Charging Up

A small but growing number of employers are offering charging stations for employees who drive electric cars.

By Andrew R. McIlvaine

At The Standard's headquarters in eco-conscious Portland, Ore., employees routinely bike, walk or take public transit to their jobs at the insurance company's downtown location. In addition to taking advantage of the firm's transit subsidies, they can also make free use of three electric-vehicle charging stations The Standard has installed in its parking garage.

"As a leading employer in Portland, we wanted to stay on the leading edge of 'clean and green,' " says Bob Speltz, the company's director of public affairs, adding that such initiatives also hold great appeal for millennial-age workers.

On the other side of the country, MassMutual has installed 19 EV charging stations at its sprawling office campus in Springfield, Mass., along with infrastructure to support 400 additional charging stations in the future.

"We look at this as a way to conserve natural resources and to lower our costs," says Sean Anderson, the insurance company's director of corporate green initiatives and assistant vice president for facilities. The charging stations are a good fit with MassMutual's other eco-friendly initiatives, which include LEED-certified headquarters buildings and a three-acre rooftop solar panel array that generates more than 111 kilowatts of power and supplies 50 percent of the office campus' hot water, he says.

The Standard and MassMutual are far from alone: According to the Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment report from Boulder, Colo.-based Navigant Research, the number of workplace charger sales could reach 12,000 by the end of this year, and will surpass 63,000 by the end of the decade. Nationwide, more than 190,000 electric vehicles are in use today, and EV sales have skyrocketed by 500 percent during the past two years, according to Environment Minnesota.

This year, for the first time, the Society for Human Resource Management included questions about EV charging stations in its annual employee benefits survey. It found that 4 percent of employers currently offer EV charging stations to their employees, according to the 2014 Employee Benefits Survey report. An additional 1 percent of employers plan to offer the benefit within the next 12 months, according to the report.

"Corporate social responsibility is a trending practice among companies. Adding this benefit is yet another example of that," said Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at SHRM, in a statement. "Additionally, the needs of employees are changing, and in response, companies are adapting to meet those needs."

The trend is being helped along by incentives from the federal and state governments. In Georgia, for example, Gov. Nathan Deal's administration is designing incentives to encourage the installation of workplace charging stations.

Georgia is, in fact, the state with the second-highest number of electric vehicle owners after California, according to the nonprofit organization Clean Cities Georgia, which reports that about 1,000 new EVs are purchased in the state each month, mostly in the metropolitan Atlanta area. Some of the state's largest companies have installed charging stations for their employees, including Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Corp., which has installed 85, reports the Associated Press.

The U.S. Department of Energy is also weighing in via its "Workplace Charging Challenge," with the goal of achieving a tenfold increase in the number of U.S. employers that offer charging stations in the next five years. The ability to charge at work can potentially double an EV driver's daily commuting range, according to the DOE.

Companies that install EV charging stations may need to ensure that employee conflicts don't arise when the number of EV-driving employees surpasses the available charging stations, writes Antony Ingram, a columnist for Otherwise, "charger rage" could ensue.

"Companies that can't quite offer chargers for every EV-driving employee will have to implement policies to moderate and fairly distribute their use," Ingram writes.

Charging-station vendors such as Eaton and ChargePoint sell units that allow two cars to be charged at the same time, he writes. Meanwhile, a company called AeroVironment Inc. sells a portable charging cordset that eliminates the need to install charging stations (which can cost thousands of dollars) by letting users plug directly into existing electrical outlets (provided that outdoor outlets have been installed at the workplace).

At The Standard and MassMutual, conflicts between users haven't been an issue. Only a small percentage of employees at each company own EVs, although both organizations expect those numbers to increase.

"We expect usage to grow over time as EVs become more mainstream and come down in price," says The Standard's Speltz.

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Jul 28, 2014
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