlooked. This will act as a basis for writing a comprehensive requirements specification. The survey will reveal what may be needed besides the charging equipment itself. Findings may range from the requirement for more power to new distribution kit including boards, metering and protection devices, plus communication modems and related hardware. Then there is all the essential related material including cabling, connectors, and electrical enclosures. Clearly, it all promises more business for the electrical wholesaler.

But beware. If the customer specifies cheap equipment, skimps on allowing enough spare power capacity, or fails to think ahead about future demand the investment may be compromised. For example, buy chargers that have limited, inflexible functions and more time and money may be spent later – inefficiently – on manually collecting service data, billing users, or tediously optimising performance. Or if the equipment is not robust, service delivery may suffer two ways – end-users complaining about wasted downtime if it breaks and the kit having to be repaired. The answer is simple, invest in reliable, high quality products.

The good thing is…

Although relatively young, the EV charging industry is well-established. There are many leading workplace equipment manufacturers with a range of products based on accepted standards and featuring advanced functions. Options range from wall-mounted, floor standing, normal and fast charging, to connector and cabling types, and other configurations. Operating functions include options like load management, charge detail records, circuit breaker status, postponed charge, user privilege configuration, diagnosis, and remote performance optimisation capabilities.

Chargers may operate either standalone or in networked clusters, with high quality products to exchange data with a back office, or a centralised facilities management system. The network may be hardwired or wireless and run on the organisation’s own IT system, or work on a web-based, ‘cloud’ application.

In benefit terms, this means the networked data may be controlled from one place (but accessed by any authorised personnel). It makes monitoring, reporting and decision-making far more efficient, with less errors and better real-time control. Bespoke adjustments may be made to individual devices remotely and in turn, the whole system maintained at its best.

Specialised software providers offer applications and suites to cover everything from billing to monitoring and reporting. In some cases, balancing peaks and troughs may be critical to energy management and consumption tariffs, so this kind of valuable option will soon pay for itself in savings made.

Think ‘solutions’, not a single product

Summing up, in terms of the workplace, the EV charging market offers great potential to electrical wholesalers. This business sector is on the way up, is not yet mature and still has a long way to go. The residential market also is in the ascendant.

It is not just the charger itself, but all the related infrastructure support that may be required, even more if it’s a cluster of many chargers. Efficient, high quality products offer more scope for adding value and saving time and money. They have many additional functions and options. These require integration and may need additional hardware. Invariably, installing EV chargers means reviewing and updating supply and distribution resources.

However, you may wholesale the best kit out there, but if it is not installed properly – another reflection of quality – your business, as part of the supply chain, may suffer. Installation is the last link, but it is key. It all starts with a careful site survey. True, that’s not the wholesaler’s responsibility, but if you are in a position to, it’s a message worth passing on.

Lastly, the EV charger market is not a commodity business, it is more a case of selling ‘solutions’ – a one-stop-shop answer, not just supplying a product. It is fast moving and continually changing so it pays to understand where it is going and what is possible. Ignore that and risk others winning the business.

Image supplied on behalf of Schneider Electric by the company’s UK distributor, Rapid Online.