April 15, 2022

Racing to the Future: MEP Engineers Design EV Charging Stations

Racing to the Future: MEP Engineers Design EV Charging Stations

Where would the electric vehicle industry be without MEP engineers? More than 300,000 EVs were sold in the first six months of 2021, and with gas prices at record highs in 2022, the shift from gas-powered vehicles to electric shows no sign of slowing down. As the number of EVs on the roadways increases, demand for well-designed EV charging stations is on the rise.

EV charging stations are popping up in municipal parking garages and retail parking lots throughout the United States, with futuristic designs developed by experienced MEP engineers. The task of designing a strong, modern infrastructure to charge plug-in electric vehicles is falling squarely on the shoulders of leading MEP engineers.

MEP engineering teams like KMB Design Group say they are up for the challenge, utilizing the latest best practices in electrical design and environmental sustainability to develop EV charging stations that meet consumer demand.

Understanding the Lingo: EV Ports vs. Stations

Because the EV industry is relatively new, consumer awareness of the common terms used to describe charging stations and ports is still nascent.

EV ports are individual charging plugs, sockets, or connectors used to power electric vehicles. Although there are some DC fast chargers with multiple connectors or cables, the majority of charging networks still report the data as a single port with the ability to charge one EV at a time.

An EV charging station is also known as Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE). EVSE is typically provided in municipal parking lots by electric utility companies. EV charging stations offer special connectors that conform to a variety of electric charging connector standards, so drivers in a number of different vehicle makes and models can charge at a single station.

Multiple ports can be found at a single EV charging station. EV charging stations are like gas stations, with many individual gas pumps or electricity ports. To design EV charging stations where multiple plug-in vehicles can safely be charged at once, MEP engineers must couple local regulations with electrical engineering design principles.

The biggest difference between a traditional wall power outlet and an electric vehicle charging station is the difference in time that it takes to charge a vehicle. It takes approximately 10 to 20 hours to charge a vehicle on a normal wall outlet. At a modern EV charging station, vehicles can be charged in just 10 to 20 minutes.

The Role of MEP Engineers in EV Charging Station Design

The MEP in MEP engineering stands for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. MEP engineers are the professionals tasked with planning, designing, and managing the MEP systems in construction projects. MEP engineers form the central nervous system of many large-scale construction projects.

With demand for EV charging stations skyrocketing, MEP engineers are being called upon to carry out the tasks involved in the design and development of these stations. This includes tasks such as:

  • Assessing site feasibility in project locations
  • Conducting due diligence when designing EV charging stations
  • Designing electrical systems that can withstand peak electrical loads
  • Determining the type of charging equipment that works best at a site
  • Informing clients of grants and incentives

Given their experience, MEP engineers are capable of incorporating the latest technologies into projects and informing clients when they may qualify for certain grants or other financing incentives. It’s clear that MEP engineers will continue to play a larger role as EV charging instructure continues to grow in the United States and abroad over the coming decade.

Rapid Acceleration in Demand for EV Charging

More than two million electric vehicles were on the road in the United States last year, serviced by just 109,000 EV charging ports nationwide. Recent data shows the median ratio is 14.2 electric vehicles to ports, with Wyoming having the best ratio at 4.2 to 1 and New Jersey having the worst at 41.7 to 1. (A full breakdown of how many charging ports are available in each state can be found here.)

New funding opportunities from the U.S. Department of Energy include $10 million to research, develop, and demonstrate innovative technologies to significantly reduce the cost of electric vehicle supply equipment for DC Fast Charging, as well as $20 million to accelerate the adoption of commercially-available plug-in electric vehicles and supporting infrastructure.

However, as demand for EV charging has accelerated, availability of the parts used in their development has become an issue. EV charging stations require material supplies such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt, which are in short supply. Sourcing lithium is time-intensive and it creates an excessive amount of waste. For example, the cobalt used in battery cathodes comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 15% to 30% of the mining is done by small-scale or artisanal operations.

MEP engineers have had to get creative in developing EV charging stations based on currently available materials and supplies. One solution is to rely more heavily on lithium-ion batteries, which feature an anode and cathode to store lithium at different times during the charging process. An electrolyte, usually liquid, carries lithium ions back and forth. This makes for a safer, healthier alternative.

Municipal governments and private businesses installing EV charging stations should engage the services of MEP engineers to ensure their stations are set up with best practices and environmental sustainability in mind.

Misconceptions about EV Charging Stations

In order to continuously provide charging power for a prolonged period of time, charging stations must be built with EVs in mind. Electrical wiring is designed to code to ensure each panel can safely handle high electrical currents.

Plugging an EV into a standard 120-volt household outlet supplying power at 1.3 kW to 2.4 kW would result in four to six miles of EV range per hour. For an EV with 250 miles of range, a full charge would take two full days — not nearly enough output to power a busy EV charging station. MEP engineers must adjust for higher energy needs, utilizing thicker charging cables and 240-volt outlets to produce output ranges from 4 kW to 18 kW of power.

Only qualified and licensed MEP engineers understand exactly what types of outlet are needed in order to keep electrical vehicles charging safely.

KMB Design Group’s MEP engineering team has more than a decade of combined experience developing innovative EV charging stations for municipal governments and private companies. Contact us today to find out what KMB can do for you.