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By Florian Hartmüller from issue IZ 18/2023

E-charging options bring advantages for rentals

With a view to the mobility transition, policymakers are pushing ahead with the expansion of public fast-charging stations for electric vehicles. However, there is great potential for private charging stations in commercial and residential properties. For international companies in particular, appropriate infrastructure is a key criterion when deciding on a lease.

If the German government has its way, at least 15 million fully electric vehicles will be rolling on Germany's roads in 2030. By then, one million "publicly and non-discriminatorily accessible charging points" are to be created. The focus here is on fast-charging infrastructure. However, around 80% of charging is expected to take place in the private sector, i.e. at and in commercial and residential buildings. At least that's what Westbridge Energy is assuming, as Managing Director Markus Hamacher explains. "People will charge where most of their time is spent, which is mainly at work or at home."

In the past six months, the company, which is part of Westbridge Advisory/Argentus, has equipped ten properties with a combined total of around one hundred standard charging points. These each have a capacity of up to 22 kWh. About 85% of these installations are at commercial properties, particularly in the office and light-industrial sectors. The remainder are primarily residential properties. About 1,800 more charging points are in the works, spread across about 40 properties.

Owner pays a construction allowance.

Westbridge acts as a one-stop store. Together with regional installation partners, the company builds the charging infrastructure and later operates it. According to Hamacher, the service provider offers an "all-round solution" in this regard. First and foremost, a building owner must determine what capacities are desired. Then he contributes a construction cost subsidy. From this, equipment for sub-distribution and a dedicated electricity meter are financed and installed. The latter makes it possible to record consumption by charging separately from that of the rest of the building.

In the context of cooperation with a property company, Westbridge offers two variants. In the first, the property company acquires the charging points and Westbridge only operates them. In the second, Westbridge makes the investment in the charging points. In this case, at the end of the contract, the property company can choose whether to remove the equipment, transfer ownership, or replace the existing charging points with others as part of a new operating agreement.

For the current business, Westbridge concludes a framework agreement with users. Individual cards are used for billing. With these, it is also possible to use other public charging points. Westbridge cooperates with various roaming networks such as Hubject for this purpose. According to Hamacher, this covers around 80% of the public charging points in the DACH region.

If Westbridge offers charging points on freely available parking spaces in or at properties for all tenants, a lease can be paid to the respective property owners. However, their participation in the revenue generated by the private charging infrastructure is usually not possible for tax reasons, according to the service provider.

HIH Real Estate is now also increasingly involved in the expansion of charging options in underground garages and outdoor parking spaces in commercial and residential properties. To this end, the subsidiary Eternigy was recently founded, which offers corresponding solutions for electric vehicles. According to the company, the services are not limited to the assets under management of the HIH Group, but are also aimed at external real estate portfolio holders as well as fund and asset managers. Eternigy plans and builds e-charging stations in the DACH region and takes care of operation, ongoing billing with users and maintenance. At the start, the order book includes a good 20 projects with more than 400 charging points in Germany and one with 40 charging points in Vienna.

The first commissioning is planned for June. The goal is to have more than 1,000 charging points in the next three years. To achieve this, Eternigy is first analyzing the location and the current and future demand for charging points and capacity. The company is also checking the technical requirements such as grid connection and fire protection. Eternigy works with framework contract partners to install the wallboxes. With a charging card, users should be able to charge their e-vehicles at Eternigy wallboxes and at most public charging stations. An app provides information on prices, nearest charging stations and billing. "We started Eternigy because we couldn't find the perfect e-mobility service provider on the market for HIH customers," explains Falk Schönberg, senior asset manager at HIH Real Estate and managing director of Eternigy. In addition, regulations such as the Building Electric Mobility Infrastructure Act were gradually putting real estate owners under pressure.

Regardless of such specifications, private charging points in a property can bring decisive advantages when it comes to renting it out. Johannes Miethke, Senior Director and Head of Real Estate Asset Management at investment manager Barings, reports on this. "Internationally active companies in particular expect e-charging options in the building." The background, he says, is often that these tenants prepare sustainability reports. At the same time, according to Miethke, e-charging options are a way to make the commute to the office more pleasant for employees and thus entice them back from the home office. Because of these aspects, among others, the charging infrastructure in a property is now often the deciding factor for a leasing decision. As an example of such a case, Miethke cites Exyte, a company active in plant engineering, which has signed a contract for 5,770 square meters of office space in Stuttgart's Leo Business Campus. Westbridge is currently installing 52 e-charging points there for Barings. Around one-third of all parking spaces in the property will be equipped accordingly. "We expect demand to be high. Stuttgart is a car city," explains Miethke.

Westbridge's other projects are much smaller, at least for the time being. Also for Barings, for example, the service provider has equipped five parking spaces in Frankfurt's St. Martin Tower with e-charging options, and more are to follow. As a rule, Westbridge initially sets up four to ten charging points at a location, says Hamacher. However, this often creates the conditions for increasing the number of charging points as demand increases. Westbridge is concentrating on passenger cars. Hamacher sees great potential for vehicle fleets. The charging points are also equipped so that they can be used for bidirectional charging in the future. However, according to Hamacher, there are still legal hurdles in this regard. Vehicles that are suitable for charging in both directions are also not yet widespread.

In the medium term, Westbridge wants to offer e-charging options in semi-public areas in addition to private ones, but on a much smaller scale. The focus here is on shopping centers in particular. There, users would not need to register individually, but could pay by credit card or digitally, for example. If there are stores on site where customers spend longer periods of time, charging points with normal power would usually suffice, Hamacher explains. "After all, the battery doesn't need to be fully charged, but only enough for users to drive home."