It's not news that the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) is growing. And, of course, to keep such vehicles on the road, there is growing demand for EV charging stations—both at the commercial level and the residential level.
Recently, a number of electric utilities, auto manufacturers, engineering firms and EV equipment suppliers got together to create the Alliance for Transportation Electrification (ATE), a non-profit focused on boosting the popularity of EVs by promoting open standards, guiding states' EV policies, and promoting the growth of EV and electric grid infrastructure.
Opportunities for electrical contractors? The future definitely seems bright, according to Tim Dudek, president of Saturn Electric Inc. (San Diego, Calif.), which is already a veteran of EV charging station installation work. To date, the company has installed almost 300 EV charging stations in and around San Diego.
"Our company [is] always looking for where the next curve is in the road," Dudek said. "Around 2008 and 2009, when the recession hit, electrical contractors had to change the way we did business. A lot of contractors began looking at opportunities in areas that were expected to grow, such as LED lighting, solar, military work and low voltage. I looked at EV charging stations as a possibility."
Dudek had been reading about EV charging. He visited the San Diego Gas & Electric Energy Innovation Center, which does quite a bit of electrical contractor outreach. One of its areas of interest was EV charging. There, he met someone from ECOtality, an electric transportation and storage technology company, which had recently received a huge federal grant to install commercial EV charging stations.
"There were half a dozen cities in the U.S. that were considered target markets, and San Diego was one of them," Dudek said. "Also, around that time, Governor Brown was pushing tax credits for anyone who was going to buy an EV."
Furthermore, Dudek found out, another company was getting involved in selling residential EV charging units.
"I began working with these companies and, over time, became certified by more and more manufacturers, as they were rolling out new EV chargers," he said.
As a result, these days, Saturn Electric is very busy with these projects. And the future looks even more bright for the company. Saturn recently began working with San Diego Gas & Electric on a new program called "Power Your Drive."
"By the end of 2018, their goal is to install over 3,000 charging stations in San Diego County at over 300 sites," he said. "We are one of the contractors they have selected to install these."
Dudek sees the need for EV charging station installation—both commercial and residential—expanding nationally.
"Tesla is becoming more and more involved, and a lot of the large automakers are beginning to manufacture more and more EVs," he said. "Volvo, in fact, is planning on completely phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles."
If federal and state governments remove their tax incentives for consumers to buy EVs, it could slow things down. However, according to Dudek, as utilities get more involved in the EV trend, and as auto manufacturers continue to reduce their prices, demand should remain strong.