Vehicle electrification is a small but mighty step in addressing the climate crisis. The recent surge in EV sales is encouraging, but all those vehicles need charging—and we have a ways to go before charging stations become as accessible as gas stops. Fortunately, savvy businesspeople around the globe want to help. They’re wondering how to start an EV charging station business in ever-increasing numbers.
This comprehensive guide will take you through the process, shedding light on the necessary market research, popular business models, grant opportunities, technical and regulatory standards, and more you’ll face in the course of business. Equipped with this info, your business will be up and running faster than a DC charger fills a battery.
Funding your EV charging station business
When investigating how to start an EV charging station business, grants stand out as an attractive inroad. It's important to consider each carefully, making note of hard deadlines, explicit program goals, desired outcomes, and guidance about how the funds can be used.
President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law carved out billions in federal funding for infrastructure for electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. These grants, offered by the US Department of Transportation, can provide a minimum of $500,000 in funding, but take note: The funding must go toward rural communities of less than 10,000 people. These areas likely have next-to-no competition, which could give you an early foothold in expanding markets.
Volkswagen's Diesel Emissions Environmental Mitigation Trust came out of the company's emissions scandal as an effort to undo some of the damage it caused. The trust as a whole creates grant opportunities for projects encouraging the adoption of sustainable transportation, and a portion of it is dedicated specifically to developing EV charging infrastructure in the US. The National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) has general info about grant opportunities, but applicants need to check their state's website for specific requirements, as the trust allocates funding at the state level.
Speaking of the state level, several have their own funding offerings. California's Clean Transportation Program offers a mix of grants, contracts, and rebates for EV charging infrastructure, among other sustainable transportation solutions. New York's ChargeNY initiative targets EV charging, specifically. With Charge Ahead Colorado, that state offers grants for the installation of Level 2 and Level 3 fast charging stations in public and private locations. Be sure to check for funding opportunities in your state.
A great starting point in Canada is the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program. This $680 million program has carved out funding for EV chargers across the country, but competition is stiff. To be eligible, your proposal must include at least one charger of 200 kW and above, two fast chargers of 50 kW and above, or 20 chargers of all charging levels. Check out our ZEVIP resources page for more info.
For more funding opportunities for your electric vehicle charging station business, read 7 EV charging station grants to apply for when starting your EV business.
Choosing a business model
There are a few common models those wondering how to start an EV charging station business typically consider. The right one for you will vary according to your goals, expertise, and available resources.
Charging networks work like gas station chains. In this model, you'll own stations at several locations to maximize market density. By charging EV drivers flat or variable rates based on fluctuations in power supply, you'll bring in revenue. You'll either operate the stations yourself or pay a service to maintain them.
This model is very time and resource-intensive because it demands an upfront investment in infrastructure in addition to ongoing maintenance (which in turn demands expertise). It makes the most sense for gas station chains that want to move into the EV space.
Rather than provide the charging infrastructure, solutions providers sell EV hardware, software, and services to residences, commercial buildings, fleet operators, and more. Their offerings vary, including consultation, maintenance, turnkey services for businesses looking to provide EV amenities, and more. Payment occurs either at installation, monthly, or annually if service is ongoing. In this model, turning a profit means soliciting discounts on hardware and software you then sell at a markup. Strong sales and customer service skills are vital to this model, and experience with EVs or other green tech can be a boon.
To learn more about how to start an EV charging station business with a model that works for you, read How to develop a profitable EV charging station business model.
Maintenance considerations for an electric vehicle charging station business
Operating a successful electric vehicle charging station business means ensuring every piece of the operation stays in working order. That keeps customers happy and revenue flowing. As sophisticated feats of engineering, Level 2 and DC fast chargers have several components you'll need to maintain.
The hardware components of an EV charger include its charger box, battery, switches, converters, cables, and connectors. Outer components should be checked for damage and wear on a regular basis, with supplemental checks performed after stormy weather. Connectors and cables must be cleaned of dust and other debris to ensure they work well for as long as possible.
Use your charging station management system (CSMS) to allocate safe and efficient loads for each of your chargers. The system should have safeguards in the event of lost connectivity, maintaining max charge set points in non-volatile memory. A software-driven power management system will outperform local load management features available on the hardware itself. Some systems, including ChargeLab, can detect a full vehicle battery and reallocate power to other chargers on the fly.
If your Level 2 charger takes more than a few hours to give a full charge, or your DC fast charger takes over an hour, you may have a voltage issue that requires fixing or replacing the battery.
EV charging stations rely on payment processing infrastructure such as RFID readers and credit card scanners to collect customer payments. Customers typically transact either via their mobile device (in-app or on the web) or through an external point-of-sale interface. Your CSMS should have complete and accurate receipt information to maintain compliance with CTEP.
If a charging station in your network disappears from your CSMS, that's a sure sign something needs fixing. It may be that the station itself has a hardware problem that requires repair, or it may be a simple connection problem. Choosing a CSMS provider that offers customer support can accelerate troubleshooting and safeguard against extended outages.
For more on maintenance considerations, read A guide to EV charging station maintenance.
Need-to-know EV charging station regulations
Several standards have been propagated around EV charging, handed down by hardware manufacturers, software designers, car manufacturers, and national governments. Here are two of the most important ones in the United States.
National Electric Code Article 625
If you want to know how to start an EV charging station business safely in the US, you need to review NEC Article 625. That article sets the bar for installing and maintaining EV charging equipment, from where to put the equipment to what kind of materials to use. Some key points:
- EV charging systems can be placed indoors or outdoors as long all their physical infrastructure fits and their charging cables can reach EV charging ports. However, where you place your system will affect your ventilation, waterproofing, and shock protection needs.
- EV chargers must be stored 18 inches above the ground if indoors or 24 inches above the ground outdoors.
- EV charging systems must use cables appropriate for their location. Those cables should carry one of the following labels designating NEC approval: EV, EVJ, EVE, EVJE, EVT, or EVJT. Charging cables longer than 25 feet require a cable management system, but the standard practice is to manage shorter lines, too.
With $5 billion in federal funding available for EV charging systems, the Department of Transportation (DoT) stepped in with guidelines around who could apply for funding. Funding applicants must meet the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure standard, which went into effect on March 30, 2023. The standard is designed to promote interconnected EV infrastructure along federal highways, but any system that uses Title 23 federal funds must meet it no matter its location. NEVI covers topics such as eligible charger types, payment processing, cybersecurity, data privacy, and labor rules.
For more on EV charging station standards, read The big list of EV charging station standards and specs to know.
The importance of universal charging stations
Universal EV charging stations are designed to let EV owners charge their cars no matter what hardware standard or software system is in place. This interoperability makes owning (and recharging) an EV simpler and more practical, which drives further adoption.
In the current EV charging station landscape, operators have to deal with several inconsistencies among different chargers. For example, the wide gamut of hardware can make it difficult to scale a charging network efficiently. But with universal charging software, operators can mix and match products from various manufacturers according to their own budgetary, market, and quality concerns to create the stack that works for them. EV drivers benefit, too, as open protocol charging frees them from painstakingly planning every charging stop on their trip.
Despite their promise, universal charging stations have yet to conquer the market. Many EV chargers claim to be universal, but drivers frequently visit charging stations that turn out to be incompatible. This makes it hard for potential EV owners to trust they can recharge when needed and complicates ownership of EV charging stations.
ChargeLab was one of the first 50 members of the Open Charge Alliance and has advocated for the adoption of open protocols in EV charging since the very beginning (in fact, we run an entire boot camp program for manufacturers to improve their OCPP compliance!).
For more on universal charging stations and the future of EVs, read How universal EV charging stations are driving EV adoption.
Critical EV charging standards
As the EV industry matures, more and more manufacturers are adhering to standards that maintain high levels of quality and consistency for consumers. Standards now exist that govern operation, installation, and safety.
- SAE International standards, devised by an industry group of mobility professionals, establish hardware and software guidelines.
- ISO 15118 sets a standard for digital communications between an EV and the charging station.
- Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) is a universal communications standard that allows the hardware and software of different providers to work together.
- Open Charge Point Interface (OCPI) is an automated roaming protocol that lets charging stations serve drivers outside their network.
- The Canadian Electricity and Gas Inspection Act provisions for safety requirements and EV charging outputs.
Installation and permitting standards
- The Alternative Fuels Data Center maintains a list of installation requirements from the US government, and its permit template provides a solid framework for what to expect.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will apply to your electric vehicle charging station business, so be sure to review it during planning to ensure disabled customers can charge with ease. The Accessible Canada Act applies many similar requirements.
Safety and security
- SOC 2 compliance helps ensure a high standard of information security.
- PCI DSS compliance safeguards customer payment info and keeps your business in good standing with payment card companies.
To learn more about the regulations and standards that affect how to start an EV charging station business, read The big list of EV charging regulations and standards.
Charger specifications to know when starting an EV charging business
EV chargers have different specifications based on their expected charging level. There are three levels in total:
- Connection: Standard 120V outlet
- Charge speed: 5 km or 3 mi per hour of charging
- Average time to full charge: 20+ hours
Level 1 chargers are the simplest to manage because they use existing electrical infrastructure. That makes them a good fit for residential or emergency use. On the other hand, their slow charging speed disqualifies them from commercial use.
- Connection: 240V outlet
- Charge speed: 30–50 km or 20–30 mi per hour of charging
- Average time to full charge: 6 to 14 hours
Level 2 chargers require specialized installation, using higher-voltage outlets and dedicated software to charge faster and intelligently bill customers automatically. They're well suited to retail deployments.
- Connection: Direct current
- Charge speed: 200 km per hour or 124 mi per hour
- Average time to full charge: 20 minutes to an hour
Level 3 chargers use direct current (DC), which requires specialized hardware and electrical infrastructure. This gets them unparalleled charging speeds, making them ideal for thoroughfares and along major highways as gas station replacements.
EV connector types
Part of starting an EV charging station business means choosing which connector types to support. Some of the most popular examples include:
- SAE J1772: The North American standard, also known as the J Plug, supports Level 1 and 2 charging systems.
- IEC 62196 Type 2: The European standard supports Level 2 chargers.
- Combined Charging System (CCS): A DC connector for Level 3 charging in North America and Europe.
- CHAdeMo: A DC connector designed by the Japanese company of the same name and popular in Japan.
- GB/T: The standard connector in China, with different models for each of the three charging levels.
- NACS: A formerly proprietary connector for Tesla EVs, the North American Charging Standard is now open to the industry. Automakers, including Ford, GM, Nissan, and beyond, have announced plans to adopt the standard.
For more on installation requirements and network compatibility, read EV charger specifications every pro needs to know.
Maximizing ROI when adding EV charging to your business
As the number of EVs on the road has more than tripled in the past three years, demand for hotels, condos, and other businesses to add charging stations to their offerings has continued to mount. These chargers' return on investment (ROI) can include additional revenue, brand appeal, and cost savings with the careful deployment of EV charging incentives.
To determine your ROI, begin by understanding your customers. How safe will they feel leaving their vehicles in your care, and how quickly will they need their cars recharged? The busier your business, the more sense it makes to invest in fast Level 3, or DC, chargers. Businesses with slower customer turnover, such as hotels, can likely use a higher ratio of Level 2 chargers.
Next, you'll need to determine where to place these chargers for maximum benefit. Performing market research on the demand for chargers in your area can help clarify this process, as can consulting with a financial advisor with regard to installation costs.
Speaking of: The easiest way to install EV chargers is to turn to an EV solutions provider. They'll do the research, install, and operate the charging stations for you. As an EV infrastructure provider, they likely qualify for more rebates than your business. They're also experts in their field and can guide you through permitting, rebate application, and installation. Finally, they're there to help should something go wrong with the chargers.
To learn more about the incentives set to benefit businesses that install EV charging stations, read 7 EV charging incentives for businesses going green.
Supercharge your electric vehicle charging station business
Moving into electric vehicle charging is a chance to power both a better world and a healthier bottom line, and investing in the right tools early can make both easier. That's why we at ChargeLab designed our CSMS for deep functionality and wide-ranging flexibility. No matter your hardware, we're here to help. Reach out today to learn more.