ChargePoint helps SUNY ESF get even greener
Ranked No. 9 on the Princeton Review's 2022 Top 50 Green Colleges list and No. 5 on Sierra Magazine’s 2021 Cool Schools list, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is a hotbed of sustainability research and innovation. In 2021, ESF achieved a Platinum AASHE STARS ranking, which is at the top of that organization’s scale. Founded in 1911 and located in Syracuse, New York, the college offers degree programs aimed at developing renewable technologies and building a resilient future through instruction, design, policy, research and management.
On campus, ESF puts its classroom theory into practice. In addition to its Zero Waste composting and recycling programs and a student-run organic garden, the college actively works to educate the public about environmental best practices. ESF has also influenced New York state environmental policies and is helping establish guidelines for SUNY’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
The college recently collaborated with ChargePoint to expand its on-campus electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure to accommodate more student and faculty drivers as well as campus visitors and members of the greater community who drive EVs.
Practicing what they teach
“We are New York State’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry,” says Sue Fassler, director of sustainable operations at ESF, “so everything we do here should be sustainable, grounded and focused. We want to practice what we teach — and our students expect that.”
As an example of ESF’s commitment to sustainability, when the current college president came on board in 2020, she asked staff to trade in the previous president’s gas-guzzler for an electric vehicle.
In 2014, SUNY ESF installed one ChargePoint charging station to gauge demand among students and faculty. After that initial installation, the college sustainability team became increasingly interested in building a more robust EV infrastructure. After attending a sustainability conference in 2019 at the Rochester Institute of Technology and talking with other colleges in the region, Fassler had the information she needed to move forward with expansion of the EV charging infrastructure at ESF.
Fassler and her colleagues in the Facilities Department developed a plan to replace the older charger and add nine more ChargePoint CT4000 AC charging stations. She had no problem getting buy-in from college leadership, and the many incentives available in New York made it even easier for the college to move forward.
By combining incentives from the National Grid Make-Ready Program ($160,000) and money from the ESF College Foundation ($75,000), the college was able to complete the installation project without spending any capital funds. ESF is also renovating its second-oldest building to achieve the highest level of USGBC LEED and WELL Building Certification and is incorporating into that project the capacity for charging infrastructure for three more dual-port stations.
" We chose ChargePoint because it’s a household name. It’s one of the only brands I knew about before I did any research. "
Director of Sustainable Operations
ChargePoint was a no-brainer
ChargePoint happens to be an authorized contractor on New York’s statewide EV Supply Equipment & Network Services contract, but Fassler was already familiar with them.
“We chose ChargePoint because it’s a household name,” Fassler says. “It’s one of the only brands I knew about before I did any research, and because they’re a state vendor, we were able to efficiently utilize their service.”
With so many ChargePoint stations installed throughout the Syracuse region, she says, it made sense to add more of the same to make it easy for drivers in general. As an EV driver herself, Fassler could appreciate the benefit of not having to download yet another charging app.
Fassler says ChargePoint helped make the entire implementation process go smoothly. She used the written how-to guides from ChargePoint as well as online videos to set up the back end, including establishing pricing and access policies. “I just love that ChargePoint had those resources ready to go, so I didn't have to rely on anyone else to do it for me. I could teach myself.”
And when she did need help? “ChargePoint was very responsive, especially once the stations were installed and we were getting up and running,” Fassler says. “The customer service team was extraordinary — one of the best I've worked with.”
Now ESF has a total of 18 charging spots. Near the academic buildings are four dual-port chargers and two single ports, available to faculty, students and staff only. ESF’s new stations also create one of the largest and most affordable publicly accessible charging hubs in the city of Syracuse. The ChargePoint solution’s management software enabled them to set up an access restriction policy to ensure that only those designated EV drivers could use the stations. In the school’s far parking lot near Interstate 81, ESF set up four dual-port stations with no access restrictions, so visitors can easily charge up while attending sporting events or even while shopping nearby.
And the stations are becoming quite popular. Fassler says several graduate students use the restricted charging stations on a regular basis and nearby medical university professors frequently make use of the public chargers. In addition, campus tour groups often make a stop at the chargers to show potential students and other visitors just how green the campus is.
" ChargePoint was very responsive, especially once the stations were installed and we were getting up and running. The customer service team was extraordinary — one of the best I've worked with. "
Director of Sustainable Operations
Software brings unexpected flexibility
The ChargePoint solution made it easy for Fassler to work with campus leadership and university police to establish a flexible EV charging policy, including setting pricing and access restrictions. Pricing is currently set for both restricted and public stations at 20 cents per kilowatt hour, which is considerably lower than the regional average.
Fassler says they currently do not charge extra when a driver leaves their vehicle plugged in after it has finished charging. Once EV momentum builds and there is more demand for the stations on campus, they will likely set a per-hour charge for EVs that remain plugged in after charging. “I love that we have the flexibility to future-proof the stations based on demand. That was a really attractive selling point for us,” she says.
Fassler appreciates the real-time access and monitoring the ChargePoint app provides. “We get a tremendous amount of value from the ChargePoint software and dashboard — I’m in there every day,” Fassler says. “In fact, it’s the first thing I check right after I open up my email, because I’m just curious to see how many stations are in use. I joke that it’s kind of like a new social media for me because I seem to check it every time I have the chance.”
Fassler says the app is also going to be a great outreach tool in the future because she can reach out to the school’s connected drivers. “I can see their email addresses. So it’s a really good way to get messaging out and survey people for feedback.”
The dashboard within the ChargePoint app has also been useful in communicating with other departments on campus. When ESF’s Office of Communications and Marketing asked her where the new charging stations were situated so they could update the campus map, she simply took a screenshot of the backend of the ChargePoint dashboard showing the locations and sent it their way.
" I love that we have the flexibility to future-proof the stations based on demand. That was a really attractive selling point for us. "
Director of Sustainable Operations
An even more sustainable future
Fassler says the college’s future will definitely be more electric. In a normal academic year, close to 2,000 full-time undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. students attend ESF throughout the state. In addition, there are about 500 faculty and staff. Currently, ESF has about 17 connected EV drivers, but Fassler expects this number to grow.
“I think as EV prices come down, we'll see more and more on campus. The college would rather have too many stations right now for our campus population than not enough later.”
Fassler says ESF would also like to electrify its campus fleet as much as possible. Currently, they have a number of small electric utility vehicles. Whenever they have the funding to purchase new vehicles or replace older ones, their goal is to purchase plug-in hybrid or fully electric.
To measure the success of the campus EV charging program over time, Fassler plans to conduct satisfaction surveys once a year. She conducted one in 2019 to gauge interest in the expansion project, and 30% of respondents said the college should definitely install more charging stations and about 50% said they possibly should. “That was a total of 80% positive response in my analysis.” So far so good.
“One success marker will be when the chargers are being used enough to offset all of the operating costs for our warranty and networking,” Fassler says. “I don't want to raise the price. I really like that it’s in the 20 cents per kilowatt hour range. Ideally over time we would get so much use that we can drop that price even more, but success for me would be paying for our operational costs.”
When thinking about the future of the EV program at ESF, Fassler can hardly contain herself. She’s passionate about data and gets excited just thinking about digging into the ChargePoint reports. “We just got our first month of revenue and greenhouse gas inventory data,” she says. “I expect as more data comes in, I’ll be in those reports even more!”
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