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EV Charger Installation Research with EV Owners and Contractors

By Afton McCann on

Electricians working on electrical panel

At Uplight, we know that accelerating adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is critical to creating a more sustainable future. We also know that the process of buying an EV charger, identifying an installer, and ultimately getting the charger on the wall can be cumbersome. Through a partnership with Qmerit, we have designed a Marketplace feature called Bundled Install which removes the friction of charger installation by enabling a user to indicate interest in professional installation with the purchase of an EV charger–as well as pre-qualify them for possible savings on the installation cost with one of Qmerit’s expert installers. In order to set both EV owners and Qmerit installers up for success, we needed to understand the processes and pain points of each user group. 

Part 1: EV Owner Research

Uplight sought to better understand how EV owners obtained information and approached charging their vehicles. We first surveyed 10 EV owners through unmoderated testing using usertesting.com (a platform for getting rapid customer feedback) to collect some baseline information. We used those insights to inform where we needed to dig deeper in live conversations with five EV owners using Zoom. From these five conversations, we identified four key learnings. 

Learning #1: Customers are finding utility EV information on their own

Some participants reported receiving an EV rebate from their utility and even enrolled in an EV-specific rate. However, they all discovered these as a result of their own research, not from utility outreach.

Only one participant reported contacting his utility before the EV purchase to confirm it was eligible for a rebate. This participant also received his level 2 charger for free through his utility. A few participants reported changing utility rates post-EV purchase. In all cases, this was done on their own accord in response to a higher utility bill due to charging. 

The first couple of months I just charged it anytime. Then, I realized the utility bill was hiking up further than I thought it would. So then I did research on the SoCal Ed website and found out that they have this rate thing.

Three participants wanted to see their EV charging data separated out on their utility bills. One even requested that their utility do this and they said they couldn’t.

Learning #2: Customers understand the best times to charge 

All participants reported charging primarily at home. Some participants also charge at work because it’s free, or at local superchargers using referral vouchers.

EV owners had a good understanding of the best time to charge and many actively tried to optimize charging. All participants brought up “off-peak” charging times and that they utilize them when possible. One participant shared that the Tesla app tells you about peak vs off-peak hours.

There are high times for electricity and low times. From 9 pm to 9 am is the lowest time for electricity and you pay the least.

All participants reported using an app (Tesla, ChargePoint, or JuiceBox) to control some element of their car including syncing with the utility company to determine off-peak hours, viewing the cost per charge, scheduling charging times, locating chargers when away from home, and pre-heating the car.

The biggest advantage for me is that it connects directly to the power company to coordinate what the off-peak hours are.

Most participants reported charging to 80% unless they were going on a long trip. 3 out of the 5 shared that they’ve heard charging to 100% reduces the life of the battery.

Learning #3: Customers don’t want to install their chargers on their own

All participants used a contractor to install their chargers. A few looked into self-installation but were intimidated by the process.

I did look at potentially self-installing. I read the first page of the installation guide and said no – I can’t do this. I went pro.

Locating a contractor was a mix of word-of-mouth, Amazon referral at the time of purchase, Facebook searches, and connections to an electrician. Of those who searched for a contractor, one participant contacted three and another contacted 8–9. All participants reported scheduling the contractor by phone.

Learning #4: Charger installation by a contractor is typically very easy for the customer

All participants described the installation process as easy and as expected. One said, “I’m sure it took a few hours. We didn’t have to think about anything. It is pathetically easy to use.”

All participants reported that the contractor came out twice – first to assess the site, and then to install the charger. Most participants were provided a range for the estimated installation cost by the contractor. Two participants had their chargers installed in their garages, while three had their chargers installed on an exterior wall. One participant initially wanted the charger installed far away from the junction box, but ultimately decided to park his EV on the other side of the garage.

It’s really important to know where you want the charger since you have to have electricity access.

All shared that they haven’t noticed any impact on the charger or charge itself while exposed to outside weather. 

The participants that we talked to found charger installation to be daunting and preferred to involve a contractor. Right now, customers find most EV chargers, rebates, contractors, and rates all on their own, often after they bring their car home, with no help from their utility. Once scheduled, the installation process goes smoothly for customers. 

Part 2: Contractor Interviews

After getting a sense of the pain points from EV owners, it was important to understand the perspective of charger installers as most homeowners who want to use a level 2 charger will schedule time with a contractor. Uplight interviewed two Qmerit contractors to better understand the pain points of the charger installation process from accepting a project to providing a quote to obtaining a permit to performing a site walk, and finally, installing an EV charger. These six main learnings will help identify gaps in customer understanding or points of friction in the process to correct to make the installation process as smooth as possible. 

Learning #1: Dealers are focused on selling cars, not customer education

Car dealerships primarily focus on selling vehicles, not educating customers about owning and charging an EV. In some cases, dealers will miseducate customers or make up information they don’t know such as saying a permit is not required for a level 2 charger install. The customer can leave the dealership confused, and the costs of a charger and installation can come as a surprise. 

One of the most important things I tell them (dealership salespeople) is that it’s okay to tell customers “I don’t know–talk to the contractor.”

That same contractor also gave presentations to Tesla dealerships on communicating with EV owners, emphasizing the following messages:

  • Improper charger installations are a safety hazard and ultimately reduce trust in electric vehicles.
  • Permits are important and a necessity.
  • Customers need to be prepared to upgrade their electrical panel if it can not support their new charger, and that requires additional spend.

Learning #2: Most customers do not understand their home’s electrical systems

Most customers haven’t had to think about their electrical system, so they don’t know what is required from a load perspective to install a charger. The contractors interviewed said that many customers do not know the difference between the main panel versus the sub-panel or even how to open their panel.

A lot of people don’t know how to open their electrical panel, so I’ve made GIFs for some of the more complicated ones. Eventually, I’m hoping to have a whole catalog of any panel you’d encounter.

Learning #3: Level 2 charger installation requires a permit 

Under the national electric code, anything that requires a panel upgrade or is using a lot of electricity needs a permit, and this includes charger installation. Permitting is essential and ensures proper installation, but it can be cumbersome.

I have an employee whose full-time job is focused on permits.

Every city is different, with its own permit application process. The cost and time to obtain can vary significantly per location. One of the contractors that we spoke to shared that he can get a permit in 24 hours or less at times, but the process can take up to 5 months in some locations. The cost can range anywhere from $20 – $500. 

The permit cost is always included in the installation quote to the customer and includes the post-install inspection.

Learning #4: Customers need to be educated upfront about the costs of installations

The total cost for charger installation can vary significantly, ranging from below $1,000 to $8,000. Sometimes the cost will come as a surprise when the customer is quoted, and often, this is due to being misinformed by their dealer during the purchase process.

One contractor we talked to noted that customers who committed to the expense of an EV purchase should also be informed about and willing to pay the comparatively small cost to get their charger installed and permitted.

Educating and level-setting charger installation expectation costs up-front (at the time of EV purchase) can set the customer and the installer up for success.

Learning #5: Accurate assessment photos help speed up the installation process

One of the contractors shared that clear and accurate photos from the customer at the time of the assessment are imperative. The back-and-forth with customers to get more information can lead to delays and reduced likelihood of installation completion.

Also, clear and informative assessment photos can eliminate the need for a site walk. Site walks are required for residential charger installs anywhere from 5-20% of the time, and can push the customer quote turnaround timeline out 3-4 days. Assessment pictures will reveal if the customer’s electric panel and circuit breakers are sufficient for the electrical load, or need an upgrade.

One contractor shared that he’d love to get a “site plan” as a part of the assessment to better understand the location of the proposed charger and its proximity to the panel.

Learning #6: Installation isn’t typically complicated but does require a post-work inspection

With adequate preparation, installation typically runs smoothly. Most commonly, the charger is installed within 10 feet of the panel.

In preparation for installation, the customer wants to know about the process, how long installation will take, if their power has to be turned off during installation (it doesn’t), and if they need to be home during installation. 

Interestingly, weatherization does not appear to be an issue for chargers, as most chargers the two contractors we spoke to are installing are “rain tight.” 

A post-install inspection is required, where a representative from the city comes out to confirm that: the panel, pipe, and charger are connected correctly, the charger amperage is supported, and everything is properly secured to the wall.

Most of the time the contractor is present for the inspection. The inspection can take place as quickly as 1 month, and as long as 5 months after installation. If there is an issue, it is generally easy to fix. One contractor shared that they can generally resolve a failed inspection within 24 hours.

The interviews that Uplight conducted point to a big opportunity for contractors and utilities to partner with dealerships, helping customers understand the upfront costs and process of a charger installation to remove any barriers. 

Part 3: Design & Usability Testing

Informed by the feedback provided by EV owners and installers, we moved into the design phase of our Marketplace Bundled Install feature. Using a mixture of already validated design interactions, as well as new components, this feature introduces and explains the Qmerit partnership, describes the process, and sets expectations with users as far as estimated costs and next steps.

A key part of our design process is usability testing, which enables us to analyze our target audience’s behavior when interacting with our products and identify key pain points along the way. Using usertesting.com, we conducted 2 rounds of unmoderated usability testing on our Bundled Install to evaluate users’ overall comprehension and ability to complete checkout with bundled installation. While all users were able to purchase an EV charger with bundled installation, usability testing revealed that we needed to elevate the information about the available installation incentive, as well as communicate incentive eligibility more clearly for users found to be eligible.

Based on the information we gathered from EV owners and charger installers, as well as usability testing, we are confident that the Marketplace Bundled Install feature will help our utility partners get more Level 2 chargers in homes.

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