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 worldat 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 among its more Eco-minded tenants. 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 US. The purpose of this article will be to examine the relationship between tall buildings and EV charging stations. In particular, I will look at key factors for the construction of EV infrastructure and the correlation between high density buildings and the incidence of EV amenities.
An Examination of Density: Tall Buildings in the 21st Century Landscape
It is no secret that density is a key element in the construction of the 21st century urban environment. As the global population rises and increasing numbers of people move to cities, there is a push to expand “vertically”. Not only are many places running out of viable horizontal land to develop, but research has shown that higher density development helps individuals achieve a lower environmental footprint.
In addition, city planning is increasingly encouraging mixed-use developments. While before city planning was often predicated on the segregation of land uses (i.e. one area would be exclusively zoned residential while another area would be zoned commercial), city planning frequently encourages multiple land-uses all over the city. It is now not uncommon to see individual buildings mix commercial space with residential and office space.
The proliferation of high density, mixed-use developments has a positive impact on environmental metrics, especially when it comes to 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 EV 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.
The Logic of Locating an EV Charging Station in Tall Buildings (Part 1): 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 tall buildings are designed to attract large numbers of people per day, it is logical that they would 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 in its parking facilities, a tall 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 developer’s catch on to the growing 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. They will be tapping into the growing demand for viable charging locations and solidifying their competitiveness in the future global economy.
The Logic of Locating an EV Charging Station in Tall Buildings (Part 2): Economics and LEED Certification
Extrapolating the economic benefits associated with constructing an EV charging station in a tall building can be difficult due to the number of direct and indirect factors at work.
For one, constructing an EV charging station is relatively inexpensive compared to other green amenities. It doesn’t require huge inputs of labor or capital, and it takes up very little room in a parking facility. Although many building managers include complimentary EV charging with the purchase of parking time, others are charging a small fee to help recoup their initial investment (which could one day turn into a profit).
Many EV charging station providers also have easy-to-use software to manage charging time/fees, making the whole management process virtually hands-free.
But perhaps the biggest economic benefits are actually indirect. For managers/developers looking to turn their tall buildings into models for sustainability, constructing EV charging stations is a highly visual, cost-effective way of accomplishing this.
Everyone notices when an EV charging station is 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.
In more concrete terms, an EV charging station can help a building achieve a higher LEED certification. Residential buildings up to four levels and any sized commercial building can receive three LEED points for constructing EV docking stations under the “New Construction Sustainable Sites Credit 4.0”. In addition, qualified buildings can attain three to fifteen LEED points under the “Existing Building Sustainable Sites Credit 4.0”.
LEED certification is a necessity for commercial real estate companies seeking a sustainable, cutting-edge image.
There are many reasons why EV charging stations are popping up in tall buildings all over the country.
Not only are tall buildings uniquely positioned to tap into the growing share of EV drivers on the road due to their density, they are the most visual indication of a company’s corporate image. A company that can establish itself alongside cutting-edge, green technology can improve its corporate image and improve profitability. But it doesn’t just improve a company’s corporate image – it also provides a valuable amenity for the growing EV markets.
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.