By Martin Leggett
The rise of the electric car promises to shake up more than just the jostling pack of global automakers. One of the more surprising potential spillovers could be into the world of commercial real estate. Such a dynamic new synthesis is being forged because electric vehicles – or EVs – need charging station infrastructure lain down fast for them. And that infrastructure doesn’t have to be restricted to shiny, new, costly replacements for gas stations. In fact, commercial property owners may already be holding the keys – and the purse-strings – to the fast-tracking of this new ‘electric fuel’ system. So in the EV-impacted world, we may all be about to become electric ‘gas station’ owners.
But let’s rewind a couple of steps, because the nexus between commercial property and EV charging is only slowly coming into focus. Much of the discussion over EV supply infrastructure has been struck along twin ruts – that of charging technology’s limitations, and that of the cost of building an electric charging network that matches the fossil fuel way of ‘doing supply’. Electrical charging has come to be seen as something that needs to happens at home overnight – plugged into a garage mains socket for hours on end – or to require purpose-built fast-charging stations, using DC to zap EV batteries back to full-power in minutes.
What has sometimes been overlooked is the devil in the detail – the pattern of daily car usage, particularly in cities, and how electric charging can mesh with it. While range anxiety may be real concern for EVs on longer journeys, nearly 80% of commutes in the US are less than 40 miles all-round. Cars spend a significant part of their time during the day sitting in parking lots. And much of daily car use is focused on shorter errand-running trips, interspersed with bouts of being parked up. That’s a pattern ripe for the idea of ‘opportunity charging’.
If the short-range hops of city life – and brief stay-overs in the office car park, mall lot or restaurant parking bay – are married up to mains charging stations, EV users will have new windows for electric refueling. Frequent charges will mean less time is needed to top up batteries. And if EV drivers can keep their batteries at nearly fully-power, worries about dead batteries and interrupted journeys will dwindle. The good news is that the technology charging from the 240V mains current – so-called Level 2 charging – is here and now, and relatively inexpensive.
Those who can offer such an electric charging service for EV drivers stand to gain a new potential source of income – as well as a potent pull-in for new customers. That could add some interesting twists to the income side of property valuations. And the patterns of commercial real estate valuation could also subtly shift, as EV-usage ‘inkblots’ roll-out across the nation. It seems the pieces on the commercial property board may take a while to fall back into place, as the EV revolution proceeds apace.
Martin is a freelance writer from the UK, who specializes in writing on the strategic impact of environmental issues. After a 10-year sojourn as an analyst at Brady plc – a Cambridge-based provider of services to commodity investment banking professionals – Martin set himself up as self-employed writer at the beginning of 2010. Since then he has written for a number of environmental websites and companies, and has been one of the principle journalists for green news website, The Earth Times.