PEV Workplace Charging: Linking Corporate Sustainability Goals

In today’s corporate world, many businesses are tying their environmental impact and sustainability goals to current business measures. Some have established carbon offset goals, some have instituted process improvements to lessen their impact on the environment, and many are encouraging their employees to “be green.” In Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Biogen Idec is taking their sustainability goals beyond direct inputs and outputs by determining how a new technology – unrelated to core business – can be employed to further corporate environmental sustainability efforts.
For the most part, corporations and institutions focus sustainability efforts at areas of business directly related to attributes they control. For example, a military installation may be focused on waste and concentrate on material sustainability and recycling while a university may look at transportation within the confines of transporting students from class to lab to library.

While Biogen Idec’s commitment to sustainability includes waste reduction, energy efficiency, water conservation and managing product lifecycles, they also explored how each of their 1,000 employees at the company’s 550,000-square-foot manufacturing, office, warehouse and lab complex in Research Triangle Park (RTP) make an impact on the environment through their daily commute.

The Need for Charging Infrastructure Biogen Idec continually evaluates ways to minimize its consumption of natural resources. In a recent employee commuter survey, many employees expressed an interest in purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) in the near future. Biogen Idec employees’ average commute was estimated at 24 miles (round trip). For PEVs to be a viable option, this distance falls into the acceptable commuting range. However, employees would be more likely to purchase a PEV if workplace charging was available. By providing charging stations, Biogen Idec hopes to address one of the major hurdles that drivers face when owning a PEV, which is range anxiety due to limited infrastructure. As such, the installation of charging stations for PEVs on Biogen Idec’s campus would offer employees an alternative to traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.

Advanced Energy conducted interviews with personnel and management at Biogen Idec regarding the applicability of installing charging stations to support employees that were interested in participating in Advanced Energy’s PEV Usage Study. This two-year study evaluates changes in driving and vehicle operating behaviors throughout a two-year period by collecting unique, specific data from 40 individual owners of the all-electric Nissan LEAF. Additionally, the study seeks to characterize and quantify trends that are relevant to electric vehicle owners in the North Carolina Research Triangle Park market.

Advanced Energy leveraged the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and North Carolina State Energy Office (NCSEO) consumer adoption initiatives to offer $15,000 in incentives to early adopters toward the purchase of a Nissan LEAF in exchange for participation in Advanced Energy’s PEV Consumer Usage Study ($7,500 off of the purchase price and $7,500 in federal tax rebates). Also, in collaboration with Triangle J Council of Governments and DOE Clean Cities organizations, Advanced Energy worked with corporate campus partners in the North Carolina Research Triangle Area to deploy 24 charging stations and provide employee education on the benefits of electrified transportation through the Carolina Blue Skies Initiative.

The Blue Skies Corporate Campus Program enabled participating corporations, such as Biogen Idec, to have charging stations installed at a substantial discount. This was done for the purpose of reducing employee dependence on petroleum fuels and examining how driving and charging habits are affected when charging is available at work.
At first, Biogen Idec considered installing fewer charging stations without grant money from the Carolina Blue Skies Initiative.

“Initial demand pointed to the need of four-to-five charging stations, and we did consider installing just a few,” said Pysar. “However, we decided to anticipate future demand and budget for installing 10 charging stations.”

The opportunity to participate in the program was presented to Biogen Idec’s capital planning group. Once the funds were approved for the initial installation, the company’s Environment, Health, Safety and Sustainability group applied for the grant and managed the installation of the charging stations.

Advanced Energy performed a site assessment to determine the most beneficial placement of the charging stations on Biogen Idec’s campus to maximize usage and reduce liability and costs. Considerations included visibility, accessibility, convenience, power supply, safety and exposure to the
elements. The ground level of the campus’s parking deck proved to be the best location.

“The original budget for installing 10 charging stations was $82,000. The project kick-off meeting was held in October 2011 with the goal of having charging stations installed and operational by the end of the year. The final cost was on target with 50 percent of the installation cost reimbursable through the Blue Skies Initiative. The stations were operational on January 12, 2012.

“To have the charging stations installed and operational by January 2012 was a big accomplishment,” said Lisa Poger, program manager, PEV Usage Study, Advanced Energy. “Some of the PEV Usage Study participants are employees of Biogen Idec. The purchase of the all-electric Nissan LEAFs for the study was complete in January, and employees were able to charge at work right from the start. We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from users about how workplace charging has made an impact in their driving and charging habits and led to a significant reduction in range anxiety.”

The charging stations at the Biogen Idec campus will supplement the company’s goal of reducing its environmental impact by encouraging employees to adopt an environmentally-friendly form of transportation. The charging stations will allow employees to completely charge their cars while at work. The ability to charge an electric car at work has been recognized as a critical factor in an individual’s decision to purchase an electric vehicle and is expected to encourage early adopters. Employees are able to charge their cars at no cost to them as a company-provided benefit.

“Biogen Idec is proud to be on the leading edge of encouraging adoption of environmentally-friendly forms of transportation for our employees. By providing these charging stations at no cost to employees, we’re pleased to be part of the larger effort to build out the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles,” said Hector Rodriguez, Director of Environment, Health, Safety and Sustainability for Biogen Idec. Biogen Idec purchased the charging stations with support from the Carolina Blue Skies Initiative, a project led by Triangle J Council of Governments (TJCOG).

As part of a dedication ceremony for the new charging stations, Machelle Sanders, Vice President, Manufacturing and General Manager for Biogen Idec’s RTP Campus, expanded on the company’s logic behind this move and how it underscores Biogen Idec’s commitment to environmental sustainability in the region. She began with a challenge to other companies.

According to Sanders, making these stations available to employees positions Biogen Idec as an attractive employer and demonstrates their commitment to being a responsible company. Further, it supports their employees and their interests in reducing their own personal environmental impacts. In fact, Biogen Idec has been encouraging employees to adopt other environmentally-friendly forms of transportation. The company provides vanpool subsidies, promotes bicycle commuting and carpooling, and is a proud member of SmartCommute@rtp. Providing free charging stations is yet another incentive to enable employees to be less dependent on gasoline.

Pat Hoy was one of four Biogen Idec employees that took advantage of the incentive through Advanced Energy’s PEV Usage Study to purchase a Nissan LEAF. He received a $7,500 stipend to offset the purchase price in addition to the $7,500 federal tax credit. Speaking briefly at the company’s dedication ceremony, Hoy mentioned that one of the greatest benefits of owning a PEV is that it allows him to bypass the gas station. “I haven’t been to a gas station in three and half weeks since I’ve owned the car…there aren’t too many other people that can say that.” Hoy also highlighted some of the technological benefits, such as being able to remotely pre-cool the car’s interior using his smartphone (as long as the car is plugged in).