energy efficiency

How EV Chargers Help Campus Energy Ecosystems Evolve

Electric vehicle chargers are much more than a plug-and-play upgrade to the old gas pump.

Electric engines are incredibly efficient, getting useful work out of 85 percent of the energy that goes into them. Gas engines only get 30 percent, wasting a lot of the energy we pay to fill them up with. That one fact drives intense fuel cost savings for electric vehicles, a clear win for a campus shuttle and bus conversion. But switching from gas to electric also opens up a world of operational resilience, energy independence and sustainability — with the right implementation of electric vehicle charging technology. 

If we think of a campus as having an energy ecosystem, EV chargers are a uniquely key part of it. EV chargers connect transportation energy use, building infrastructure and operations in ways that empower institutions to source, store and use energy differently. With the right plan, EV chargers can do more than keep the shuttles running. They help a campus realize concrete benefits immediately from exciting new technologies in renewable energy, like solar glass, and infrastructure resiliency, like high-capacity energy storage.

EV Charging Station

Photos courtesy of ABM

See More Possibilities for Solar Energy

EV chargers neatly solve a common roadblock to solar energy projects. Without a plan to effectively match energy generation and the energy load (or energy use), it’s too easy to waste energy while the sun shines or find it’s gone when you need it at night. A parking spot with rooftop solar feeding batteries for an EV charger is essentially making, storing and delivering energy all in one, neatly solving both problems.

Improving sustainability for an energy ecosystem isn’t always easy, even with the best of intentions. EV charging and solar generation together provide a sustainable energy upgrade that clearly delivers concrete benefits. If a campus switches their shuttle fleet to electric, there’s already an investment in EV charging infrastructure on the books. Using a project that’s already benefiting the budget to add more sustainable energy generation to your campus is a win-win. Adding solar to an EV charger upgrade is really a triple-win: more energy independence, less energy costs and better sustainability metrics.

The Attraction of Solar Glass

Solar glass is a renewable energy generating technology that looks like normal architectural glass, giving everyone a design option beyond big, blue solar panels. More importantly, it’s engineered to be used on the side of buildings and generate energy with a less direct angle on the sun. Now, a solar upgrade isn’t limited to a rooftop of black or blue rectangles. A building built or upgraded with solar glass looks like any other modern glass-sided building. Solar glass is even available in a range of colors.

Imagine transforming the side of a parking structure on campus, covering slabs of concrete with solar glass. That’s more attractive and more sustainable, and it’s turned unproductive real estate into an energy-generating resource.

Solar glass on EV Charging Station

Increase Energy Resilience for the Campus Community

EV chargers can use high-capacity batteries to store renewables like solar, and they can use them to avoid drawing energy from the grid during peak use. If the utility charges more for peak use, the batteries can fill up when the price of energy is lower. That same energy storage also makes an energy ecosystem more resilient by keeping the power flowing during a crisis.

Battery storage for EV chargers can be wired to supply key systems, keeping campus communications and information systems running when outages, weather events or other emergencies threaten. Everything a campus might need a backup generator for, such as emergency lighting, food storage or emergency shelters, can benefit from the added resiliency of high-capacity energy storage.

Consider the solar glass-clad parking garage described above. That energy storage might have been planned to support a fuel island for campus shuttles. Maybe it normally provides a green amenity for parking customers. But in the event of a power outage of any kind, the island can be shut off, or limited, and the stored energy rerouted to where it’s needed.

Using an EV charging installation to improve resiliency will require a clear understanding of how a campus’ buildings and services will use energy during emergencies. Reviewing response plans alongside capacity planning helps plan energy storage a campus community can rely on.

Know Your Routes

The success of an EV charger installation plan depends on a good analysis of charging needs, and that goes double for supporting technologies like battery storage and renewable production. Shuttles and buses are key components of an energy ecosystem. Cost-effectively serving transportation needs depends on a lot of interconnected factors, from rider patterns, routes and vehicle size, to how energy is supplied and consumed.

In some cases, a centralized EV depot could be the most cost-effective infrastructure plan, avoiding redundancies and leveraging the efficiency of scale. For another campus, a decentralized plan might support other fleet needs (service vehicles and trucks) or spread-out parking structures better. Decentralization improves resiliency, with separate energy storage and generation able to supply more buildings and services. Coordinating with multiple departments’ transportation and shipping needs is key to developing a charging plan that serves everyone.

It’s Also a Revenue Generator
As more and more people switch to electric vehicles, the demand for charging will only increase. Campus parking with EV charging can meet that demand as an amenity or as a service that generates revenue. Visitors may need to charge after a long drive, especially parents driving new or prospective students to campus. When the energy going into their vehicle was sustainably sourced by the college, prospective students see a real commitment to sustainability principles.

Providing charging for faculty and staff is a nice perk today but it soon may be a necessity for campus commuters, something everyone will expect the energy ecosystem around them to provide. Depending on how you look at the possible income from EV charging fees, it can help offset costs of sustainability projects or help parking areas draw more traffic and generate more revenue from it.

Beyond the Benefit of Electric Vehicles Alone

Electric shuttles, buses and campus vehicles mean less exhaust and less noise. Electric engines have far better torque, contributing to a safer and smoother ride. All those quality-of-life benefits for students and staff come with substantially lower fuel and maintenance costs. By using far less energy and switching what is used to more renewable, more sustainable sources, institutions can demonstrate their core values and create a campus culture that students want to be a part of.

An EV charging plan is an opportunity to drive the evolution of an institution’s entire energy ecosystem by connecting new technologies with solid outcomes and clear cost savings. A solutions partner with experience in every aspect of that energy ecosystem, from facilities to electrical infrastructure and transportation, can help those technologies transform a campus and the student experience.

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