Electric Vehicle (EV) - Balance of Systems

Deploy charging systems in a day, with lower cost and higher quality

For many people in the EV industry, it’s hard to get very excited about power entry equipment, cables, skids, civil work, and connectors. Those are the temporal aspects of any project that often get overlooked as simply part of what needs to get done. “We’ll let the general contractor sort all that out,” you may say. “The important decisions revolve around making the right choice for the charger OEM, the network provider, and who will do O&M for the next 5 years.”

Don’t get me wrong, those are incredibly important decisions and contribute significantly to the total cost of ownership (TCO) for electric vehicle infrastructure. What I knew before joining Shoals, but didn’t really appreciate, was that about half of an EV infrastructure deployment cost is associated with those temporal parts of a deployment.

Capital is being spent on charging infrastructure because the market knows that EVs are coming and coming fast. Yet EVs are just now starting to gain market penetration, which means that utilization rates for charging stations are mostly insufficient to generate a profit for the Charge Point Operator (CPO). Even with federal and state grants, utility “make ready” programs and other subsidies, there is still a significant amount of capital required to deploy and operate EV charging stations.

Until utilization rates increase, the capital risk (net of subsidies) resides with the CPO. One way to best manage the utilization risk is to reduce capital costs as much as possible. That’s when I start to get excited about cables, skids, and connectors. I believe that we at Shoals Technologies Group have created four initial offerings which:

  • Reduce the up-front capital costs for labor and equipment.
  • Significantly speed project deployment time, resulting in minimized disruption to the site host’s core business. We intend to enable deployment in a couple of days.
  • Increase quality by ensuring consistency of cable terminations and product performance.

Before describing how we accomplish this, it’s important to level set on the “As Is” state of charging deployments. Every EV installation has six primary components which contribute to the TCO:

  1. The power entry point – that is where the handoff is made from the electric utility to the CPO’s charging system. The power entry point also provides electrical protection for the wires and equipment which will deliver the energy to charge a vehicle.
  2. Charging equipment – this equipment has a broad range of energy delivery capability ranging from 1.9kW to more than 350kW. There are a multitude of vendors, makes and models but they all have one thing in common – they all need to be connected to the power entry point.
  3. Cabling and cable protection – connects the chargers to the power entry point in a safe and effective manner per National Electric Code.
  4. Installation – Includes all aspects of the installation, including the power entry point, civil construction to trench the cables/conduits, charger connection and electrical confirmation of operation for the entire system.
  5. Network software – performs the payment processing, energy management and ensures that chargers remain operational.
  6. Ongoing Operations and Maintenance (O&M) – Holistic O&M ensures that the charging system remains operational for drivers with uptime exceeding 99%.

The current mode of operation for EV infrastructure deployment is for the CPO to spend considerable time and expense making the best possible decision for charging equipment, installation, network software and O&M. The power entry point and cabling systems are normally subsumed by the installation prime contractor or the Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) company.

This is interesting because as I mentioned before, more than half of the overall cost resides with the power entry point, cabling systems and installation. This high deployment cost directly hits the capital needs for the CPO which requires higher charger utilization to break even on a deployment. So, how do we reduce these costs?

A cost reduction method used by industrial companies is to standardize and create economies of scale by producing large volumes of the exact same system. However, in the EV world every site is different, which makes traditional manufacturing methods quite difficult. This is where Shoals can provide very tangible benefit to the cost of EV infrastructure. Our high mix – high volume manufacturing environment that was perfected for the solar industry is perfectly applicable for the high variation (every site is different) and high volume (many sites to be deployed) world of EV infrastructure. We will take what is done in the field today and do it in our production facilities. This alone reduces labor costs and increases quality. In addition, we will use innovations to reduce the cost of other aspects of the EV charging system.

For the power entry point, Shoals Technologies offers a power entry skid which includes a primary disconnect, stepdown transformer and breaker panel. Everything is designed and ordered to meet the needs of your site. All equipment is cabled, connectorized and quality-checked in the plant. The skid is then shipped to site fully assembled and ready to be placed and connected.

Our charging skids offer options for dual DC chargers, dual and quad AC chargers. We support any make and model charger OEM’s product. Just as with the power entry skid, everything is shipped to the plant, preassembled, connectorized and quality checked. The charger skids are ready for shipment and placement on site. Our skid solutions are designed to speed deployment, minimize site disruption and improve quality of the install.

Shoals Big Lead Assembly (BLA)–which is heavily patented and perfected for solar deployments—is used to connect the power entry skid with multiple charging skids. Our goal is to replace home run cables for up to 25 AC chargers using a single pair of BLAs. Imagine the cost savings in material and labor. Also, our BLAs can be placed above or below ground so they are a perfect and safe fit for a raceway system.

The cables will be protected by a raceway system run between the multiple charger skids. The system is designed for cost effectiveness, safety, durability and to be aesthetically pleasing. Depending on the site layout and site host choice, we can also run raceway from the power entry skid to the first charger skid. Our form of raceway saves considerable civil costs and enables a much more rapid site deployment.

When you consider the significant cost associated with the elements of an EV deployment, it really underscores that we all need to be thinking of how to cost-optimize these elements. Profitability of a charging system is substantially improved by being capital efficient up front–for all parts of the system. Our goal at Shoals is to deliver the safest, most cost-effective, and highest quality EV charging solution on the market. We intend to enable customers to deploy a site in a couple of days as opposed to a couple of weeks—and do it with higher quality and lower cost. As an industry we need to focus on all aspects of the solution, even those that “only” lay the foundation for a charging system.

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