In this new feature, I’ll be talking with experts that touch into the transport energy space. First up: a Q&A with John Incorvaia, Market Segment Leader, Renewable Energy & EV Charging at GPRS on how utility locating can reduce EV charging site development costs.
GPRS has been around for 21 years. We’re the pioneer in our industry – we focus on subsurface damage prevention – and now, more than ever, we’re focusing on the aboveground elements, too. We provide utility locating and concrete scanning services, as well as leak detection, video pipe inspection, and mapping and modeling. We’re working with engineering firms and construction companies, and on the utility side we find all major utilities prior to construction. With the EV charging space expanding quickly, it is so critical that we take the necessary steps to avoid damage, especially line strikes, and to ultimately save money with unnecessary construction. That’s our goal with the EV industry, although this is what we do with every industry we work with.
I would say it was the middle of 2019 and early 2020, and in 2020 we really started to see an uptick in projects and demand from our customers who were building out these sites. For example, Electrify America was in their Cycle 2 program. We’ve been trying to drive policy and positive change in the EV space ever since.
There’s 4,000 people injured a year from underground utility strikes. A strike happens across the country every 62 seconds. We want to improve that with the standards we have developed. But there is no policy or industry standard for utility locating. There are a lot of companies out there offering this kind of service, but there is no industry standard and there is no certification process for locators to ensure they are qualified, or that they’re using the right equipment or right methodology. What GPRS is trying to do, especially for the EV space, is to push for the creation of a specification for subsurface investigation methodology that would address these issues. It’s very important for EV charging because line strikes and having to redesign sites to match utility location is more common than people may think. This can get costly very quickly for owners.
Yes. As more projects are being built and as more properties are being utilized, they’re running into issues with unknown lines and as-builts [records or drawings of the space] being unreliable. The Common Ground Alliance did a study for the utility locating industry as a whole and found there was only a 35% adoption rate when it comes to utility location. There’s 65% of the industry that are completely unaware of the ability to hire a utility locator prior to excavation or project design. It means that people, even in the EV industry, are wasting thousands and thousands of dollars because they are not doing this the way they probably should. They’re just relying on the as-builts, not realizing that oftentimes as-builts for the property and the way it was actually built are two different things many times.
Here’s an example. This is an issue for DC fast and Level 2 charging. But let’s take an office complex. There’s a lot going on: sewer sanitary, storm drains, secondary site lighting, all the mains. There’s just a lot of utilities and unknowns. And if a property owner – let’s say, an existing FedEx building – maybe they’re going to electrify their fleet. They might have built that building 20 years ago, maybe not have had many upgrades on the property. Their as-built is 20 years old; maybe they’ve had upgrades, but they haven’t updated their records. You’re risking damage. I think the EV space is positioned in a way that makes it more critical to provide this level of due diligence on the front end because you’re working around so many other utilities owned by different commercial property owners.
Between the NEVI plans and the Inflation Reduction Act, the industry is going to grow quickly. I’m excited about being in this space. I’m excited about the idea that, through NEVI, there’s going be charging stations around in a lot more areas, especially along these major interstates. It’s an interesting place to be.