Paralleling the historical development of a cross-country network of gasoline and diesel filling stations, a nationwide electric vehicle (EV) charging station network is beginning to emerge in the U.S. As with any technological advancement that breaks new ground and disrupts vested commercial and political interests, the U.S. fleet of EV charging stations is growing in fits and starts. There have been business casualties, scandals and fatalities, and there will be more. But real progress is being made, and the overall trend appears clear.
It took some 50 years from the time the first gas stations cropped up to the emergence of a nationwide network of gasoline and diesel filling stations. Given current conditions and progress to date, a nationwide EV-charging infrastructure is likely to emerge in far less time, perhaps as little as two decades.
Tesla's Supercharger network is the highest profile effort to date when it comes to building a cross-country network of EV charging stations. Tesla isn't alone by any means, however. Flying largely under the radar, Miami's CarCharging Group, Inc. has been on an acquisition spree, acquiring assets on the cheap and planting the seeds of what could turn out to be a national fleet of EV charging stations.
Having acquired four competitors in 2013, CarCharging is now the largest owner, operator and provider of EV charging stations and services in the nation. Scooping up distressed EV charging assets, the group acquired ECOtality's Blink Network for over $4 million in a bank auction last year. It also acquired 350Green, another failed EV charging venture.
Looking to revive and expand the projects, revenue streams and good names of its business acquisitions is no easy task. Both 350Green and ECOtality took business partners, customers, and the Department of Energy (DOE) by surprise when they filed for bankruptcy protection -- leaving a host of federal, state and local government-backed projects unfinished.
Amid a rapidly evolving technological, economic and political backdrop, CarCharging management is focused on business integration and technological synthesis. Recent company news releases chart the business development pathways they are pursuing.
In a May 29 news release, CarCharging announced a partnership with privately-owned real estate developer Related Companies that will see SemaConnect Level 2 EV charging stations deployed at Related Midwest's 47-story, LEED Gold-certified “ultra-luxury” residential tower in Chicago. In addition to CarCharging EV charging stations, the 500 Lake Shore community has an on-site Zipcar facility, as well as “a resident-only bike share program,” the company highlights.
"In major metropolitan areas like Chicago, having public EV charging services available is vital for EV drivers," CarCharging Group CEO Michael D. Farkas was quoted as saying. "Given its prime location and residential profile, 500 Lake Shore Drive is a prime location for EV charging."
A May 26 TribLive article reports on a CarCharging Group project with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Each has contributed $1 million and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission another $500,000 to build out 17 self-serve EV charging station plazas along the state turnpike.
Level 2 EV chargers, which can fully charge an EV in six hours or less, have been installed at an initial four sites, according to TribLive's report. The next step for CarCharging is to install DC (Direct Current) Fast Chargers that can charge an EV in as little as 30 minutes, though this applies to only a “handful of models." While the equipment has cost less than expected, negotiating and making grid connections with various utility companies has proven slower and costlier than anticipated, leading CarCharging to seek additional funding from new sources.
Doing business amid rapid changes in technology and a volatile political market environment, CarCharging Group is trying to cover all the bases. The group is an EV charging station manufacturer in its own right, having acquired the assets of failed ECOtality.
ECOtality's bankruptcy declaration left projects in states including Pennsylvania and Washington unfinished. ECOtality was supposed to install 22 fast-charging Blink Network EV charging stations in the Seattle area from Everett to Olympia. Only half have been installed, and some of those weren't working as of a February 22 online news report from King 5.
For its part, CarCharging is working to get the EV charging network in the Seattle area up and running. It's in negotiations with the U.S. Department of Energy to unlock remaining federal funds and revive the unfinished project. Washington state's Department of Transportation has said it is prepared to allocate $1.2 million to the project. Another $5 million has been allocated in Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee's latest budget.
Adding a retail aspect to its business model, CarCharging on March 4 announced that it had resumed sales of the Blink Network HQ Level 2 residential EV charging station, which it sells directly via website to customers for just under $700.
Besides providing customer customized charging all models of EVs sold in the U.S., CarCharging is offering buyers a $100 bonus credit to join the Blink Network, which provides online search and discovery, as well as physical access, to all Blink EV charging stations.
Image credits: 1) Highway EV sign; 2) CarStations; 3) Car Charging Group
An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.