By Dave Rich and John Abraam
Canada’s automobile future is electric. In recent months both General Motors and Ford have announced their intention to begin transitioning to electric cars and trucks, with GM aiming to produce only EVs by 2035 and Ford and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) setting a goal of 40% of their vehicles being electric by 2030. Other automakers are even more ambitious. For instance, Volvo plans to go all-electric by 2030.
The anticipated evolution of Ford and GM cars and trucks from gas power to electric will have enormous implications. Of course, the ultimate goal is to be more sustainable. Eliminating exhaust from millions of cars and trucks could have enormous implications for the environment and the health of Canadians.
The transition won’t come without challenges. The change-over will have an enormous impact on individuals and businesses alike. For instance, it takes longer to recharge an electric vehicle than a gas one; how will that impact people who must drive distances beyond the battery’s range? How will Canada develop sufficient recharging infrastructure? What will happen to gas stations; will they become “juice bars”? These issues will sort themselves out over time, but the answers won’t come without hurdles.
Parking, in particular, will feel the impact. Parking facilities will be the most important charging location, aside from the driver’s home. After all, where else do people leave their vehicles for long enough periods of time to fully charge an electric car or truck?
And parking owners aren’t ready.
Most owners of parkades and complexes with parking assets don’t have the infrastructure in place to provide widespread EV charging. Even those that do offer charging usually only have a handful of EV charging stations on hand. That may be sufficient today, when a relatively small percentage of people drive electric cars, but it will fall woefully short when Canada’s vehicles are primarily electric.
Planning for Tomorrow, Today
2035 may seem like it’s far away, but when it comes to facility planning it’s right around the corner. Parking facilities that are being designed today will be in service for 40 or 50 years—perhaps until 2071. That’s why it’s imperative that institutions, developers, and owners include widespread EV charging into their designs right now. In fact, some cities are already pushing owners in that direction by updating their code requirements to mandate that 25 or 30 percent of any new parkade or surface lot be EV capable or ready. Of course, this is just a starting point. In 15 years, most parkades and surface lots will need to significantly exceed that 30 percent number.
The big issue facing owners is infrastructure. You can’t just drop an EV station into a parking space. EV charging requires power supplied by a local utility (unless you have a self-sufficient solar or turbine system); wiring to convey that power; conduit to house the wires; and of course, charging stations. That’s a lot of infrastructure to add to the multitude of design elements that already go into designing and building a parking facility.
Integrating all of this into the structure poses significant challenges because you need to be sure that the addition of all these elements doesn’t undermine the structural integrity of the parking facility. Multi-story parkades serve hundreds—often thousands—of vehicles weighing thousands of pounds; structural damage, particularly to a facility’s floors or support beams, can be disastrous.
This process is particularly challenging with existing structures because you are introducing an entirely new network of infrastructure into a concrete building that wasn’t designed to accommodate EV charging technology. It requires coring directly into the concrete so you can run the necessary piping and wiring from outside into the structure and then into individual spaces. In some cases, it may be necessary to run the wiring and conduits under a garage’s exposed beams, attached to the ceiling of the floor below, in order to avoid damaging the concreate and steel in the floor itself. This may not be the most elegant solution, but it could provide a safer one.
Mistakes can undermine the integrity of the structure, so it’s essential to have the planning and design managed by an experienced parking design consultant. It also makes sense to have the construction performed by a company that understands parking construction and restoration.
The process is simpler with new construction, but it still requires careful planning. It’s easier to accommodate EV infrastructure with precast structures because the precast elements can be specifically designed and constructed to accommodate the conduit and wiring. With cast-in-place post tension structures, the construction team needs to carefully introduce the conduit that will protect the wires as they are pouring the concrete.
What and When
While these engineering issues are crucial, they are only part of the equation. There are also the questions of what and when: what type of charging technology to install and when to install it.
There are three basic types of charging equipment. Level 1 is more of an entry level charger. It uses a normal 120-volt connection, similar to a standard household outlet. It’s the slowest charging option available and tends to be more suited to overnight charging. For parkade owners who plan to monetize their EV technology, level 1 may be underpowered because it takes so long to fully charge a vehicle that vehicles may monopolize spaces that owners would rather turn over frequently. However, for long-term parking facilities, such as at airports, level 1 may be sufficient. These units typically cost between $300 and $2,500 each.
Level 2, the most common charging station, is 240-volt technology that can fully charge a vehicle in about three hours. Level 2 stations cost between $6,000 and $20,000 and average out to around $6,000 each. A level 2 station can typically fully charge a vehicle in eight hours or less.
Level 3 charging stations are by far the fastest and most expensive. They operate at 480-volts and can provide an 80% charge in about 30 minutes. The average cost of a fully installed level 3 EV charging station is around $63,000 and may require a utility company to install a transformer.
The decision about which level charging doesn’t revolve around the types of vehicles that are being charged. Each manufacturer has its own pin configuration (and Tesla, perhaps the best-known electric vehicle manufacturer, operates in a universe of its own), but adapters are widely available to allow vehicles to charge at most stations. The decisions should be based on cost and how the parking owner wants the charging station to impact the use of parking spaces. If more frequent turnover is desired, levels 2 or 3 may be desirable; if long-term or overnight charging will be the norm, level 1 may suffice.
Another consideration is timing. Every parking owner will eventually need to achieve a significant level of conversion to EV parking spaces, but it doesn’t have to happen overnight. The auto industry plans to be largely (if not completely) electric over the next 15 years, but even then, there will be millions of traditional gas-powered vehicles on the road for another ten to 15 years. Many Canadians drive their cars until they are no longer serviceable—the average car on the road today is 9 1/2 years old—and that trend will continue even after the auto industry completes the conversion to all-electric vehicle production.
Creating a timeline requires careful strategic planning. Owners don’t want to find themselves with too few EV charging spaces to meet demand because they’ll lose parking customers to competitors who can meet demand. For the same reason, they don’t want to have dozens or hundreds of spaces with EV charging stations that go unused.
The equipment is expensive, and owners don’t want to invest valuable capital before it’s necessary. Plus, as with any new technology, it’s reasonable to assume that the cost will drop significantly as new manufacturers enter the market. Why spend $6,000 per space today when the same technology may cost $1,000 or less in a few years? Owners should work closely with their parking consultants to estimate what demand is going to be over the next 15 years and how that demand will grow from year to year. Then they can make an informed decision about how many EV units to install each year.
Looking to the Future
The automobile industry’s electric future is right around the corner, and it will have an especially significant impact on parking owners, developers of complexes with parking assets, and institutions like airports and universities with an abundance of parking. Because vehicles tend to be parked for relatively long periods of times in parking facilities and lots, they will be the primary locations for drivers to recharge their vehicles, outside their homes.
Now is the time for parking owners to plan for this transition. The addition of new charging technology throughout parkades and lots will be expensive and time-consuming, and owners should be strategic to assure that they are investing in the right equipment and creating a timeline that best meets their needs. If owners plan to monetize their charging resources to recoup some of the cost of installing and operating the equipment, or even to earn new revenue, now is the time to begin planning for that as well.
About the authors:
David Rich is Vice President of Rich & Associates, Inc. Parking Consultants. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Abraam is a principal at Strategic Energy Solutions Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.