What Airports Need to Know Before Creating an EV Plan Part 1: Creating an EV Plan

April 16, 2024

The electric vehicle age is here. According to the Department of Energy, EV sales hit a record 1.4 million vehicles in 2023, an increase of 50% over 2022. And the upsurge in EV ownership is already leading to a corresponding increase in the demand for charging stations at airports. That demand will only continue to grow, keeping pace with the ongoing transition from gas-powered to electric vehicles.

Offering EV charging is a customer service imperative for airports because EV drivers will want to be able to charge their vehicles while they are traveling. Airports that don’t provide sufficient charging capacity will be at a competitive disadvantage relative to satellite lots that do. Parking is an important source of revenue for airports—second only to gate fees—and airports can’t afford to lose business to competing lots because they don’t provide sufficient charging.

EV charging can also be a new source of revenues for airports. Coupled with parking fees, EV charging fees could generate a great deal of money, making airport parking facilities even more profitable.

Of course, sustainability is also an important factor. Airports have a role to play in reducing carbon emissions, and many airports are already committed to being greener. By providing EV charging stations, airports can encourage the use of electric vehicles and demonstrate a commitment to sustainable practices.

Regulatory compliance is another reason for adding EV charging.  Some regions already have regulations that require certain facilities, including airports, to offer EV charging options. Being proactive in installing these stations can put airports ahead of regulatory compliance, avoiding future rushes or penalties.

For all these reasons, this is the time for airport parking directors to figure out how to add EV charging to their parking areas, how much to add, and most importantly, which technology to implement. Now is the time for airports to start creating an EV plan.

Creating an EV Plan

The process of creating an EV program begins with answering essential planning questions. Where should you put your chargers, and how much capacity do you need now? How can you create scalable solutions that will grow as demand grows at your airport? What types of chargers will best meet travelers’ needs? Where will your electricity come from? How can you incentivize EV charging? How will you promote your EV charging services? What use cases will you need to support?

Where should you put your chargers?

Airports often serve a greater variety of use cases than other EV charging locations. While travelers will often be parked at the airport for days at a time, some will only require short-term parking because they are heading out and returning on the same day, or perhaps just parking overnight. Some drivers may even be visiting the airport for just an hour or so to pick up a friend or loved one. As a result, it may make sense to install charging stations in both short-term and long-term parking facilities to accommodate all travelers. In fact, it may make sense to offer charging stations in cell phone lots, as well, to allow people to recharge their vehicles while they wait for the travelers they are picking up to arrive.

How important is scalability?

Scalability is essential. You don’t need to offer charging at every single parking space at this point, but it will be important to be able to build in additional capacity as demand grows. For most airports, the best approach will be to start with a few chargers and work with consulting parking engineers to create plans for expanding infrastructure in the future. It’s essential for airports to work closely with their EV partners and consulting parking engineers from the very beginning because adding conduits, piping, chargers, and other EV infrastructure can be extremely complicated. You want to have all the necessary planning in place for when growth becomes necessary.

Choosing the Right Chargers

What types of chargers should you install?

There are three basic types of chargers. Level 1 chargers are the slowest and use a standard 120V AC outlet. They take 40 or 50 hours to fully charge a vehicle from empty and provide 2 to 5 miles of electric range per hour charging. These are probably not the right fit for an airport since they take so long to charge a vehicle.

Level 2 chargers use a 240V electrical service and can fully charge a vehicle in 4 to 10 hours. These may be the best option for overnight, long-term parking facilities, or employee lots, where cars are parked for longer periods of time. They may also be appropriate for cell phone lots to allow drivers to top off their batteries while they wait for their friends or loved ones.

DC fast chargers are the fastest and most expensive chargers. They can charge a vehicle in 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how much of a charge the vehicle already has and the power output of the DC charger. However, most plug-in hybrids don’t work with DC fast chargers, so you probably don’t want to provide them as the sole option. Because DC fast chargers work so quickly, they should be carefully managed to avoid congestion.

As a rule, Level 2 chargers can meet the needs of most airports. However, DC fast chargers could be a good option for areas where a quick charge turnaround is called for, or to service bus or van fleets. They can also be an attractive VIP perk for EV drivers who participate in airport loyalty programs or as a source of premium revenue. Similarly, they can be offered to ride share drivers as an enhancement to service the airport while, at the same time, generating revenue.

As important as it is to install the right chargers, it’s just as important to get them from the right source. With the rapid rate of EV adoption that we’re experiencing now, it may be tempting to find a quick solution or the cheapest option for efficiency’s sake—to “get it and forget it.” The problem with this approach is that it can tie your hands in the future as you continue to add EV technology to your facilities and the technology continues to evolve. If you do this, you may find your avenues limited. Because if you chose the quickest or cheapest option, you may not be able to access new technologies that can improve the charging experience for your parkers as they are introduced.

For instance, if you make a hasty choice you may end up with a closed system with chargers that can only be operated with software provided by the hardware provider. Why is this a problem? With a closed system, your EV chargers can only do what that provider equips its tools to do. If your customers need additional capabilities, you are out of luck. And if they lag other EV brands in developing new offerings down the road, you may be stuck with inadequate equipment and its capabilities (or lack of capabilities). Or you can replace it at great expense. Also, if your equipment has issues, you may be limited to the closed system’s service and repair network, which can lead to lengthy delays and long equipment down times. Also, repairs could be very expensive because you are stuck relying solely on their providers.

Therefore, with a closed system, you are held hostage in several ways. You’re limited by their hardware development. So, if they don’t add features in the future that other EV providers do offer, you will be stuck purchasing equipment or software that won’t meet your needs. Unless you change systems, which would be costly. Or you may have to run two systems. Also, you become a “captured customer”, with limited or no negotiating leverage when purchasing new equipment. So, you are hostage to their pricing model as well.

A final hardware consideration is adding a battery storage system. These systems store electricity during off-peak hours (when it’s cheaper) and release it during peak hours for EV charging. This helps level out the demand on the grid, or if the airport maintains its own microgrid, on that.

Urgency Vs. Opportunity

It’s understandable that airports may feel a sense of urgency when it comes to choosing and installing EV charging equipment. But do your homework because not all charging equipment is created equal. Identify your short and long-term goals for your plan and find the hardware that will provide the reliability and flexibility you and your patrons need, and which can grow and adapt as your needs grow and adapt. If you do, you’ll have an EV charging solution that will meet your needs for years to come.

Bob Andrews is Founder of Zevtron, an EV Charger Solutions company serving the United States and Canada. He can be reached at [email protected].


About the Author

Bob Andrews | Founder