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By Tom McCalmont

Electric vehicles (EVs) are growing in popularity — in fact, recent reports predict that more than 24 million EVs will be on U.S. roads by 2030. As this trend continues to grow, there will be a strong demand for more charging stations to accommodate the influx of EVs. One area that will especially see increased demand is parking lots. Leaders in cities like Portland and San Diego are starting to require property owners and managers to add EV charging infrastructure to their existing parking lots. While this is a great start to making charging accessible, some significant barriers exist for business owners and leasing agents to install parking lot chargers that make it challenging to achieve widespread accessibility.

solar EV chargers
(Source: Paired Power)

 

Solar is a common and ideal resource for powering EV chargers with clean energy while providing business advantages — from tax credits to appealing to more patrons. However, the electrical infrastructure of most parking lots isn’t designed to support such high-load applications. As a result, lot owners are often burdened with unplanned costs to provide EV charging.

Off-grid solar-powered EV charging can alleviate the headaches of grid interconnection while providing additional value to companies that help enable more EV adoption.

Thinking Beyond Traditional Infrastructure

Making use of the overhead available space in parking lots for solar panels and coupling that with EV charging technology can be a perfect pairing. However, installing grid-connected solar on parking lots isn’t straightforward. For example, parking lots are typically constructed without grid power or on an extremely limited grid that’s only adequate to power low-load applications such as ticket machines or security lighting. Grid-connected EV chargers will draw much more power than the existing grid connection of a parking lot can support.

While it may be easy to think that building out the grid can solve this, the fact is that it’s expensive and time-consuming, with long timelines for utility approvals and delays with engineering for new utility service connections. Furthermore, unlike roof-mounted solar installations, parking lot solar projects require costly steel canopy infrastructure, which can be about 40 percent more expensive than a ground mount system due to the extra materials, labor and engineering needed to build them. With these challenges, not every business can afford to implement a grid-tied solar solution to keep up with the demand for new EV chargers.

Off-grid, solar-powered EV chargers can provide many of the same benefits as grid-connected EV chargers, but at much lower cost and with faster installation.

There is a solution though: Off-grid, solar-powered EV chargers can provide many of the same benefits as grid-connected EV chargers, but at much lower cost and with faster installation. New technology options, such as pop-up, off-grid solar arrays with batteries and EV chargers, can be set up quickly and moved as needed. These off-grid options eliminate the need to attach to the utility grid and help avoid lengthy installation delays and excess costs while allowing more system location and design flexibility.

Another benefit of off-grid solar-powered EV chargers is that they can be installed in smaller areas without grid power, like municipal parking lots near parks or beaches, which has historically been difficult with a non-existent power supply. Off-grid charging provides an affordable, accessible solution in such locations.

Proven Business Value Is Increasing Demand

Off-grid solar-powered chargers also give companies many advantages. For example, systems independent from the grid are resilient and can be available during emergencies when the grid may go offline. They also eliminate the risk of outages and can help decrease electricity bills by powering the stations with free solar energy rather than utility power that must be paid for. Businesses also benefit by demonstrating their commitment to sustainability by using 100% clean energy rather than fossil-fuel-based utility power. Such initiatives make a positive impression on visitors, clients, employees, and city officials, helping to garner positive public relations and enhancing an organization’s reputation.

Major corporations are taking note and installing EV charging infrastructure. For example, Walmart is adding thousands of EV chargers to U.S. stores by 2030, planning to own and operate them throughout its national network. With more than 4,700 Walmart stores and 600 Sam’s Clubs located within 10 miles of about 90 percent of Americans, this initiative will make charging much more accessible for many EV drivers. Subway is also planning to install electric vehicle charging stations at new or newly remodeled Subway locations in the U.S., and 7-Eleven launched its own EV fast-charging network called 7Charge, expanding across Florida, Texas, Colorado, and California so far.

ParkingEnhancing Parking Lot Emergency Communication

By using emergency communication systems such as intercoms and emergency towers can enhance parking lot safety. Read more…

While there will be various infrastructure needs to accommodate these corporate commitments to EV charging, this demonstrates the growing business benefits and how this trend is only going to continue as other businesses follow suit. Furthermore, as cities and corporations continue to pursue their goals of reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainable transportation, the demand for EV charging infrastructure is only set to increase. Off-grid charging provides an innovative and practical solution to help fulfill those commitments using ultra-clean solar power and meet this demand.

Untapped Potential

For the last 20 years, parking lots have covered two to five percent of U.S. urban land. With the proliferation of the automobile as Americans’ preferred method of transportation, major cities have been designed around cars, including hundreds of millions of parking spaces. If the U.S. followed a similar push to cover half of its parking space with solar, it would create a tremendous amount of new solar capacity. With governments and corporations working together, there’s an opportunity to capitalize on this untapped potential with benefits for all in the transition to the next generation of vehicles.

Tom McCalmontTom McCalmont is the CEO and Co-founder of Paired Power, a manufacturer of innovative products that pair solar power with electric vehicle and energy storage technology. Tom has been a successful entrepreneur and engineer within the solar industry for over two decades and holds a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and a Doctorate of Science from Muskingum University.


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