Building an electric vehicle charging network

Initial ratepayer investment needed to spur competition

THE GOVERNORS OF 17 STATES, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, came together recently to forge an agreement to develop cleaner energy and transportation solutions for our nation.  The pact, known as the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future, represents a bright avenue for cooperation on energy efficient grids, energy storage, and clean fuels and vehicles.

This pact is critically important as automakers bring high-performance electric vehicles to market, and states, utilities, and charging providers consider ways to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicle charging networks.

There is broad agreement that electric vehicles and the charging networks that support them hold the key to a cleaner transportation future.  Governors, public utility commissioners, and legislators can either accelerate the development of this competitive marketplace for EV charging or they can put the brakes on it.

Massachusetts is already a national leader when it comes to clean cars and fuels.  Massachusetts is one of 8 ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) states that have pledged to put a combined 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025.  That’s a great start, and we hope that more states will follow in Massachusetts’ footsteps.

But one of the key questions is how to create a vast network of charging stations in Massachusetts and other states that can support the growth and development of clean cars, and the state Legislature is holding a hearing on this very subject later this week.

The good news is that other states have grappled with this challenge – as many as 30 states are today considering legislative and regulatory actions to boost electric vehicle charging.  We can draw lessons from these other states and create a solution that works for Massachusetts.

Electric car

The most promising model comes from southern California, where the investor-owned utility there (Southern California Edison) just received approval for a pilot program that would ensure the deployment of 1,500 stations, and if successful would grow to some 30,000. The Los Angeles Times recently called this proposal “the right way to charge cars” because it gives drivers choice in providers, limits ratepayer exposure, and allows businesses to invest in charging and set dynamic, real-time pricing that create incentives for employees, residents, and customers to charge.

This program includes four key features:

First, it acknowledges that utilities and ratepayers have a critical role to play in supporting charging stations.  Ratepayer funding of basic infrastructure will help ensure that charging sites are “make-ready;” that is, utilities will ensure that basic infrastructure is in place – paneling, conduit, and wiring – so that charging stations can be easily installed.

Second, it encourages innovative charging services as part of a competitive marketplace.  Electric vehicle charging is a dynamic space, with new features coming to market all the time. The best way to provide an amazing customer experience is through a competitive market.  Charging providers can and should compete on price, service, speed, networked capabilities, and customer experience.

Third, businesses, apartments, and other locations that install electric vehicle charging must have a stake in ensuring a great charging experience.  This will ensure that sites can respond directly to the needs of the drivers, whether they be employees, guests, residents, or customers.  For instance, employers who have charging stations at their workplace may want to offer free charging, while a business that wants to encourage customers to stay for two hours, but no longer, may want a low price for charging initially, but increase the price after a period of time.  Site owners should have the flexibility to implement dynamic pricing models such as these.

And fourth, it includes provisions to extend charging to low-income communities.  It is important that all communities, regardless of income, have access to EV charging.  So the plan provides substantial incentives for siting charging stations in disadvantaged communities and multi-unit dwellings and calls for at least 10 percent of charging stations to be installed in disadvantaged communities.  This will ensure that lower income communities have access to cutting-edge technologies that save money and reduce pollution.

Those of us in the charging business support the same goal – we want to see a vast network of charging stations across the nation.  We are committed to the concept that drivers should be able to charge their electric vehicles at their workplaces, grocery stores, malls, parks, and thousands of other locations across the nation.  Not only will this help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it will drive innovation and create jobs.

Meet the Author
For Massachusetts, how this goal is achieved is critically important. We’ve got to get this right so that we create a network of charging stations that compete on price, location, and service, so that we can address the very real energy challenges facing our nation.

Colleen Quinn is vice president for government relations and public policy for ChargePoint, which operates the world’s largest and most open electric vehicle charging network.