The U.S. Census Bureau estimated in 2019 that there were 6.1 million employers in the United States. However, as of early 2021, there were estimated to be fewer than 10,000 chargers at workplaces. With transportation now the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the country must rapidly scale the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) to meet national and international climate goals.
Significant and rapid growth in EVs has the potential to bring substantial benefits to the entire country. To support a projected electric vehicle stock of 26 million in the United States in 2030, the number of workplace chargers needs to increase dramatically to 1.3 million.
Employers have a critical role to play in providing low- or no-cost charging infrastructure to employees, encouraging the adoption of EVs to support the electrification of the transportation sector. Employers that invest in workplace charging will benefit from improved attraction and retention of employees, reduced emissions from commuting, and an enhanced reputation as a sustainability leader.
Why Workplace Charging is Important
Approximately 30% of all EV drivers lack access to home charging. Low-income communities and those of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) who are impacted worst and first by air pollution often don’t have easy access to home charging, and hence are less likely to consider EVs as a viable transportation option.
Most large metropolitan areas do not have the necessary workplace charging infrastructure, so workplaces will play an important role in filling this critical gap. Access to Level 1 charging at home and Level 2 charging at work could meet the charging needs of over 92% of U.S. drivers’ workday travel.
Access to charging at work provides a valuable employee benefit that makes it easier for people to switch their gas-powered cars for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Employees benefit from owning EVs with lower fuel and maintenance costs, with HOV highway lane access, with improved driver experience with a smoother and quieter ride, and with environmental benefits due to lower emissions.
Workplace charging can also play a key role in driving EV sales, both by making it easier to charge and by normalizing EV commuting. When employees see peers driving electric, they are more likely to drive electric themselves. A U.S. DOE research study shows that employees who can charge at work are 6 times more likely to purchase an EV.
Providing workplace charging benefits employers as well. They can attract and retain employees with this low-cost, high-impact benefit and build reputations as sustainability leaders.
Implementing workplace charging enables organizations to lower their carbon footprint by encouraging employees to drive electric, thereby reducing pollution from employee commutes. Companies with onsite charging stations and employees who commute by EVs earn LEED certification points and other sustainability certifications. “Federal Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grants” can help communities meet this need, but only if these funds are spent in a targeted way to overcome the key barriers to workplace charging.
Challenges in Workplace Charging
Information and Motivation: Employers generally have limited information about EVs and charging, and often do not see charging as a problem they need to solve. They may fall back on unhelpful analogies (“We don’t provide gasoline, why should we provide charging?”) rather than helpful ones (“We provide bike racks and lockers to support cyclists, we should provide charging to support EV drivers!”).
Stakeholder Complexity: It is often unclear who would be a logical champion to support workplace charging within companies. Driving this process to a successful conclusion often takes high-level executive leadership, which is a limited resource.
Technical Complexity: Electrical infrastructure capacity and layout vary significantly from building to building. The cost of installing charging can also vary substantially based on the specific location, the amount of trenching, and conduit required, among other site-specific factors.
Parking Logistics: Parking management varies by building. When employers rent space from a commercial property manager, the incentives are split, and employers may have little leverage with property managers except during lease renewals.
Cost: The upfront cost of charging equipment can be daunting to employers. Furthermore, upgrading transformers and adding more panels may add significant expense.
Components of a Successful Workplace Charging Model
Center Equity: The most impactful workplace charging programs will center and focus on employers with primarily low/moderate wage employees that face long commutes and have limited access to transit service.
Ensure the Community Benefits: Charging programs should ensure disadvantaged communities and drivers will benefit in ways that are meaningful to them.
Provide Proactive Hands-on Support: Successful programs will include proactive outreach to help employers understand why and how they can provide charging, walk them through the process, identify solutions, and support them with funding incentives as needed. The program should include support for high-level needs assessment, site-specific technical assessments, and hands-on work with employers.
Leverage Multiple Funding Sources: Most successful programs will draw on multiple funding sources that may include federal, state, or city grants; utility investment; and philanthropic funding. While grants or tax credits may be available to help cover the cost of charging equipment and installation, other sources of funding will often be needed to support electric vehicles, mobility services, community engagement, workforce development, or other efforts.
Communities and organizations interested in learning more and working to access the Federal Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grants can find best practices for designing workplace charging programs here. They are also encouraged to align with the Charge@Work national workplace charging program developed by Forth and CALSTART, and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. This national effort is designed to provide local governments, utilities, and other partner organizations with tools and resources designed to overcome the barriers to developing charging infrastructure at workplace sites.
By Aleksandra Evert, Program Manager — Access to Charging, Forth
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