It's Electric!

Major carmakers worldwide are developing electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) to compete with traditional -gasoline-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. Advances in battery and vehicle technologies, government regulations and subsidies for EV manufacture and ownership, consumer concern about rising gasoline prices, the public’s concern about the environment, and the promised convenience and operating advantages of EVs, among other factors, are causing consumers to see EVs as a viable alternative to ICE vehicles and not just as a novelty. This growing interest and demand for EVs from the government, manufacturers and consumers brings with it a need for physical infrastructure to support EV use, which could translate into a significant market for electrical contracting firms.

As the use of gasoline-powered cars grew over the past century, so did the infrastructure to support their use. In addition to roads and bridges, what emerged was an entire infrastructure to support the extraction and refinement of crude oil, the storage and transport of gasoline to retail outlets, and the service stations to dispense gasoline. Unlike other vehicle alternative-fuel sources, such as hydrogen and synthetic fuels, EVs have the advantage that the energy production and distribution system is already in place. This infrastructure includes almost 10,000 existing generating units fueled almost exclusively by domestic coal, uranium and natural gas as well as hydroelectric, photovoltaic (PV), wind, geothermal, and other renewable-energy sources. This energy is then delivered using the thousands of miles of existing transmission and distribution lines. Couple this with the ongoing smart grid initiatives, and everything but the actual interface between the EV and the grid is in place.

The market for the outside electrical contracting firm is in upgrading the existing overhead and underground distribution infrastructure to accommodate the increased demand on the utility system by EVs as well as the installation of charging stations on public streets and highways. For the inside electrical contracting firm, the market is in upgrading the existing electric distribution infrastructure and the installation of EV charging stations in residential, commercial and institutional buildings along with associated parking facilities.

EV charging stations
Studies have shown that most people’s daily travel distances are within the range of a full charge of planned EVs. Therefore, most EV owners will be able to charge their cars at home overnight, when utility base-load plant capacity is typically available and rates are low. EVs will be provided with a standard 120-volt (V) cord-and-plug connection for recharging; with this connection, it will take about eight hours to fully charge the car. This charging method will require a dedicated 120V, 15- or 20-ampere circuit for charging, depending on the car, which means the existing 120V branch circuit and receptacle in most residential single- and multifamily dwelling garages will need to be upgraded for an EV.

Use of the 120V cord-and-plug connection for recharging is really intended to provide EV owners a sense of security that wherever they are, they can charge their car using a standard 120V receptacle. The recommended charging method requires a separate charging station that is served by a dedicated 240V branch circuit; this setup can fully charge the car in about half the time of a 120V supply. It is anticipated that these stations will be installed anywhere EVs will be parked long enough to get a full charge, including single- and multifamily residences as well as the parking facilities for apartments, condominiums, office buildings and other similar locations. In addition, some firms are developing charging stations with an appropriately sized PV array, effectively making the EV a solar-powered car.

This could be a significant market for the electrical contracting firm that partners with local EV dealers and becomes certified by the EV or charging-station manufacturer, if required.

Finally, there are currently manufacturers who have developed and are marketing quick-charge technology that purportedly will provide a nearly full charge in less than 30 minutes (see sidebar of feature story on pages 34–37). These systems could be used by city and state governments to provide charging in public parking facilities and installed along streets like parking meters. In addition, these quick charge units could be installed at shopping centers, big-box retail stores, restaurants and coffee shops, and other locations where EV owners would stop for 30 minutes or more. These quick-charge stations would provide a new revenue stream for municipalities and property owners and a market for electrical contracting firms.

This article is the result of a research project, “Energy Roadmap: Electrical Contractor’s Guide for Expanding Into the Emerging Energy Market,” sponsored by ELECTRI International Inc. (EI). The author thanks EI for its support.

GLAVINICH is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 and

About the Author

Thomas E. Glavinich

Freelance Writer
Thomas E. Glavinich was an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. His tenure as one of Electrical Contractor's most trusted and reliable source of industry research end...

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