Will the DOE’s Workplace Charging Challenge Breakthrough?


Workplace Charging Makes EVs More Suitable for All

Workplace Charging Makes EVs More Suitable for All

The Workplace Charging Challenge, from the Department of Energy (DoE), snagged 50 companies in 2013 in its efforts to stress a “bottom-up” approach to electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. Where does it go in 2014?

The Department of Energy launched its EV Workplace Charging Challenge in January of 2013 to aid in the adoption of electric vehicles and to lay the groundwork for a charging infrastructure strategy that relies on tax credits, partnerships and now EV enthusiasts.

The challenge aims to “increase the number of American employers offering workplace charging by tenfold in the next five years,” according to the DoE’s fact sheet. Company participants include Google, ABB Inc., Zappos, Evernote, Samsung and Nissan, to name a few.

Here’s an example trickle-down workplace charging in Lisle, Illinois (outside of Chicago). Property owners and EV enthusiasts push workplace charging due to attractive tax credits and enhanced green credentials.

Here’s an example trickle-down workplace charging in Lisle, Illinois (outside of Chicago). Property owners and EV enthusiasts push workplace charging due to attractive tax credits and enhanced green credentials.

So, with 50 large companies signed on to the DoE’s workplace challenge–government shutdown probably didn’t help–is the challenge taking shape or languishing? Using the DoE’s tenfold goal and its company total for 2013, it computes to 500 partner companies in the workplace challenge by 2017.

Some insiders in the EV industry are emphasizing that workplace charging could be the tipping point for mass consumer adoption–exposure for consumers to EV technology and benefits up close.

So, does 500 companies by 2017 translate into a tipping point for EVs or will “trickle-down” workplace charging by smaller companies–non DoE partners– supplement this overall number to provide an EV tipping point?

Not to be confused with trickle charges–usually associated with 120V EV charging–trickle-down workplace charging describes how smaller companies and property owners are taking the plunge at their facility. In 2013, these workplace charging initiatives are being urged on upon by enthusiasts, new EV car owners and informed property owners regarding federal and state tax credits.

Recent posts on a Facebook Chevy Volt Group page via Volt owner Matthew Sawyer shows a Hewlett-Packard location in Michigan currently supports workplace charging with a 120V plug in multiple parking lot lighting towers. HP offers free charging at this point.

Additionally, Sawyer adds that the company is looking to install Level 2 chargers to support the eight electric vehicles–seven Chevy volts and one Nissan Leaf.

In the western suburbs of Chicago, Scott Fauque, software engineer, CA Technologies and Chevy Volt owner told me that the Central Park Office building in Lisle has installed two, level II dual-chargers using ChargePoint software to manage the units.

Along with the federal EV infrastructure tax credit of 30% on each charge station, additional LEED credits can also be part of cost-savings for owners. In 2014, charging station federal tax credits for businesses and individuals expires.

According to Fauque, the charging at Central Park of Illinois differs from most, it charges $0.40 to connect to the charger and between $0.40-0.60 per hour for a charge. Fauque does not use the chargers due to his short commute and cheaper electricity rates at home.

MetLife offers free charging to employees and is a partner company in the DoE’s Workplace Charging Challenge. It has a total of 32 Level II charging units throughout the country.

MetLife offers free charging to employees and is a partner company in the DoE’s Workplace Charging Challenge. It has a total of 32 Level II charging units throughout the country.

At MetLife, employees receive free EV charging at any of the fourteen offices where charging stations have been installed. MetLife is an official partner in the DoE’s Workplace Charging Challenge and has a total of 32 Level II charging units, supplied by GE, spread out across the U.S.

The rollout at MetLife started in the property management group, where Joshua Weiner, senior sustainability lead and John Chambers, assistant vp, promoted this idea of a new amenity for employees and support the company’s existing environmental programs.

Chambers says, “We wanted to do something outside of the box and looked at renewable energy options. We thought the car charging would really resonate with employees.”

The MetLife charging program started in April 2013–joined the DoE Workplace Charging Challenge in May 2013–and currently the company does not have an official reservation policy for employees at the different locales. “Due to low volume, the charging unit policy is on a first come, first serve basis with our building management administering RFID cards for charging,” says Weiner.

MetLife adds, “that Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts, Ford Fusions and Teslas have been charged at the company’s parking facilities.” MetLife monitors its charging activity automatically through its building automation systems and other companies, such as Texas Instrument and its 46 Level II chargers, will be watching usage levels over the next year.

DOE Map Shows Most of the Participating Workplaces

DOE Map Shows Most of the Participating Workplaces

The DoE did not offer comments on the Workplace Charging Challenge for this article, but did say that at the end of January 2014 there will be a “program information” announcement.

At the Workplace Charging Event in June 2013, sponsored by NextEnergy and CalStart, Sarah Olexsak, workplace challenge charging coordinator, DoE, emphasized that the current fiscal climate in Washington for infrastructure is not positive and that a workplace charging strategy–a bottom-up approach–is vital to continuing EV adoption.

So, with expiring federal tax credits, will workplace charging installations be as attractive and will “trickle down” charging efforts continue in 2014?

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27 Comments on "Will the DOE’s Workplace Charging Challenge Breakthrough?"

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I forwarded the website to my company’s big bosses and even mentioned it to them a few times in person. I always got the same response, “We’re looking into it.” But I suspect it will never happen until there are more employees driving a plug-in vehicle than just me. All of our executives drive Tahoes so that pretty much explains their mentality on the topic.

David, do you think ridiculing their mentality helps your argument?

It’s not ridicule. Just an observation. People who drive vehicles like Tahoes quite commonly have a different mindset about plug-in vehicles.

Rick; You’re assuming he’s ridiculing them by saying they drive big gas burners, and I’m sure you’re right, but this is also the description of a mind set that’s prolific among finance people, or more accurately, corporate officers. Lawyers and accountants, MBA’s, CFO’s etc.. These people aren’t stupid, just greedy and self obsessed. I think the attitude is prolific in corporate America because the “must compete for profit” ideology prevails. Some corporations do the opposite, I’m thinking Tesla, Costco, one or two solar companies I’ve dealt with recently and I’m sure there are lots more beyond my horizons. They take a genuine interest in the person(s) who uses their products and not only works with them to navigate how the options fit their lifestyle, but monitor (discretely) how the product performs. We should be so lucky with health insurers, they just want your money and to extricate you from their facility. Gone to them means just that. RIP, please. So now we have 20th century and 21st century corps . More and more I’m shopping the company first, or at the same time as the product, especially if it’s an important piece of our energy plan. Our new EV is… Read more »

Anyone have a link to any tax-breaks or other incentives for workplaces to install chargers?

I have noticed more large company office parks are adding employee charging. Locally, I have seen Cisco, IBM, Qualcomm, Schneider Electric, Siemens, etc. This is encouraging.

Encouraging yes… if those are used properly. And that’s a big IF. The main company on the campus I’m working at installed EVSEs too, and offers free charging to employees and visitors. Sounds great, until one realizes that there are only two units, four plugs total, for 1000+ employees. Furthermore, they’re on adjacent spots, against a wall, making sharing a royal pain as people are understandably reluctant to move their vehicle during the day, and get no incentive to do so. Anyway, unless one can consistently show up every day before 6am to try and guarantee a spot, those EVSEs completely fail to enable anyone to use an EV to commute beyond half its range. The first three people who show up, plus I guess the manager who got this installed, get to leech electrons whether they need any or not, and too bad for the remaining 99.7%. I know of no plan to add more EVSEs nor change policy. Good idea on paper, but the one implementation I get too see up close is a total fail. Hopefully other companies handle this better, maybe by imposing a time limit, or by charging a small amount per hour, just above… Read more »

As you’ve observed, installing a few L2 charging stations makes little sense for employees. Instead, if an employer installed a 120 v., 15 a. outlet at employee parking spaces designated for plug-in vehicles, employees with plug-in vehicles could use their own 120 v. EVSE’s to charge their cars while they’re parked during work hours. This would be less expensive for employers than installing L2 EVSE’s, and employees would not need to move their cars during the work day to free up shared EVSE’s.

In cold climates, many parking spaces already have 120 v. outlets designed for engine block heaters. These could probably be used for EV charging as well.

The OpenEVSE project has a side effort of a “hydra” cable. Basically one guy designed a charger splitter. Thus, it allows one J1772 end to connect to this Y cable and charge two cars (I believe either simultaneously, at half the current of course, or sequentially). He made one for his office and one for home (where he shares his 240/30A wall charger with his wife’s EV; no one needs to get up in the middle of the night to switch the cable over).

Anyway, it’s an option, although no one sells it yet. But a dual car charger could thus, if the cables are long enough, support four vehicles for nominal extra cost.

Chargepoint has a dual-plug EVSE which shares a 40A circuit. If only one car is charging it can charge at up to 30A. If two cars are charging, each gets 16A.

Link to the OpenEVSE Hydra:

Here, “workplace” and urban are different. Lots of folks drive into cities where employers have no connection to where their employees park.

Big companies will do it to maintain a semblance of green cred, basically PR. Talk to the HR types (cheap benefit), corporate image people (green cred) and so on. It helps if competitors have EVSEs. Dig for any angle you can find. Try to get Tesla test drives for the Tahoe crowd – nothing like a sexy car to get their attention. Be shameless! But that said, I doubt the DOE is going to move the meter. “Oh, the DOE has a program, why didn’t you say so? That makes all the difference.” just doesn’t ring true to me. A couple of points about the article. 500 companies would be nice but that is an extremely modest (perhaps wimpy) goal. Easy to claim victory but not really move the meter. I really don’t see workplace charging as any kind of a tipping point. Home charging will always be the primary method – there is never a question whether you will be able to use it. Sure, there are probably cases where work charging might make a difference for some but I really don’t see an EV purchase decision process starting at “free charging at work”. And, I am almost afraid… Read more »

Let’s say you only live 5-10 miles from work. You live in an apartment complex with no way to charge. In that case, being able to charge at work could make the difference between being able to have an EV or not. Even 120v charging would put more into the battery in an 8 hour day than you would use getting to and from work. Access to a few L2 chargers where you shop, eat, etc, and you’d be able to make it work.

While this is true.. From what I can tell around my place of work is that most of the people that are interested in driving a plug-in vehicle simply face the problem that their commute is too far for pure BEV like a Leaf or Focus. But they can’t afford a Tesla. Having an L2 station at work would make their commute possible.

But also when considering a PHEV, the gas savings isn’t enough if they can only commute one direction in EV mode.

Rick, you’ve already whittled it down to small percentages. Yes, you can always construct examples where it makes sense but let’s focus on the mainstream. Having a charger at work is nice but it’s not a guarantee of availability. Others may be using it or it could be ICEd. You have no control over it remaining there. You may not have control or remaining employed there either. I just don’t think it would be a smart move to depend on a charger you don’t control. Most car owners would not accept that kind of situation. That’s why I believe very few apartment dwellers will own EVs. Not a tipping point.

The average commute in the US is 16 miles and 78% have one way commutes of 20 miles or less.

Indeed.. I wouldn’t want to depend on my employer to charge my car. It might not be so bad with a PHEV, but definitely not a good situation with a BEV.

Apartment complexes are going to be tough to crack. First of all, most people (at least in the area I live) who live in apartments are usually the low-income families. So they already can’t afford a plug-in vehicle anyway. I doubt we’ll see many plug-in vehicles in apartments until they start showing up on the used market at prices that low-income families can afford. But even then, they’ll have to convince the apartment complex to install either 120V plugs or 240V EVSEs.

This is where I think the government may have to jump in to force apartment complexes to do this because it is going to be another catch-22. The apartments will see no benefit for the expense because they have no tenants that use it. But no tenants will buy a plug-in car if they can’t already charge it at their apartment.

Apartment dwellers can be dealt with with legislation, as in CA, but if PEVs succeed I think the market will drag the landlords with them as they’ll see the value in having tenants pay to install chargers that help mame the apartments more desirable..

“Try to get Tesla test drives for the Tahoe crowd – nothing like a sexy car to get their attention. Be shameless!”
I like it!
Really I am a much bigger fan of getting chargers, even 110 outlets into companies than I am L2s into malls. Quick chargers are all together different need.

I do think that company charging very well might be the tipping point as the article suggests.

2014 will be the year of public charging. And 2015 might be the year of full public chargers if companies don’t continue to expand their infrastructure.

I’ve been looking into a way to do fleet recharging (50 EVs overnight). Not easy, need a lot of power and infrastructure (200kW) for a short time (4-6 hours per day). It’d be wonderful to rate limit 240V charging to 8A (8-10 hours to full charge, which is fine) for all the vehicles but I don’t know if its supported on any available EVSE equipment.

Mose EVSEs have dip switches to program the max current they allow to match the circuit breaker and wiring that they are attached to. I suggest contacting Clipper Creek for info on how to do this with their EVSEs.


I’m still amazed that the DOE doesn’t support installation of chargers at its sites (e.g. national labs), yet does advocates/supports charging for non-DOE workplaces.