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Rightsized Charging: Attracting the Electric Vehicle Driver Market with Minimal Investment

Updated: September 24, 2020 | Share on LinkedIn

Many attractions are looking to bolster their mission or morals of environmental stewardship and sustainability, while also increasing business and their membership/passholder base. Installing Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations at your attraction is one option to accomplish both. Bill D’Angelo, Program Manager at Gateway, is a passionate EV owner and he wrote this blog article to encourage all attractions to do just that. 

If you’re in the Gateway family, chances are you have heard of “staycations” or the rising tendency of families to spend time off relatively close to home avoiding air travel on their vacations. At the same time, we are experiencing “electrification,” the identifying term for the increase in the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road.

So why is this relevant for attractions?

More people are driving to their day-off destination (that’s you) in an electric car. And the number of electric cars available and on the road is growing at a rapid pace. The logical conclusion therefore is that the number of electric cars showing up in your parking lot is increasing. Given that electric cars are nearly identical to their gas cousins (with the exception of the very recognizable Tesla models) this increase can easily go unnoticed.

Driving an EV is nearly exactly like driving an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle with one exception. And that is “fueling” the car. With an ICE vehicle refueling means a special stop or a special trip to stand beside your car as it fills up. With an EV, you plug it in while you are not using it and go about your business. You don’t make a special trip and you certainly don’t stand beside it. In other words, you treat it more like your phone than a traditional ICE car.

Lets face it, everybody appreciates the phone charging stations at the airport. Just like everybody appreciates the wi-fi at certain coffee chains, and inevitably buys more coffee because of it, EV drivers appreciate the availability of charging stations and will go out of their way to patronize those that offer it.  Heck, we even have an app where we talk about the places that have charging available (it’s called PlugShare). Get your attraction a good reputation on PlugShare, and you’ve not only helped the environment, you’ve gained new customers too.

But isn’t a charging station super expensive?

I’d first like to dispel a rumor: an oft repeated fallacy about EV charging is that it can cost 6 figures to install and maintain. And while it’s true there are EV charging solutions that can cost that much by the time it is installed, inspected, tied to the grid, etc. these solutions serve a very specific purpose. These chargers known as DC Fast Chargers are meant to charge the car in 30 minutes or so. Just enough time to run to a rest room, grab a quick bite and be on your way. In other words, they are designed for rest stops, not attractions. So let’s save lots of money and avoid rushing EV owners back out of the gates by eliminating these behemoths from the conversation.

A practical option for long-term charging

So that leaves us with the significantly cheaper charging options. On the low end you have your standard 110-outlet. The same outlet that you plug a lamp into. Every EV owner’s car comes with a “trickle charger” or Level 1 charger that plugs into these outlets. On the upside, they are cheap. On the downside, they take forever to charge a car. On my late model Nissan Leaf, using a standard Level 1 charger only adds about four miles of range for every hour the car charges, so to fully charge my car would theoretically take thirty hours (something that is never done).

While that may sound ridiculous, consider this…the last time I flew I parked at the EV chargers of the airport long term parking. Luckily there was one charging station open, I plugged in and my car started charging. By the time I touched down at my destination my car had been fully charged for hours and for the next several days it simply sat there tying up the spot with no way to move it. This is LONG TERM parking, it’s in the name! It would have made a lot more sense (and probably been cheaper) if twenty standard wall outlets had been installed instead of those five charging stations. So, if you have a hotel attached to your attraction and there are some standard wall sockets around, put a sign up to let guests know they are welcome to BYOC (bring your own charger). Yes, the cars will charge slowly, but who cares?!

Destination Charging – the right option for attractions

Now that we have covered the extreme ends of the spectrum, let’s talk about the middle ground. Level 2 charging is typically called “destination charging” and the name says it all. This is the type of charger that you plug into when you show up where you’re going for a few hours while your car adds about 25 miles each hour. If guests will be visiting for several hours, this is the way to go. Next step is to figure out the right Level 2 charging station for your needs.

There are many options out there when it comes to Level 2 charging stations. There are two connection standards in the US for Level 2 charging: Tesla and J1772. Not surprisingly, Tesla connectors are used for Tesla vehicles while the J1772 standard is used by all non-Tesla models. While every Tesla comes with a small adapter so Tesla vehicles can use the standard J1772 chargers of the world, adapters allowing non-Tesla owners to use a Tesla charger are hard to come by and cost around $200. Verdict, you will reach a wider audience by installing a standard charging station using the J1772 connector.

Standard Level 2 EV chargers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and features; from the non-networked wall mounted chargers offered by ClipperCreek and Juice Box to the networked bollard mounted Charge Point and Blink models that allow you to assess a fee for charging the EV. To help guide you in your selection, here are a few questions you should consider:

  1. Where will this be placed? Many EV owners prefer charging stations that are away from the main entrance. This reduces the likelihood that a gas car owner will park in that spot and block the charger (known as “Icing”). For cost savings, find a location that is easy to run electricity to reduce labor costs. Wall mounting a charger can save quite a bit vs. having to go under concrete to mount a charger to a pole or specialty bollard.
  2. Do you want to assess a fee for charging? Depending on your local laws, you may be able to charge per kilowatt hour or per minute for charging to help offset the cost of the EV charger and electricity. The stations needed to “charge for charging” require network or cellular connection and typically are more expensive than their non-networked counterpart.

But no need for credit card readers

As mentioned above, some Level 2 chargers have the ability to charge a fee for charging up the car. While these chargers are more expensive, the payment capabilities don’t necessarily add operational overhead to your facility. Vendors of fee-based chargers such as ChargePoint, Blink and EVGo have their own payment infrastructure already set up. EV owners identify their account using a key fob or their smart phone and the fee for charging is taken from their card on file. The result is that the chargers don’t use credit card readers or any other payment collection tool. The guest pays the charging station vendor and the vendor pays you.

One More Key Factor in Keeping Costs Down

We have already covered some ways to keep your costs down; choosing the right type of charger, picking the right location to install it, and identifying the features you need in the charger. But there is one more thing you need to do to reduce costs…research. There are a number of federal, state, and local incentives for installing electric vehicle charging as well as rebates from some utility companies. For example, the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Tax Credit is still in effect (until December 2020). With this program, you can receive a tax credit for the lesser of 30% of the cost of the charger or $30,000.

Dotting the I’s and Crossing the T’s

There are a few final details that I absolutely have to mention as an EV owner myself:

  1. Signage – Nothing is more frustrating to an EV owner than finding charging locations blocked. Please clearly mark EV parking spots to make sure that ICE vehicle drivers don’t accidentally park there. Putting up a sign is nice, painting the whole parking space green with “EV Charging Only” on the ground is better!
  2. PlugShare – As I mentioned earlier, PlugShare is a major tool of EV owners. It is a combination of map software, charging station database, and social platform. If a charger is up, the community will take photos, report on how it’s working and often talk about the business that the charger is attached to.
  3. Press release – There are several media outlets you want to be sure know about your new investment in green transportation; the local news in your (and “staycationers”) region, and EV centric news outlets like Electrek, InsideEVs, or Green Car Reports.

Conclusion

Electric vehicles are a growing market segment and meeting the needs of this market segment doesn’t have to break the bank. Just remember to only buy what you need, give a lot of consideration to where you will install it, and take advantage of incentives. EV is the future… so why not get on board now?

 

 

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