Integrating Electric Vehicle Charging Stations into Architectural Design

Integrating Electric Vehicle Charging Stations into Architectural Design

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The world of transportation is undoubtedly moving toward an electric future.  In recent years, the electric vehicle (EV) has gained more widespread popularity as a realistic mode of sustainable transport.  This has been seen in the success of Tesla, the release of the new F-150 Lighting from Ford, and the growing lineup of electric vehicles from many car manufacturers.  While the future of electric vehicles is exciting to consider, it is becoming more important to consider how this evolution will impact the buildings we design.  From an architectural perspective, key considerations include the quantity of available parking around a structure and ensuring the availability of public electric vehicle charging stations.  The United States has a relatively strong network of EV charging stations that allows most owners to drive almost anywhere, but the existing network is miniscule in comparison to what will be needed as the transportation industry moves toward a 100% electric future.  Although the number of electric vehicles on the road is growing, new EVs made up only 1.8% of new cars registered in 2020.  However, as architects, we design for the benefit of of our clients and users immediately and in the long-term.  It is never too early to begin planning for the impact of electric vehicles and their necessary charging stations on site layout, building design, and parking.  Examining how evolution in the transportation industry will impact society going forward, our experts developed some key points to consider when exploring the addition of a charging station to your next project.

One of the biggest advantages of installing charging stations as a part of a new building, addition, or renovation is the ability to demonstrate your institution’s environmental consciousness.  Transportation is moving toward an electric future because it leverages renewable energy sources, resulting in emission-free driving.  Adding a charging station to a project helps support this transition and promotes sustainable infrastructure on campuses and in communities.  Providing building users and the surrounding community access to a local charging station makes it easier for individuals to justify the purchase of an electric vehicle.  Additionally, it helps enhance confidence in a new technology many are skeptical about and eases fears about range anxiety that occur when drivers are unsure of the limits of their EV.  Charging stations encourage people to spend time in a nearby facility as they charge their vehicle, potentially increasing revenue on a campus or in a community.  From an architectural perspective, an EV charger significantly enhances the sustainable features of a facility.  As a part of our work on the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building at Saint Louis University, our team worked with campus stakeholders to incorporate electric vehicle chargers in the parking garage that serves visitors to the building.  Outside of typical academic hours, the same garage is heavily used as gameday parking for Billiken basketball and volleyball games.  The EV charging station was incorporated to enhance sustainability efforts on campus and helped the ISE Building achieve LEED Silver certification.  As strong proponents of sustainable design, it is exciting to see parking lots evolve from a place to safely park a car into destinations for those seeking a more sustainable lifestyle.

Once a client like Saint Louis University has committed to installing an EV charging stations, there are additional considerations.  There are three main types of chargers available on the market, but each comes with a set of costs and benefits.  A Level 1 charging station is the least costly and most available option.  They are mostly purchased by owners of small family homes with one EV.  Level 2 chargers are most commonly used in public spaces, though they are also found in some homes and garages.  Due to their increased power and efficiency, Level 2 chargers come at a higher price.  Compared to Level 1 chargers, Level 2 chargers are more convenient and effective for spaces with multiple users.  Finally, a Level 3 charger is designed for customers that need the quickest and most convenient charging capabilities.  However, they are the most costly to install and maintain.  The variety of EV chargers on the market means that the needs of most clients can be met.  Though any charger requires an upfront investment, it can pay for itself very quickly if it is frequently used in a public space.  Companies like Electrify America, which owns the biggest network of interconnected charging stations in the United States, have programs in place where guest users must pay to charge at your institution’s station.  In exchange for providing access to an EV charger, your institution receives a payment to help cover the initial investment and upkeep.  Clearly, an EV charger holds the potential to increase revenue in a number of ways.  Regardless of whether a charging station installation is designed for use by a specific group (such as employees) or the general public, there are significant tax credits that can be claimed to help offset the cost.  Federal income tax credits are currently available for eligible all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars purchased new in or after 2010.   The IRS currently offers a federal tax break that covers some installation costs.  Individual states and local entities also offer worthwhile incentives.  Though there are costs associated with any sustainable feature, an EV charging station is an investment that will not only pay off in the future, but also will eventually be necessary as electric vehicles become more commonplace and accessible to the average consumer.   

In exploring EV charging stations in the architectural design process, we have determined that clients often know best if a charger is a good investment for their community.  Because EVs are still growing in popularity, there are many reasons why they may not be a good fit for every client right now.  Looking toward the future, electric vehicle charging stations will eventually become a more commonplace consideration for all architectural clients.  Our advice to many clients is to consider incorporating EV chargers into your project if funds are available and/or there is a specific sustainability goal in mind.  However, if EV chargers are not a main concern for project stakeholders now, charging stations will eventually become more cost effective to adopt over time as prices decrease.  As such, modern design should leave room for future enhancements should EV chargers be added in the future.

To learn more about how we are considering the future of transportation and keeping sustainability at the forefront of design, contact Erik Kocher at ekocher@hcarchitects.com or (314) 529-4004.