From main street to Wall Street, businesses are leaning into the EV movement. This year Starbucks announced that it will be installing up to 60 EV chargers at its locations. IKEA is following suit. With less fanfare but much urgency, EV charging stations are also quietly popping up at university campuses and grocery store parking lots across North America.
If you’re interested in installing commercial EV chargers, this is an exciting time to join the industry. However, commercial EV charging comes with a unique set of challenges and considerations. Read on to learn more about what working with commercial clients is like and some important hardware and software best practices to keep in mind.
How is running a commercial EV charging business different from other verticals?
Working with commercial clients adds another layer of complexity to running an EV charging business. However, tailoring your charging solutions to their needs can help you stand out in the burgeoning EV market. We listed a few areas of focus below.
What do retailers, real estate groups, and university administrators have in common? Probably not an in-depth knowledge of the EV industry. If you’re an EV industry insider, you’ll need to adjust your mindset to serving clients who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of installing EV chargers.
And while plenty of businesses are excited about EV adoption and may seek out your services, not everyone is on board. Some clients may be wary about upfront costs and fail to see the value of having EV charging stations on their premises.
EV charging businesses can combat this reticence and lack of familiarity with solid client education initiatives. In other words, baking support and guidance into your workflow can pay off when dealing with commercial clients.
Although EVs are far more efficient than gas cars, they still require a lot of energy to charge—as much as three houses use at once. That can put a lot of strain on electrical infrastructure, and it can be especially tricky in commercial buildings. These constructions often use 3-phase or split-phase power, which can present additional challenges for EV charging. Some even demand infrastructure upgrades before a charger can be installed.
Software-based power management helps keep things simple for clients regardless of their power setup. By balancing energy use across EV chargers on the infrastructure, power management can balance loads safely while improving efficiency. The phase amperage limits included in some power management systems can even save clients with three-phase power from installing expensive upgrades. Plus, power management can allow more chargers to operate safely on the same infrastructure.
Customer service and support
Clients will be relying on you to help them navigate the EV charging landscape through the installation process and beyond. Of course, being available to answer questions and keeping all parties informed is a given. But EV charging businesses working with retailers may want to place an even greater emphasis on customer support, including maintenance and troubleshooting.
There are numerous federal, state, and local initiatives aimed at supporting EV adoption. Having to wade through them all can be an exhausting process for a local small business group or a university administrator tasked with adding some EV chargers to their campus. EV charging businesses that can zero in on relevant programs for clients quickly will have the upper hand in the commercial EV charging landscape.
Here are a few of the most well-known initiatives to keep in mind and some resources:
- The Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Tax Credit applies to up to 30% of the purchase cost of a commercial publicly-accessible EV charger.
- The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program is a new $5 billion initiative focused on funding nationwide EV infrastructure. Many states already applied for grants through NEVI, so be sure to check in with your local agencies for updates.
- Check local state and city governments who may offer rebates to businesses for installing EV charging stations. Keep an eye on this page from the Alternative Fuels Data Center for the latest.
Use ChargeLab’s rebate finder to source relevant opportunities for your clients.
Different commercial clients will have different needs and require different chargers for their customers. For example, a set of Level 2 chargers may work well for a shopping center in a residential neighborhood, but a charging station in an industrial area with a lot of heavy-duty vehicles will need a few Level III (faster, high-voltage) chargers to properly serve its clientele.
That means interoperability is key for EV charging businesses that want to work with commercial clients. Connecting different chargers to a hardware-agnostic charger station management software (CSMS) makes the logistical challenge of installing commercial EV chargers at scale less daunting.
Types of commercial properties in need of EV chargers
Commercial EV charger installation is a broad field, and your clients’ needs will vary by property type. There are many shared challenges such as user access, charger interoperability, and load balancing. Still, solving a client’s unique pain points can help you specialize.
Retail spaces and event venues
The clients: Commercial property managers, real estate developers, local business groups, venue management groups
Their spaces: Malls, shopping centers, stadiums, concert halls, coffee shops, gyms, museums
The challenge: Payment processing—EV chargers in high-traffic areas need to accept and process a variety of payment types. Retailers want to provide maximum flexibility to their customers, but they may also want to offer EV charging for free as a perk to patrons and for a fee to everyone else.
The solution: A CSMS that can manage payments seamlessly and lets businesses differentiate or “validate” a free charge for patrons.
The clients: Real estate groups, property management groups, landlords, developers, condo associations
Their spaces: Apartment buildings, housing developments
The challenge: Support and maintenance—imagine a tenant waking up in the morning and finding out that their vehicle did not charge even though they plugged it in last night. Now they can’t get to work and are probably annoyed with their building manager. Multi-family units need access to quality customer support so they can serve their tenants.
The solution: A 24/7 customer support accessible via email-based online ticketing and a toll-free phone number.
The homes away from homes
The client: Hospitality groups, office and commercial real estate groups
Their spaces: Hotels, resorts, offices, coworking spaces
The challenge: Client experience—hotels and office spaces want their patrons to return (or renew their office lease). If they’re installing EV chargers on site, they will want to market this as a modern convenience and show that they’re a leader in sustainability.
The solution: A white-label solution that allows hotels, employers, or real estate groups to add their branding to the EV charging experience. That could include a branded web and mobile app for patrons, as well as network cards.
Public service providers
The clients: Universities, local government agencies, school districts, medical groups
Their spaces: University campuses, community centers, city parks, hospitals, and medical centers
The challenge: User education—clients in this sector often juggle a lot of competing priorities and may need extra time and support throughout the installation process.
The solution: Turn-key solutions that require minimum technical knowledge from clients.
How to install a commercial EV charger: typical workflow
The needs of each commercial client may be unique, but most installation processes will follow a similar workflow:
- Initial consultation: In your first conversation with a potential client, you’ll discuss their business goals and desired scope (number of chargers, locations, etc.).
- Rebate review: You will need to do some research and see if the client qualifies for any rebates from utilities or local governments.
- Site consultation: A representative from your EV charging company will need to visit the site(s) to clarify the scope of work and get an idea of how the installation process will unfold.
- Product identification: Based on the information you collected, you’ll need to make product suggestions to the client appropriate to their target clientele, location, logistics, and budget.
- Final work proposal: Present the final work proposal to the client with an estimate (including any rebates) and scope of work (number of chargers to be installed at which locations).
- Installation prep: If the client accepts the final proposal, you can get started on acquiring permits, procuring equipment, and setting an installation date.
- Installation: Install EV chargers and make sure the hardware and software components are working properly. Set up CSMS permissions for clients.
- Closeout and continuous support: Continue to support the client after installation by resolving maintenance issues and offering user education on trends in EV charging.
EV charging software built for everyone
As you build your EV charging business, you’re going to want a software solution that scales with you. ChargeLab offers hardware-agnostic white-label software that works with all OCCP-compliant EV chargers. Find out more about our solution.