The U.S. has known for roughly two decades that it would eventually face a shortage of skilled electricians. Unfortunately, the shortage is hitting just as the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program kickstarts the deployment of tens of thousands of electric vehicle (EV) chargers nationwide. The industry will need to find innovative solutions to minimize the labor required by electricians and optimize the use of their time.
The need for electricians in the U.S. is projected to grow seven percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s equivalent to 79,900 openings for electricians each year, on average, over the next decade. Three factors are driving a projected shortage: the rapid retirement of skilled electricians; a lack of young electricians entering the field; and the increasing electrification of modern life.
Electrification of transportation is one of the new demands for skilled electrical work. In fact, NEVI requires electricians to have additional EV industry training, further reducing the pool of people available to perform installations. Electricians must have a certification from the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP) or have graduated from a registered apprenticeship program that includes specific training on EV supply equipment.
Most EV charger installations are incorporating DC Fast Chargers to future proof their sites. The chargers can be acquired and installed by construction contractors. However, the field wiring and connecting switchgear power to the charging station from the utility’s distribution transformer requires installation by an electrician.
“Installing, wiring, and connecting the pieces of a traditional post-and-frame switchgear takes about 50 hours of on-site electrical labor,” Seitz said. “And that doesn’t take into consideration the time, costs, and difficulty of sourcing components from various manufacturers and supply houses.” Traditional switchgear is composed of electrical panels that are tasked with receiving, distributing, and protecting the site’s power. The components include a power disconnect panel, a current transformer (CT) cabinet, utility meter, distribution panels, and a transformer.
Contracting, scheduling and executing the necessary amount of on-site electrical work under labor constraints could be a significant roadblock. This may be further exacerbated as NEVI funding is released, catalyzing installations that aim to cover 75,000 miles of highway.
Performing the labor-intensive assembly of switchgear off-site in a manufacturing setting is one potential solution. Another more efficient solution is offered by NexPhase™ Smart EV Switchgear, which can be installed by construction contractors and only requires a quick on-site connection by a certified electrician. “An electrician can show up and make the on-site power connections in about an hour depending on utility requirements,” Seitz said. NexPhase™ is an integrated, turn-key solution that minimizes the complexity and effort required to install switchgear. The unit combines transformers, circuit breakers and controls in a single enclosure. All internal components are pre-installed and pre-wired. The cabinet only requires the on-site connections for the incoming power and outgoing charger connections, drastically reducing on-site installation time and labor.
NexPhase™ also includes its own monitoring and control systems that allow operators to perform trouble shooting and other management operations remotely. “Simply being able to reboot chargers remotely with a power-cycle is a huge advantage” Seitz said. One of the main causes of EV charger outages is communication failures within the charger itself. When these failures occur it can result in the charger going offline and becoming unavailable to EV drivers. Power cycling (much like resetting a home modem) fixes about 50% of charger outages. Without the ability to remotely power cycle the chargers, operators will need to deploy maintenance to power-cycle the EV chargers on site, increasing maintenance costs.
In the past, electricians built switchgear on site because the demand was lower, and the supply of labor was relatively high and cost-effective. This situation is changing rapidly, and Franklin Electric has committed to bringing assembly-line benefits and scale to the equation to address challenges that may otherwise delay the deployment of EV charging infrastructure.LEARN MORE