Getting your building EV-ready

by Sophie Berrill
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As the uptake of electric vehicles begins to accelerate, it can be daunting for facilities managers to know where to start.

Australia has been relatively slow to adopt electric vehicles, but it seems the brakes are finally coming off. More electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in Australia in the first half of 2023 than throughout all of 2022, according to the Electric Vehicle Council.

With a rising demand for EVs, there’s also a rising need for charging infrastructure, which is not quite keeping apace. News outlets reported chaotic scenes and long queues as EV drivers set out on road trips over the past Christmas and Easter holidays. There are even private Facebook groups dedicated to discussing ‘ICEholes’: people who park Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars in EV parking spots.

“That shows that there is demand there and just not having enough supply is that gap, which we call the charging capacity gap,” explains Parking Australia’s president and director of That’s My Spot, Angelique Mentis.

Parking Australia president Angelique Mentis

Mentis has been working in parking solutions for over a decade and one of the big areas she is focusing on now is how existing assets can be optimised for EV charging. Workplaces and businesses have a role to play in closing the charging capacity gap, but the solution isn’t always straightforward.

“You can’t just put EV charging bays in every single spot if they’re not built for that from the beginning. So how do you optimise that? How do you turn that over? How do you make those off-street assets – EV charging bays – accessible to people on the street? Can you share it?” she asks.

There is a lot of planning and coordination for facilities managers to undertake to support their building’s EV strategy long before buying an EV charger.

A building’s power consumption profile and parking behaviour 

The first thing to do before installing EV charging in your facility is to determine the building’s electrical capability for power load management.

“If your building’s already at load management capacity, you’ve got to work out a way that you don’t cause a brownout for that building,” says Mentis.

Big office buildings have greater loads during the day, and less when workers have left for the evening, which could present a lucrative opportunity.

“Why not make money out of them by renting out the EV charging facilities for that? You need a booking system and a platform, but that’s all doable,” she explains.

Assessing the appetite for future EV usage in your building will help you make informed decisions about the number and type of chargers to install.

Map electrical services and capability 

The next step is to look at load management and circuit boards. FMs also need to think about where within the building is the most sensible place to put the EV chargers.

“Is it near the entry or is it all the way down the bottom? It depends what you need them for. What is access like to run cable and wires down there? What’s the cost going to be like?” asks Mentis.

“And then also when you do put EV chargers in, you have to have a fire-safe rim, for example, if there was thermal runaway and there was a fire in there,” says Mentis.

Fire safety

Fire safety is important when it comes to electric vehicles and charging. As of 30 June 2023, the EV FireSafe research team reported that, of the 393 verified EV traction battery fires globally since 2010, about 18 percent occurred when vehicles were charging, and two percent within an hour of disconnecting from the charger.

Despite these incidents, some experts say electric vehicle battery fires are actually rare. A May 2023 report by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency found vehicles powered by internal combustion engines were 20 times more likely to catch fire than electric vehicles in Sweden.

Develop and design for EV chargers 

Once you’ve got your electrical engineers in to work out load management, that’s when you start getting people to have a look at EV chargers, says Mentis. EV charging companies can help you plan what is possible, as well as the fees for charging.

“There’s EV charging software that sits on top of some of the hardware that can give you metering, and then you can work out who to charge for what amounts.”

From here, you can assess and select EV chargers, map out tender details, award the tender to the contractor and finally install, operate and maintain.

Costs and time

How much time and money this whole process could take depends on the facility and the challenges that could arise. Mentis says it’s best to budget for twice as long as you think it’s going to take.

“It could be three to six months, it could be a year to two years, it just depends on the challenges,” she says.

“If you install a single charger, they can go from $1500 just for the charger itself. How much that costs to run that cable back to a particular circuit board and run it to the metre might be $5000, it might be $50,000.”

Updates to the National Construction Code from October 2023 mean that car parks in new builds must support the future installation of EV chargers, including in 100 percent of car parking spaces in apartment buildings, 10 percent of spaces in offices, retail and hospitality, and 20 percent of spaces in other commercial and public buildings.

There currently aren’t any requirements for provision of a certain number of charging bays in existing buildings. In
this case, Mentis recommends a staged development to see what the uptake is.

“If you install a hundred chargers and 80 of them are sitting vacant all the time, you’ve wasted your money. If you install 20 and see what the usage is and the turnover on that, if it’s not enough, you install more,” she says.

As with any disruptive new technology, it can be hard to have the foresight to know exactly which path to take. Even now, new innovations like vehicle-to-grid charging or induction charging under highways are developing, as well as hydrogen-fuelled EVs. It’s important to consult experts and be flexible.

“If you commit a hundred percent just to electric vehicle charging, a plug- and-play type thing, you may not have the flexibility for forward thinking for different types of technology.”

This article originally appeared in the ‘Future-focused Facilities Issue’ of the Facility Management digital magazine. Grab your free copy here. Existing subscribers can read the magazine here.

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