New opportunities with electric vehicle charging stations
April 12, 2019 - As you spot more and more electric vehicles (EVs) on the road and plugged in at parking lots, what might not be quite as obvious are the abundant new opportunities for electrical contractors. The demand for charging stations to keep EVs on the move is growing fast, with everyone from fleet managers to utilities striving to develop relationships with specialists in this field.
With just a few easy-to-obtain additions to your current skill set, you can start increasing revenue now. Indeed, early adopters who are ready to repair EV charging stations could end up locking in the lion’s share of such work needed by site owners, capitalizing on a significant opportunity without having to travel far.
As charging stations become more common, more drivers are buying EVs, as they are less worried about running out of power. In turn, a larger number of EVs on the road leads to more demand for chargers.
In Canada alone, the number of EV chargers sold annually is forecast to grow from around 10,000 at the end of 2016 to approximately 80,000 in 2026, according to Navigant Research.
Further, the prices of EVs are dropping while their feasible ranges grow—which in turn will drive the need for more charging stations, as EV drivers venture farther afield than they could in the past. The Chevrolet Bolt, by way of example, carries a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $44,000 and an estimated range of up to 383 km. Soon, similar models will offer a 500-km range at a slightly lower price. And they will take high-speed charges, which only fast 50-kW and ultra-fast 150 to 475-kW DC chargers can provide.
Fast-charging stations will soon become much more common in Canada: In early 2019, for example, Volkswagen will launch Electrify Canada, an ultra-fast DC charging network spanning the country. In addition, a $6.7-million project funded by Natural Resources Canada will place 100 curbside charging stations in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Tritium, for its part, has clustered 30 active DC fast chargers in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, mostly within Vancouver and Toronto.
As these stations’ numbers grow by the week, so too does demand for trusted service partners. The future of transportation is here—and it could put a new skill on your business card.
Profiting from growth
There is more than one way to extend your earning potential from installing and servicing EV chargers. The following are a few areas of specializations that can bring customers to your doorstep.
First, when a customer buys a charger, they must engage an internal or external specialist to install the system on the ground, with wiring and cabling. Since most site owners and network developers do not have their own electricians on staff, the chargers’ manufacturers will usually refer someone who knows how to handle their technology.
Next, over the longer term, Murphy’s Law dictates even the most reliable chargers will sometimes need servicing. This is an opportunity for electrical contractors to be on ‘speed dial’ for charger owners and manufacturers alike.
Finally, another emerging opportunity for electrical contractors is the reselling of EV chargers. Indeed, manufacturers are already positioned to engage a network of resale partners who can serve as an extension of their sales force, both to handle used chargers and to sell more new ones.
Adding to your toolbox
Developing the right skills to service EV chargers need not be daunting. You just have to know where to look.
Today, the playing field is open for electrical contractors who are willing to learn. Any professional can view a demonstration or induction video by contacting charger manufacturers. Early adopters have the chance to learn their skills for free, before paid certifications become common practice. (ChargePoint, which operates commercial and residential chargers in Canada and the U.S., already offers paid certifications.)
As networks of charging stations grow, standards will be developed and implemented, so as to ensure contractors have expert knowledge of the systems. Many of those who have already gone through training, however, will be ‘grandfathered’ in, with the option to re-certify if necessary.
This trend will follow the example of the information technology (IT) industry. Early on, for example, any skilled computer technician could repair a touer, but eventually, companies like Cisco and Microsoft rolled out their own paid certification programs, to ensure consistent quality of service.
Currently, the most technologically advanced EV chargers have durable cases that enclose liquid cooling cables. Learning how to fix these types of systems now will set you up for success in the future. The more comfortable you become, the easier it will be to diversify in terms of the companies with which you work.
Partnering for success
Once you have learned how to work with EV chargers, the next question is how to find jobs. The easiest answer today is to be the first to get out in your field. If you can get certified, solve problems quickly and not let issues idle, you will be referred for work time and again.
The biggest growth opportunities are likely to be commercial and with the aforementioned upper range of 150 to 475 kW, where fast chargers will first appear in truly significant numbers. So, to future-proof revenues from installations and repairs, electrical contractors will need to learn how to service these chargers. At this point, those who can work with ultra-fast chargers are in particularly short supply.
Many contractors so far have been more comfortable working with residential charging stations, where they are dealing with up to 240 V. As far as safety goes, however, working with higher voltages will not be an issue for contractors who follow standard precautions, such as discharging the equipment before working on it.
The EVs of the future will be able to take ever-faster charging speeds, which drivers will rely on to keep on par with fill-up stops at traditional gas stations. In turn, this will spur utilities and charging networks to invest in DC fast charging stations in public spaces.
Electric fleets are on the rise, too. In June 2018, for example, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) welcomed 10 Proterra Catalyst E2 buses, part of a plan to convert its entire fleet to zero-emission vehicles by 2040. As more transit agencies across Canada move to buy or lease EVs, they will need service partners, including electrical contractors.
This is a ‘tip-of-the-spear’ moment, when the chargers that are currently installed offer only a glimpse of the market’s larger potential. It is time to get well-versed as quickly as possible, since opportunity favours those who step up early.
Greg Lary is Australia-based Tritium’s vice-president (VP) of sales for the Americas and installed his own EV charging station at home. For more information, visit www.tritium.com.au.
This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Electrical Business magazine.