Electric vehicle (EV) popularity with consumers is expected to continue growing because EVs have lower operating costs and more environmental benefits than gasoline-powered vehicles. Advances in battery technology will further lower initial cost. Residents buying a battery electric vehicle (BEV) or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) will often install charging stations (also known as electric vehicle supply equipment, or EVSE) at their home.
Municipalities and businesses are also interested in offering charging for EV drivers away from their home to increase range and functionality. Below are four concepts that electricians installing charging stations, or electrical inspectors ensuring the charging station was properly installed, should understand.
Charging installations are not complex
Several types of EVSE are used. The majority of charging station installations today are AC Level 2 stations that use a 240-volt alternating current (VAC) input and also output 240 VAC. The actual battery charger is onboard the vehicle and the charging station primarily serves as an interface between the EV and the electrical grid. Direct current (DC) fast chargers are different
as they convert the power offboard the vehicle, requiring significantly more hardware. DC fast chargers are typically run off 480 VAC. All electrical work must comply with local, state, and national regulations, including codes specific to the charging station. EV Ready Codes for the Built Environment [PDF] provides an overview of building and electrical codes related to charging stations, some of which may vary by jurisdiction based on what version is currently adopted. However, because charging stations are an emerging topic and even if the local jurisdiction is not following the most recent version, it is good practice to do so as long as it does not contradict the existing codes. Many newer versions offer further clarification for charging station installations and don’t contradict older code.
Charging station site design is important
A charging station cord extends the 240 VAC power supply 15 to 20 feet beyond the charging station. The installer can provide valuable guidance to the customer on the safest, most efficient, and lowest cost location for the unit. Site Design Guidelines [PDF] identifies and diagrams key siting and design issues, along with best practices for charging station installation. Knowing where the charging port is on various EVs and anticipating the direction EVs will be parked is important for making the charging station as user-friendly as possible for EV drivers, pedestrians, and surrounding traffic. Minimizing the distance from the electrical panel to the charging station helps to lower costs for the site owner. Experience from numerous installations of charging stations in the Northeast are documented in Lessons from Early Deployments of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations [PDF]. Key findings from this report explain that:
- The cost of electrical upgrades needed for charging stations increases with the age of the building
- Public installations can be administratively burdensome unless public officials are knowledgeable about charging stations
- Additional complications arise in multifamily homes
- AC Level 2 stations can be too expensive to install strictly as an opportunity for revenue generation
For public installations, station owners should be made aware of industry-accepted and Department of Transportation-authorized signage as outlined in the Charging Station Signage Overview [PDF]. This document also describes recommended signage placement for EV drivers to easily locate EVSE and prevent conventional vehicles from occupying the charging spaces.
Permitting practices vary by jurisdiction
Because many municipalities are not familiar with charging stations, some may interpret a charging station installation as major electrical work whereas others might classify it as minor electrical work. Most electricians are familiar with this difference of opinion
because they often work in multiple jurisdictions and have previously experienced this issue with other work. Classification as major or minor can impact the cost and time to install the charging station. Permit Process Streamlining [PDF] alleviates this concern and provides best practices for charging station permitting. When customers bring home EVs, they need to charge them. Delays in the permitting process, if not addressed in advance, could make those EVs temporarily unusable.
Charging station installation training is available
NYSERDA's Best Practices Guide and Information for Installers summarizes best practices and lessons learned from over 300 EV charging station installations in New York State. The report collates insights from the 20 electricians that performed these installations and have developed experience in planning, layout, installation, and maintenance of EV charging stations.
In 2013, NYSERDA sponsored charging station workshops throughout New York State to help facilitate the deployment of EVs and EVSE. The workshops included a session for electrical installers and inspectors
interested in learning about EVs and EVSE. Relevant presentations from this event include EVSE Considerations [PDF], EVSE Overview for Installers and Inspectors [PDF], and EVSE Overview – NEC Article 625 [PDF].
The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program provides training and certification to electricians interested in installing charging stations. The program develops its curriculum in collaboration with industry organizations and teaches industry best practices in electric vehicle infrastructure installation, commissioning, and maintenance.