Want faster, cheaper EV charger installations? Stop…

With that durability, Shoals’ system removes the need for expensive and time-consuming trenching for the cables that run from the power center that’s connected to the utility grid to the individual charging ports that vehicles plug into. That eliminates the lengthy process of waiting on a trench to be dug, for conduits to be laid, and then an inspection, then you backfill again, then you inspect again,” he said.. The Shoals aboveground system can lay the same cables in just a few days, he said. 

One of Shoals Technologies’ drive-over cabling raceways, well worn from repeated testing with heavy-duty trucks at the company’s Portland, Tenn. eMobility testing center. (Shoals Technologies)

John Halliwell, senior technical executive at the Electric Power Research Institute, sees potential for Shoals’ approach. He said that trenching or boring underground channels for cabling is one of the more costly and onerous parts of a big electrical project, whether it’s putting in streetlights or EV chargers. We’ve been putting lights in parking lots for a long time, but I would bet you money that no electrician would give you a flat price for that,” he said. Before tallying the final cost, they need to figure out things like: What am I digging up? What am I running into? What local ordinances do I have to deal with?” 

Anywhere you dig, there may be gas lines, water lines, sewer lines,” he said. Those take time to map out with local utilities, and trench lines may need to be rerouted to avoid them, he said. Making cuts in streets or sidewalks adds costs and requires landowners to get local government approval. 

This means that eliminating trenching can lead to huge cost savings” in certain circumstances, he said. Still, he added, Will it be cheaper at every site? Probably not.” 

Tolnar argued that its systems can save costs in a number of ways. The modular nature of an aboveground project means that much of it can be done by general labor, rather than by licensed electricians. And licensed electricians are like gold these days. To find them and use them efficiently is a high priority.” 

That modularity extends to the pedestals that Shoals has designed to quickly plug into different Level 2 and DC fast chargers, he said. We’ve changed out a Level 2 charger in about 15 minutes,” compared to the hours it typically takes to disconnect and reconnect chargers that aren’t preconfigured for ease of replacement.

In fact, Shoals’ aboveground equipment can be entirely lifted up and moved to a new location. That’s something he’s learned could be quite valuable for EV fleet owners such as school districts buying or leasing electric school buses. 

A lot of those school buses are on leased properties,” Tolnar said. In a typical deployment, 40 to 60 percent [of the charging equipment] is buried underground. You can’t rip those out and reuse them.” With the Shoals aboveground equipment, I can take my toys with me. We call it permanent but portable.”

Getting a new technology onto the ground 

Shoals also believes its new system can help streamline the permitting needed from city, county or state entities for this kind of electrical and construction work. These authorities are all unique and have their own opinion,” he said. 

But Shoals’ new UL certification can give permitting authorities confidence in its factory-produced components, Tolnar said. We’ll work with them every step of the way — we’ll get them documentation, we’ll work with them to get a better understanding of this method.”

Halliwell agreed that Shoals and other companies with novel approaches to EV-charging projects, such as the heavy-duty charging systems being integrated in cargo containers, need to work with permitting agencies and electrical contractors. Once they’ve inspected some of these and seen two or three installs, they may know what to expect,” he said. 

Shoals hasn’t yet named any customers that are currently using its aboveground eMobility system, but it has some well-positioned partners promoting it. Last year Shoals announced a collaboration with global business consultancy Ernst & Young to work on methods to optimize deployment time and capital efficiency” for customers exploring EV-charging deployments. 

And early this year, Shoals launched a strategic agreement with Luminace, the North American clean-energy-as-a-service business of Brookfield Renewable Partners, to work on renewable energy and EV-charging projects. Pairing solar and batteries with EV charging is increasingly common for customers that want lower-cost and lower-carbon solar power to charge vehicles, as well as batteries to cushion the costs of pulling power from the grid. 

Finding sites with the physical space and power grid capacity to support lots of EVs charging at once is a big challenge. Some companies are using software to schedule charging to avoid overtaxing the grid, combining batteries with novel power electronics technologies to manage these grid constraints. 

No single innovation will be able to eliminate all of the cost uncertainties facing EV-charging projects, Halliwell said. I root for every company that comes up with a different approach,” he said. If you can put more charging hardware out there for the same amount of dollars, that’s good for everyone.”

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