Public charging and parking have a symbiotic relationship, for obvious reasons. A number of companies in the charging field are forging business relationships with parking providers, which may be large employers, owners of commercial, residential or government properties or third-party operators of paid parking facilities.
Most of us devote surprisingly little thought to parking, considering how often we do it. However, the quantity and quality of parking can be of critical importance to a business. Many a potential customer (or potential resident of an apartment complex) decides where to go based on how convenient and pleasant the parking experience will be, and many a business has gone under because of insufficient parking.
Every Charged reader will surely agree that EV charging, especially if it’s free, is a welcome addition to any parking facility. And there’s a growing amount of data that supports the value of charging for parking lot operators. Although public charging is a fairly new phenomenon, there are already a couple of studies that have found EVSE attracts shoppers that stay longer and spend more money.
Data from the DOE-funded EV Project showed retailers that customers were coming from outside the normal radius of influence. EV drivers stayed for longer periods of time, and traveled to new locations that they probably wouldn’t visit if charging weren’t available. “Blink members spend twice as much time at a retailer, and they will drive up to two times farther to get to a location with charging,” Former ECOtality Executive VP Garrett Beauregard told Charged last year. One among many case studies concerns that quintessential American small business, a McDonald’s franchise in Southern California. “Because we can see where drivers go, where their home is, and where the key-on and key-off events happen, we found out that people were traveling to this particular McDonald’s from far away. Nowadays you don’t usually have to drive far to find a Mickey D’s, but we were seeing people drive to this one from miles and miles away.”
Another attractive amenity, especially in hotter climates, is shaded parking. Apollo Sunguard, based in Sarasota, Florida, has been manufacturing and selling outdoor shade structures for 18 years, and has long targeted the parking market. Company President Kevin Connelly observed the proliferation of public charging facilities in recent years, and it occurred to him that “charging and shade structures go hand in glove. They really were meant for each other.”
“We use a shade cloth, which allows the air to pass thru, while blocking 97 percent of UV radiation,” Connelly told Charged, characterizing his company’s products as artificial shade trees. “The net result is a 20-degree air temperature drop.”
Shading a parked automobile can deliver an even larger difference in temperature. For example, in Florida at noon in July, a car’s internal temperature can reach a dog-killing 200 degrees F. According to Connelly, under one of Apollo Sunguard’s shade structures, the maximum temperature inside a vehicle is 98 degrees F.
“We also suspected that EVs could benefit from this, because batteries and inverters do not like heat,” said Connelly. “We contacted ECOtality, and they agreed to do a test. The results were dramatic. They demonstrated that an EV charged 15 minutes faster when kept cool, and that they used 2 kWh less energy per charge.”
By itself, that energy savings probably isn’t enough to justify the purchase of one of Apollo Sunguard’s shade structures, which start at around $1,700 per vehicle space. However, the savings in charging time is significant, and charging in the shade offers a number of other benefits as well. It’s fairly well established that prolonged exposure to temperatures above 86 degrees F will reduce the capacity of lithium-manganese cells, so keeping cool may help prolong battery life.
Also, it takes less time and energy for the AC to cool down the car if the interior isn’t so hot to begin with – the savings could amount to as much as 20 minutes of run time for a 1.5 kW AC compressor. Everyone likes to have their car cooled more quickly, but it’s especially important for EV drivers, because less AC use translates directly to greater range.
Of course, the biggest benefit of shaded parking is more comfort.
Connelly is a bit puzzled that there isn’t more demand for shaded parking in the US, because the market is huge in other regions, including Australia and South America. He cites the examples of Wal-Mart stores in Mexico, and many big-box retailers in Brazil, all of which offer shaded parking.
A study in Brazil found that shaded parking, like EV charging, made customers stay longer and spend more money. It stands to reason that the combination of the two could give a shopping center a big advantage in attracting prime customers.
Apollo Sunguard recently scored a federal contract with the General Services Administration (GSA) to install 168 charging stations throughout the US, in partnership with ChargePoint. Clients include NASA, the US Army and the National Park Service. Connelly says this is part of a pilot program under which the GSA fleet will start seriously moving towards electrification.
The company didn’t sell any shade structures as part of the current GSA contract, but it is steadily working the shade/charging combination into its proposals. It has installed a demo shaded charging facility at the Florida House in Sarasota.
Apollo Sunguard’s products come with a full warranty – 15 years for the fabric, 20 for the seals. They are installed using a cantilever system, so there are no posts or columns to back into.
Since getting involved in the EV market, the company has had a lot of people asking, “Why not put solar panels on top?” Its structures are fully capable of mounting solar panels, so it is an option if a customer wants it. Given today’s solar technology however, Connelly feels that his product is more cost-effective on its own.
This article originally appeared in Charged Issue 14 – June/July 2014