Business Q&A

Get started attracting EVs to your small business, even on a limited budget

There can be reluctance from small business owners to get involved in supporting electric vehicles, possibly due to an expectation that it will be costly to do. But that doesn't have to be the case. When you have some EV knowledge under your belt, you can understand how to bring EV drivers to your door without a high cost.

This Q&A is intended to help owners of small businesses and attractions along Route 66 and in non-urban areas, to make themselves more visible and inviting to this growing clientele, even if there isn't a lot of money available for an elaborate EV charging installation.

First of all, do I want to attract EV drivers?
Yes, absolutely! As is common with 'early adopters' of new technology, EV owners tend to be more affluent than the average consumer. Higher disposable income means a greater ability to travel, and to support businesses with their spending while doing so. EV owners also love their cars. It's a familiar story in the EV community that once you start driving an EV, you don't want to go back to gas. In multi-car households where at least one car is still gas-powered, it's common to hear of the disappointment experienced when the EV owner, for whatever reason, has to drive their gas car. EV owners really want to drive electric, if it can be managed. A place to charge gives them that chance, and when traveling they can spend some of the money that they are no longer shoving into a gas tank.

What do I need to provide EV charging for travelers?
At the most basic level, all you really need is an electrical outlet, close to a parking spot. That's all! More elaborate setups are welcomed, and will bring EVs to your door more effectively, but in these early days of EV road tripping it is advantageous to get yourself on the map now. You can then expand and improve later, as you are able.

So I just need an outlet. Great! But what kind?
I'm glad you asked! I have written a short guide: Charger Setup 101. Take a look, and you may be surprised by how easy it is, and how inexpensive it can be. From a simple NEMA 14-50 outlet to a J1772 EVSE, there are several options. There is also a program by Tesla, the biggest EV carmaker, to provide their Destination Charger to businesses at no charge, if the business can cover the cost of installation.

I don't want to lose money giving out free power. Should I request payment for EV charging access?
Currently, most non-networked Level 2 AC charging is free, but some sites do charge for access. In urban areas there are often Level 2 stations placed by commercial charging networks such as ChargePoint that have a fee for use. Outside urban areas, it is most common for RV parks to have a fee for charging, as they already do so for RV users and they may not have a way to recoup the cost of electricity through retail sales. Certainly, your business will be more attractive to travelers if your connection is free. It will cost a little money to provide power to visitors, but if you are a small business that sells merchandise, a small purchase from the grateful EV owner can easily outweigh the cost.  Here's the math: a NEMA 14-50 wall outlet can output 9.6kW at its maximum sustained rate of 40 amps at 240 volts. The average electric rate in the US is 13.15 cents per kWh; one hour at max rate would cost just $1.26. And most EVs are not capable of AC charging at such a high rate; 3.3 to 7.2kW is more common. A Nissan Leaf charging at its maximum rate of 6.6kW would cost only 87 cents per hour. A visiting Leaf, like most shorter-range EVs, would likely reach a full charge in 4 hours or less.

I have decided to provide EV charging. How do I let EV drivers know?
There is a web site called PlugShare which is expressly designed to help EV drivers find places to charge. The web site and mobile app provide a map of charging locations and other trip tools to over 400,000 registered users. Adding your own charging site is totally free. See my guide - Charger Setup 103 - for step-by-step instructions on adding your site to PlugShare.

What else are EV drivers looking for in a charging stop?
Unless you have considerable funds to provide DC fast charging, your charging station will be providing AC power, which will require some time to add a significant amount of charge to an EV. Restrooms, shopping, restaurants and recreation are all enticing amenities. A traveler may even want to spend 2-3 hours to get enough charge to continue their journey, so brush up on what is available within a short walk of your establishment, so you can have recommendations handy for even more amenities than you yourself provide. PlugShare users can 'Check in' to review charging sites, including photos; a great experience at a welcoming site will spur drivers to leave positive comments for others to see.

Can my single plug really make a difference?
Yes! As I have mentioned, EV owners love their cars, and generally prefer to drive electric anywhere they can. It's not unusual for a new EV owner to suddenly find him- or herself driving more than they used to. And when a roadie goes electric, they begin finding reasons to take more trips, finding new places to visit, and checking PlugShare for ways to push even an 'around-town' EV farther than they had once intended. Your single 14-50 outlet could be a vital link making someone's EV trip finally possible. Even if you are not the only option in your area, the redundancy of two or more outlets within a short distance can relieve worry of being stranded by an unexpected out-of-order charger, and give an EV owner the confidence to set out on a new adventure.

If you have any questions that you think should be addressed, let me know at mike@ElectricRoute66.com and I'll do my best to answer them, to expand this Q&A for everyone's benefit.

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