Almost a year to the day after opening its first charging station, Electrify America says it is rolling out the country’s fastest-growing network of fast chargers.
Funded by $2 billion from Volkswagen’s 2016 diesel emissions settlement, it has a goal of building hundreds of stations and putting nearly 2,000 chargers in place by the end of this year.
Many of those will let battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, owners charge up nearly as quickly as they could fill a gas tank. Charging speed — along with the lack of a national network of charging stations — has been cited as a key obstacle to the widespread public adoption of electric cars.
“Longer range and faster charging times are critical to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles,” said Brendan Jones, the chief operating officer at Electrify America, during a conversation at the company’s headquarters in Reston, Virginia. It’s the equivalent of the classic chicken-and-egg problem.
EVs go mainstream
Extended-range vehicles, offering anywhere from 200 to nearly 400 miles per charge, are starting to roll out in large numbers from mainstream brands such as Daimler, Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen, as well as start-ups such as Tesla and Rivian.
Setting up a nationwide infrastructure is the next big challenge, according to many analysts. An August study by McKinsey & Co. projected it will cost as much as $50 billion to ensure public charging stations are as easily accessible as gas stations in three key markets — the U.S., Europe and China. The U.S. alone is expected to require an investment of as much as $11 billion, McKinsey estimated.
Several key players have entered the field and are starting to ramp up efforts to fill the broad gaps that exist across the country. These include Tesla, which has already put into operation 1,441 Supercharger stations across North America, the vast majority of them along U.S. roadways. Those facilities are only available to Tesla owners, but companies such as EVgo and ChargePoint are targeting the rest of the market. So is Electrify America.
Electrify America must spend that $2 billion by the end of 2026. The company, based in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., was created as part of Volkswagen’s diesel emissions settlement with U.S. and California regulators.
The company is spending that money on a mix of consumer education and infrastructure, the latter drawing the vast majority of the funding. Though Electrify America is housed in the same faceless office complex as Volkswagen’s U.S. headquarters, the settlement calls for it to operate as an independent entity. That was underscored by a network television ad the organization ran last year that featured a number of different electric vehicles, including those from Nissan, BMW and General Motors, but none from VW.
Electrify America’s charging stations are being outfitted to allow any plug-based vehicle to connect, though Tesla owners will need an optional, proprietary adapter.
The first of its charging stations opened for business about a year ago. Since then, more than 160 have come online, with dozens more in various stages of completion. Each station features an average of four to five chargers, with a maximum of 10 at what are expected to become high-volume locations.
The goal is to have about 2,800 Level 2 and more than 2,000 Level 3 chargers in operation around the U.S. by the end of this year, said Electrify America CEO Giovanni Palazzo. To put that into perspective, the U.S. Department of Energy said a total of 54,638 public Level 2 and 3 chargers were in operation across the country at the end of 2018.
Electrify America’s initial focus is on regions with high levels of EV ownership such as California and parts of the East Coast, he said. But it eventually plans to have charging stations that are no more than 70 miles apart along all major roadways in most states. Urban areas where EV ownership is expected to peak will have more of them.