The US Steel Building towers over the city of Pittsburgh at a height of 841 feet (64 stories) off the ground. Not only is it the tallest skyscraper in the city, it features the largest roof in the world at that height, with a size of nearly 1 acre. However, a closer look beneath the building’s grandiose facade reveals a new addition that is sure to generate some buzz. As of August 20th, a series of EV charging stations have been made available to further green the building and provide a valuable amenity for EV drivers. And while the US Steel Building might be one of the more poignant examples of the link between EV charging stations and tall buildings, it is certainly not the only one. Nearly every month new EV charging stations are being built in high-density residential apartments, office spaces, and commercial buildings across the United States. Let’s discuss why EV charging stations at skyscrapers and other tall buildings make sense.
Increased Density in the 21st Century Landscape
Density is a key element in the construction of the 21st century urban environment. As the global population rises and more people move to cities, there is a push to expand “vertically.” Not only are many cities running out of viable horizontal land to develop, but research has shown that higher density development helps individuals achieve a lower environmental footprint.
City planners are increasingly encouraging mixed-use developments. While before city planning was often predicated on the segregation of land uses (such as zoning one area as exclusively residential versus commercial), now it frequently encourages multiple land-use citywide. It is becoming more common to see mixed-use buildings and mixed-use developments that have a positive impact on environmental metrics and transportation.
Transportation Networks in the Emerging Urban Landscape
Mixed-use, higher density developments help facilitate efficient travel between places of leisure, residence, work, and shopping. More specifically, they allow for a more robust transportation network that connects walking, cycling, public transit, and (increasingly) vehicle sharing programs. It also results in shorter daily travel distances.
Electric vehicles are becoming a key component of the transportation networks of the future. This is because the emerging urban environment is becoming an ideal place to both drive and charge an EV. Since trips are shorter, EV drivers are less likely to suffer from range anxiety. And since apartments or office buildings are located where individuals spend several hours anyway, an EV driver can fully charge their electric car during their stay. As cities continue to densify and encourage mixed-use development, we are going to see a lot more EVs (and EV charging stations) emerge in the urban environment.
Property Managers Are Fulfilling Demand
Many commercial real-estate developers and managers are starting to realize that tapping into the emerging urban landscape is crucial in maintaining competitiveness. This means designing and managing buildings that are sophisticated, sustainable, and attentive to the needs of urban dwellers. Since large buildings attract many numbers of people everyday, it makes sense to install EV charging stations in their parking facilities. EV drivers are a small but growing percentage of all automobile drivers. And right now the one major challenge EV drivers face is locating a good place to charge their car.
By installing EV charging stations, a skyscraper or other large building can establish itself as a new “node” in the EV network – a node that allows EV users to both park and charge their car for an extended period of time. At the moment these nodes are often few and far between – but that is rapidly changing as commercial real estate developers join the EV trend. By investing in the EV market early, the managers/developers of a tall building can establish themselves as leaders in the green transportation revolution.
Direct and Indirect Economic Benefits
Extrapolating the economic benefits associated with adding EV charging stations in a tall building can be difficult due to the number of direct and indirect factors at work. For one, installing EV charging stations is relatively inexpensive compared to other green amenities. A single charging station does not require huge inputs of labor or capital, and space-saving designs such as SemaConnect take up very little room.. While many building managers include complimentary EV charging, others charge users a fee. Many building owners also use easy-to-use network software to manage charging time/fees, making the whole management process virtually hands-free.
But perhaps the biggest economic benefits are actually indirect. Installing EV charging stations is a highly visual, cost-effective way to turn a building into a model for sustainability. Everyone notices EV charging stations prominently located in a parking facility, whether they are an EV driver or not. If they were previously on the fence about buying an EV, knowing that a docking station is located somewhere within their daily commute could encourage them to buy one.
Sustainability and LEED Certification
EV charging stations can also help a building achieve a higher LEED certification. The new LEED v4 includes points for electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations in the New Construction and Existing Building sections. For buildings seeking a sustainable, cutting-edge image, LEED certification is a necessity.
2013 has been a big year for EVs so far, and commercial real estate developers are taking notice. By installing EV charging stations in tall buildings, both developers and management companies can lead the way in the coming green revolution while improving their triple bottom line.
Joseph Tohill is a freelance writer and online communications specialist for organizations in the sustainability sector. He has a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of British Columbia and spent most of his academic career studying sustainable urban development; namely the interdisciplinary relationship between built form and natural environment.