The electric vehicle revolution is rapidly gaining momentum in markets and communities across the globe. This growth is, in turn, leading to significant investment in designing and engineering a new generation of EV charging stations, as well as their supporting infrastructure.
These chargers are being sited in many different locations: traditional sites such as gas stations and highway rest stops, but also public parking garages, parking lots and even along urban streets.
There is also a branding aspect to these enclosures. EV chargers are being designed with distinctive appearances to provide both aesthetic appeal and brand identity for their operators.
Routine, secure access by authorized technicians and maintenance personnel is a key requirement for these stations. There is a range of engineered access hardware systems, including latches, hinges and electronic access solutions available to enable charging station manufacturers to create enclosures with high standards of equipment performance, security and visual appeal to safeguard the charging experience.
Balance security, safety, ergonomics
Like other outdoor equipment enclosures, EV charging stations incorporate a variety of access panels that protect the electronic equipment housed within while allowing easy, ergonomic access for technical and maintenance personnel.
Although charging stations have a similar function to gasoline pumps, the electronics they enclose are much more complex and valuable. They can include power delivery systems as well as expensive batteries.
This makes them greater targets for theft and vandalism.
Gas pump access panels typically have simple cam locks with a mechanical key. This makes sense, since gas pumps are almost always located within controlled service station areas that include personnel and video monitoring, so more advanced locking systems are generally unnecessary.
By contrast, the more widespread locations of EV chargers significantly increase the need for stronger, more effective locking and access mechanisms. Parking lots and garages are unattended locations, but more and more they are where chargers are being installed, as municipalities and parking authorities are rapidly investing in them as a new source of revenue.
Streetside chargers are also being installed and retrofitted into existing urban infrastructure, such as light poles and bus shelters, to help quell the clutter of the municipal landscape.
Safety is another factor driving the need for stronger, more secure locking mechanisms. EV charging stations contain high-voltage electrical equipment that pose a significant risk of death to thieves or vandals. Charger enclosure designers recognize the need to harden their systems, especially panel access points, to safeguard against this risk.
Along with these security factors, access panels on EV chargers also must be securely sealed against the elements, especially water and moisture. Again, charger location drives this requirement: fuel pumps are typically located under service station canopies while EV chargers are wide open in parking lots and along street curbs, fully exposed to wind-driven rain, puddles, snow and ice.
One other part of the EV charging infrastructure also needs well-designed access hardware: the electronic substation that connects the chargers to the power grid and helps manage the flow. These substations are typically included in multi-charger installations where the power demand is substantial.
They usually use standard electric utility outdoor enclosures and also feature access panels for service technicians that must be fully secured against theft, vandalism and the elements.
Choose the most effective access solutions
There is a broad range of engineered access hardware solutions now available to help address these challenges. Charger designers must evaluate and balance the impact of intersecting security, protection and aesthetic factors when choosing the most effective solutions.
Electronic locks are growing in popularity for these kinds of equipment enclosures and are frequently used in publicly accessible telecommunications and electric utility enclosures.
Electronic locks replace mechanical keys with a number of secure access options. These can include numeric code entry panels, electronic key fobs and proximity sensors that automatically respond to the presence (or absence) of the key fob or card — unlocking when actuated and locking again once the technician leaves the charger.
A more complete level of security and access control management can be provided with electronic access solutions platforms. A typical EAS system is composed of three primary components: an access control or input device, an electromechanical lock and a system for monitoring the status of the access point.
Although there is a range of access control options, such as RFID cards, the most secure access credential supplies an electronic, time-based key via a mobile app on a technician's smartphone.
The electronic lock will have Bluetooth or other wireless-enabled reader. The technician supplies the appropriate access credential to unlock the panel and perform any service.
All these activities — providing the specific digital key and tracking its use — can be monitored and managed remotely via cloud-based platforms. This ensures that only authorized personnel access the charger and tracks their time onsite. In addition, the key can be scheduled to expire so it cannot be shared with anyone else, further enhancing the charging kiosk's security. The same EAS system can also be installed on EV charging substation enclosures, simplifying access management.
EAS platforms can also support some of the more unique access requirements associated with some EV charger designs. In these systems, there is a main exterior panel, and then within the charger there may be one or more additional panels securing specific parts of the charging equipment.
All those panels can have electronic locks that are actuated from a single digital key for an increased level of security.
Electronic locks with wireless readers can be fully concealed behind the access panel. This makes it easier to incorporate EAS technology into enclosures without having to compromise the enclosure's visual appeal.
In addition, hiding where the electronic lock is located makes it that much more difficult for thieves to find the access panel's pry point.
Environmental hardening, ergonomics
Securing and managing access is an important design consideration, as is properly securing the charger's equipment against the elements and making it easy for technicians to open and work inside the charger.
Since it will be commonplace for EV chargers to face the full impact of wet weather conditions, access hardware must fully secure those access panels to keep them watertight.
Mechanical compression latches created specifically for outdoor applications are an option. Engineered to seal out dust, water and other contaminants, these simple devices are easy to install and operate. Some manufacturers offer adjustable options that can compensate for variations in access panel thickness and gasket set.
Multipoint latching systems offer the same level of compression sealing for larger access panels. A single handle actuates multiple latch points along large doors; therefore instead of requiring a technician to make sure that two or three latches are fully secured before leaving the work assignment, one step secures the whole panel. Multipoint latching systems can be combined with EAS and electronic locks for more secure panel opening and closing.
Technician ergonomics and efficiency is one other factor that enclosure designers should consider. When large panels are part of the charger enclosure's design, it can complicate the technician's activities if the door keeps closing on its own or is blown closed due to outdoor conditions.
There is an array of access panel hinges available that include detent and torque hinge technology to allow even heavy panels to be lifted, moved or held open in one position. Hinges with these features are available in concealed hinge versions, providing clean visual exteriors while also hiding the hinge location, making it more difficult for vandals to identify pry points from the outside.
Opportunities for creative customization
In addressing all these functional requirements, EV charging enclosure designers have the added challenge of aesthetics. Companies that install EV chargers use a broad range of distinctive design approaches to make their chargers stand out and have consumer "curb appeal." Decisions about access hardware and EAS platforms will be guided by how well that hardware can be cleanly incorporated into a particular brand's design aesthetic.
There are engineered access hardware suppliers with extensive customization capabilities to help meet that need. In many cases, they can provide custom paint colors and finish textures for externally visible hardware to easily blend into existing brand styling, as well as provide concealed electronic locking, latching and hinge options.
Working with access hardware manufacturers can help EV charger enclosure designers make smart, informed choices about the right hardware for their next design, helping balance aesthetics, security, ease of use and long-term performance.