Thirty-six miles east of San Francisco, an innovative office-and-retail destination called Bishop Ranch is using electric vehicle charging to lead its tenants, visitors, and region into the electrified future.
At last year’s REVOLUTION Connected gathering in New York City, hosted by EVBox, Bishop Ranch transportation director Chris Weeks provided a glimpse into the company’s EV journey. It’s a story with lessons for companies that are considering EV charging and for commercial properties of all kinds.
Bishop Ranch is located in San Ramon, California, part of the Bay Area’s Tri-Valley region. The 585-acre campus includes 29 LEED Gold office buildings — the largest concentration of LEED space outside of a major metropolitan area. Every weekday, more than 25,000 people travel from San Francisco and other Bay Area communities to work at one of the 500 companies that own or lease office space at Bishop Ranch, including Chevron, SAP, Five9, and GE.
Bishop Ranch also includes City Center, a retail hub and public square where employees, visitors and San Ramon residents can dine, shop, visit farmers markets and a luxury movie theater, and attend events. Soon, you’ll even be able to live at Bishop Ranch: plans are underway for 4,500 multi-family residential units that will be built over the next 25 years.
Demand for EV chargers
Just as Bishop Ranch isn’t a traditional office park, the company’s leaders take a similarly innovative approach to sustainable transportation. From an extensive network of EV chargers to EV car sharing services and even an autonomous bus pilot program, Bishop Ranch is known for exploring new technologies and finding financially viable ways to bring their benefits to tenants and visitors.
But Chris, the transportation director, noticed an obstacle at Bishop Ranch for drivers of electric vehicles. While a number of companies had installed EV chargers, they could be used only by those companies’ employees.
Chris Weeks Director of Transportation Bishop Ranch
“Someone from a different company would come by and couldn’t access them,” he said.
To provide a more comprehensive and public EV charging landscape for those seeking charging at Bishop Ranch, Chris set out in search of a solution. Along the way, he learned important lessons that anyone embarking on a similar journey might take inspiration from.
Watch Chris’ interview from REVOLUTION Connected NYC in 2019:
Bishop Ranch’s first step into EV charging was to add charging stations, using grants and utility rebates to pay for them. Bishop Ranch invested in the installation costs.
The idea was to make charging easier and more convenient for any EV driver who worked at or visited Bishop Ranch. More publicly available EV chargers might also prompt gas-car drivers to consider EVs and feel more confident about making the switch.
The effort expanded the total number of charging stations at Bishop Ranch to 157. Of those, 55 were available to the public, and 102 were private and restricted. It was an improvement, but Chris knew they needed to do more.
Lesson #2: Experiments yield insights
Next, Bishop Ranch experimented with several EV car sharing programs. The goal: get more people to try out electric vehicles. Five percent of private vehicles that commute to Bishop Ranch are EVs, including plug-in hybrids.
Although Chris is still waiting for an EV car sharing option to emerge that will fit the needs of Bishop Ranch, the experience has “exposed people to what you can do in an electric car, how fun they are to drive, how exciting it is to use them,” he said.
The experiment also helped drivers navigate any initial challenges they faced in using electric cars.
“Once they realized the challenges, they could start asking me for what they wanted (at Bishop Ranch) to alleviate those challenges. We ended up generating demand for EVs just by having some kind of EV car sharing capability,” he said.
Lesson #3: Partners save you money
Farther along its EV journey, Bishop Ranch installed public charging stations at City Center. They quickly became a popular amenity. Employees and visitors liked being able to charge their EVs while they shopped or ate at restaurants inside the lifestyle center. To reduce costs, Bishop Ranch signed up tenant companies to sponsor some of the charging stations.
“That’s a way to pay for the costs of electricity — let (another) company sponsor it and get their name around it, and they help you mitigate your costs.”
Lesson #4: Rebates are game changers
The first time Chris priced out the cost to add more charging stations at Bishop Ranch (beyond the initial set of public chargers), two hurdles emerged: installation costs and a lack of sufficient electrical power available from campus buildings.
As a result, those plans “ended up being exorbitantly expensive in the long run for the amount of charging we wanted to provide,” Chris said, so he scrapped them.
Then local utility PG&E and MCE, a public agency that helps Bay Area customers buy clean energy, stepped in. They offered programs and rebates that combined to cover nearly all the costs for a new, large set of public EV charging stations, including installation and electricity. (Businesses of all sizes can benefit from similar incentives, available in many U.S. states.) This new set of chargers wouldn’t need to draw power from Bishop Ranch buildings. Instead, they’d connect directly to PG&E through the utility’s transformer.
Today, 336 EV charging stations are located throughout Bishop Ranch, and most of them are available to any EV driver who needs a charge. By taking advantage of rebates and incentives, Bishop Ranch paid only $750 for each charging station, including installation costs.
“That’s about ten percent of what it actually should cost to put in this kind of project,” Chris said.
How EVBox is helping
“What (Bishop Ranch) ended up paying for was just the design time to wrap the chargers, the planning time to set it all up, and meeting with our great partners like EVBox, who gave us an amazing price for cutting-edge technology,” Chris said.
EVBox has installed more than 200,000 charging ports in the U.S., Canada, and around the world. The newest EVBox charging station model, the Iqon Level 2 charger, was designed for commercial and public sites, including workplaces and retail areas.
EVBox as a company and the charging stations we sell are designed to be flexible. A comprehensive charging solution — hardware, software, and service — built around our offerings can be as simple as you’d like or as smart as you need it to be. A few examples:
We make sure everyone can use our EV chargers and adapt them to their needs. Our Iqon and Troniq chargers are out-of-the-box ADA-compliant, with easily accessible retractable cable systems and intuitive LCD screens.
All EVBox charging stations use an open-network environment, giving customers the freedom to choose among a growing number of software vendors for connectivity, access, and reporting. This puts the customer in charge when it comes to choosing the hardware and software combination that works best for them.
With EVBox, you can easily switch software without needing to buy new charging stations. That gives you peace of mind that your investment will hold its value. You can also keep pace with evolving technology — such as smart charging — which helps you manage your available energy, remotely monitor your station activity, adjust charging rates, and control user groups and access.
“We experimented with a bunch of different charging companies, and EVBox has won the day. We’re deploying them all over,” Chris said.
As part of their path to EV charging, Bishop Ranch also established a service desk for drivers who are new to electric vehicles. Confused about how to use a charging station? Call the desk for immediate help.
Also, premium parking spaces, nearest to buildings, are reserved for EVs to motivate employees and visitors to try them out.
For the longer term, Bishop Ranch has partnered with local government, transit agencies, and other private property owners to improve transportation for everyone who works, visits, or lives in the populous, growing East Bay area.
The Mehran family, whose Sunset Development Company has built, owned, and managed Bishop Ranch since the 1970s, “reached out to the surrounding municipalities and said, ‘We want to help you serve the people who are coming here each day. We want to create a transportation system that can handle all this,’” Chris said.
Plans include a new EV car sharing network, electrifying the express buses that run between Bishop Ranch and regional transit centers, autonomous or on-demand “last mile” buses at Bishop Ranch, and other efforts to make the best use of existing roadways.
“At the center of it,” Chris said, “is our commitment to give back to the community and to the Earth in a way that uses technology to meet challenges.”