Spurred by fuel-price volatility and environmental concerns, the Obama administration has pledged $2.4 billion in grants to get one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. Despite sales of only 17,345 electric vehicles in the U.S. in 2011—one-tenth of 1% of all automotive sales—the market's future remains bright.
The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) are planning for vehicle charging stations to be built in residential, commercial and public locations. They are working with the federal Electrical Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP) to meet the anticipated skilled-worker demand.
Federal aid and tax incentives should help cut lithium-ion battery production costs 70% by 2015, making electric vehicles more price-competitive, says the U.S. Energy Dept. "It remains to be seen how big it can become," notes NECA's Jennifer Mefford. "It costs one dollar for a 40-mile charge verses $4 a gallon for gas."
So far, the DOE's two-year-old EVITP has certified more than 220 instructors and 1,000 electricians across 25 states. "Proper training is important, especially for the consumer market where 65% of vehicle owners are opting to install commercial-grade 240-volt charging stations at home that can fully charge a vehicle in four to five hours," says Jim Cinciolo, training director at the Kansas City Joint Apprenticeship and Training Center, operated by IBEW Local 124. "Commercial and public charging stations can be even more complex," he adds.
Twenty-four industry partners, including General Motors, Duke Energy and General Electric, developed the instruction, which is also offered at training centers and community colleges. It focuses on installation, commissioning and maintenance of stations specified from 120 VAC 15 amps up to 600 VDC 550 amps. Training includes classroom and site instruction and skills testing on manufacturer charging specs, vehicle battery types, utility grid interconnections, charging-station networking, power load management, and code and fire safety standards.
Instructors must have five years of field experience and undergo 21 hours of instruction over three days. Charging-station construction complexity varies based on placement and the surrounding infrastructure. Electrical lines can minimize pricey trenching and backfill. However, line voltage may need to be stepped up or reduced, depending on station requirements.
"It's really site-specific. It can either be simple or complex, depending upon the location," Mefford says. "The industry has come together to train contractors and electricians to ensure the successful evolution of the electric-vehicle industry."