If President Joe Biden can win over Congress, the federal government will invest $17 billion to help set up a nationwide network of 500,000 EV battery chargers — but even before then, a charging infrastructure is beginning to fall in place and it’s accelerating rapidly thanks to partnerships teaming up automakers, chargers, local and state governments and businesses ranging from Bank of America to 7-Eleven.
The convenience store already operates 22 charging stations at 14 stores and, by the end of next year hopes to have 500 chargers in place at 250 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Walmart, meanwhile, is looking to more than double the number of stores with onsite public chargers, during the next few years. New York State, meanwhile, is teaming up with Mirabato Convenience Stores to get 150 new quick-chargers in place by year-end, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last month.
“Expanding high-speed charging in local markets across the state is a crucial step in encouraging more drivers to choose EVs,” said Cuomo, adding that, “Public-private partnerships enable New York to build a network of fast, affordable and reliable electric vehicle public charging stations in a nimble and affordable way.”
There are about 168,000 gas stations operating in the U.S., each with multiple pumps. How many EV chargers are needed has been a matter of debate. For one thing, about 80 to 90% of current battery-car owners charge up at home, according to Pat Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, one of the largest charger suppliers in the country. And, he told TheDetroitBureau.com, that’s expected to hold going forward.
But, if a complete shift to BEVs is to take place there still will be millions of apartment dwellers and others who won’t have access to chargers of their own. And public facilities still will be needed for those traveling long distances for work or play.
“The (charging) infrastructure needs to be there and it isn’t yet,” Toyota Group Vice President Lisa Materazzo said during the unveiling of the automaker’s first long-range BEV, the bZ4X, last week.
Feds aim to assist
That’s something Biden wants to address, $174 billion of his proposed infrastructure bill to be used to promote battery-electric vehicles – much of it for sales incentives. But about 10% of that total would fund a nationwide network of 500,000 chargers.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there were 20,178 public chargers available at the end of 2017. That surged to 41,400 during the first quarter of this year, still far short of the administration’s target. But the pace of installation is rapidly accelerating. ChargePoint ended 2020 with 106,000 active ports — many locations having the electric equivalent of multiple gas pumps. By the beginning of the second quarter that jumped to 112,000.
Companies like ChargePoint and rivals Green Lots, EVgo and Electrify America have been investing heavily in new locations. The latter firm announced last month plans to spend another $200 million for a combination of chargers and an EV promotional campaign.
And with sales of BEVs up 45% during the first quarter, and many analysts forecasting all-electric models could capture 30% of the U.S. market by 2030, Wall Street is warming to the charging industry.
In March, ChargePoint became the world’s first publicly traded global EV charging network. It completed a SPAC-style merger with Switchback Energy Acquisition Corporation. EVgo plans to go through a similar deal this month with Climate Change Crisis Real Impact set to value it at $2.6 billion.
The infrastructure build-up, meanwhile, is getting a helping hand from a variety of sources. State and local governments, like New York, are anteing up for charging stations. So are a number of retailers and other businesses – many of whom see the opportunity to draw BEV owners inside while their vehicles charge up.
Walmart wants to go from 365 stores offering quick chargers to 800. Bank of America is setting up chargers at numerous branches. And 7-Eleven will let you sip a Slurpee while your BEV slurps some juice of its own.
“Adding 500 charging ports at 250 7‑Eleven stores will make EV charging more convenient and help accelerate broader adoption of EVs and alternative fuels,” said 7‑Eleven President and CEO Joe DePinto. “We are committed to the communities we serve and to working toward a more sustainable future.”
A vested interest
Automakers have a vested interest in addressing the roadblocks to widespread EV adoption. They’re steadily increasing range and beginning to bring down costs. Now, they’re also moving to address infrastructure issues.
Much like Tesla has done with its Supercharger network, General Motors in 2019 announced plans to establish its own nationwide charging infrastructure with the help of Bechtel. It is also partnering with existing charging companies.
Ford is one of several carmakers partnering with Electrify America to access its affiliate network of over 13,000 chargers. And the automaker is giving buyers of the new Mustang Mach-E 250 kilowatt-hours of free energy. Other manufacturers, such as Porsche, are providing free energy for a year or more.
Nissan, meanwhile, has teamed up with EVgo to ensure that there are still chargers available for older Leaf battery-cars using the CHAdeMO plug standard, even as its new Ariya BEV will switch to the more widely used CCS adaptor.
Few and far between
There are parts of the country where chargers are becoming almost commonplace, especially in California, the nation’s largest market for battery vehicles. And several major cross-country corridors are being electrified, including I-80, which runs from the New York-New Jersey border to just outside of San Francisco.
There are still many sections of the country where chargers are few and far between. Even in Detroit — home to GM, which wants to go 100% electric by 2035 — they can be hard to find. But the push is on to fill those gaps. And, by sharing resources, EV advocates believe the roll-out is just accelerating.