US President Joe Biden has made the shift to electric vehicles an early focus of his administration. Days after his inauguration, he vowed to replace hundreds of thousands of federal civilian vehicles with electric versions. On Tuesday, Biden held a virtual meeting with CEOs from companies building charging infrastructure. The administration has set a goal to build more than 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations by 2030.
Also on Tuesday, a coalition of six electric utilities announced a new initiative that will help Biden achieve his goal. The companies are planning to build a “seamless network of charging stations” in and around the American South. The group plans to build chargers near major highways in every southern state, stretching as far west as Texas and as far north as Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia.
This is not a joint venture. Each utility will build and run its own charging stations. But the goal is to make them appear to the customer as a unified network.
The initiative is important because the limited number of fast chargers is an impediment to more widespread adoption of electric vehicles. It inherently takes longer to recharge an electric vehicle than to refill the gas tank of a conventional car. The problem is exacerbated if EV owners have to drive out of their way to get to a charging station.
As more chargers get built, EV owners will find it easier to find charging stations that are near useful amenities like grocery stores, restaurants, or playgrounds, allowing them to do something useful or fun while their cars recharge.
In 2016, we talked to Pat Romano, CEO of the charging network ChargePoint, which licenses its charging technology to third parties.
“Most people aren’t looking at it as a profit center, it’s an amenity or adjunct to something else,” Romano said. “If you look at liquid fuel it’s never been a profitable industry from a retail perspective, it’s been an amenity to a convenience store. So if you’re not generating the electricity, why do you think you’re going to make money selling it?”
The flip side to that is that if you are in the business of generating the electricity, it might be easier to make the economics work. Electric utilities may also be able to offer benefits like greater reliability and flexible pricing.
Another way to make the economics work is for car companies to build their own charging stations, making their cars more attractive as a result. Tesla has done this with its well-known SuperCharger network. Last year, GM announced an initiative to build 2,700 charging stations over five years.