First Energy fields a surge of questions about EV charging stations

Updated: Dec. 8, 2022 at 5:00 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -The deadline to apply for some of the $140 million the Ohio Department of Transportation has to dole out to install electric vehicle fast-charging stations is fast-approaching, on Dec. 21.

But some in the infrastructure industry warn drivers about what frequent use of these fast-charging pedestals will do to your vehicle.

Patrick Cunningham, with PLP in Mayfield Village, says he’s concerned about the volume of DC fast charging stations being planned and installed.

“If people don’t become educated on these chargers and how they charge their car, it’s going to degrade their car over time. These chargers put a lot of heat and a lot of stress on the batteries. It’s like drinking through a fire hose,” he said.

PLP is responsible for supplying materials for building out electrical grids around the world, including EV charger foundations.

Cunningham says those who lean too much on fast chargers risk exposing their vehicles to too much heat.

“The car has its own charging system, and it likes the AC to go through that charger and right to battery. The DC/FC goes straight to battery, and bypasses that charger,” he said.

According to PLP, studies have shown, that if you only charge on at a dc/fast charging pedestal you’ll degrade your car to 70 percent of its life in ten years.

Cunningham fears impatient drivers, eager for the traditional gas station experience, will too often use fast chargers because they want to pull in, fuel up, and be gone in 5-10 minutes.

“I’d say we’re ten years away from that happening. People need to be smart. I’d like to see more government money spent on more level two charges put in in more places. They’re much cheaper to put in,” he said.

Installation of level 2 chargers run about $2,500 on average, whereas DC fast chargers, can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 due to the infrastructure work required to get enough power to it. That power and those who can get it to the new stations will be at a premium.

Some are forecasting that in less than ten years, half of all vehicle sales will be electric. “We absolutely see a wave coming,” said Brian Farley, First Energy’s Vic President of customer policy and solutions.

He says they’re experiencing a surge of inquiries about service upgrades for electric vehicle chargers.

“We’re trying to get out in front of it. It’s part of our forecasting and planning,” said Farley.

“There’s not enough power out there to charge the amount of EV’s that the government wants us to buy,” said Patrick Cunningham, the business development manager for electric vehicles with PLP in Mayfield Village.

He says some of this momentum is a little premature.

“We’re not against electrification, we just know that the cart is before the horse,” said Cunningham. Farley says they’ve invested $350 million in the last three years in the Ohio’s smart grid, to help reduce and prevent outages, and filed a grid modernization proposal that includes EV pilot programs.

They’re currently coordinating with ODOT to plan for the power necessary to install a corridor of fast chargers starting in 2023.

The Fuel Institute, a non-profit, recently conducted a study to find out how to optimize charger deployment given the federal government’s goal of half a million chargers by 2030.

“Is that the right number? Where do we need the chargers? When do we need them and what kind of chargers do we need?” asked John Eichberger, with The Fuel Institute.

Farley says planning should start with a call to your utility company.

“Make sure that we can connect it. There’s always a timing issue. Everybody is having supply chain issues right now. We’ll want to get you in the cue quickly,” he said.

For residential clients, Farley says first energy will help you determine your needs based on how many vehicles will be using a charging station or bank of them and how many miles those vehicles drive.

“If you’re going to drive only 20-30 miles a day, you really only need to have a 120-volt outlet. If you’re driving more than 30-40 miles a day, you’re going to want a 240 outlet, like the kind you need for a dryer,” he said.

Many commercial and municipal customers are looking into fast chargers. Those will require infrastructure work and a significant investment, likely six figures.

Eichberger says as EV’s grow in popularity so will the cue to get the power upgrades, and the time it takes to get pedestals installed.

“We’re looking at sometimes 18-24 month delays because of the regulatory permitting structures,” said Eichberger.

“We have a cue, and it’s first come first serve,” Farley said.

Both Eichberger and Farley agree streamlining the planning, application and permitting process will be critical in addressing needs quickly.

“Right of ways is another big one. If we have power here, and you need power in a different location and we need to go through a property, you have to get right of ways to do those types of things. Those are the types of things that can really bog down an installation,” Farley said.

“We think of regulators as the enemy, but we need to work together when you collaborate ahead of time, it makes it so much more cost effective.

Doing the groundwork as part of a bigger project is so much less expensive than retrofitting,” Eichberger said.