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20 February 2020

ChargePoint commits $1bn to US EV charging network with NATSO

ChargePoint and the National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO) have announced a $1 billion initiative to install EV charging infrastructure at over 4,000 travel plazas and fuel stations in the US. This news has been bolstered by the unveiling of two bills in the House of Representatives, which seek to build a national EV charging network and increase EV access among poorer communities.

The ChargePoint and NATSO deal is substantially larger than the Natural Resources Canada project announced last week, which despite $182.5 million of funding has garnered barely any users to date. While the Canadian view might look much better with a year of new usage data, from the 96 of 102 charging stations that hadn’t managed to report usage yet, ChargePoint (owned by French energy firm Engie) has an installation target an order of magnitude larger.

Truck stops have enjoyed something of a reprieve, thanks to the delayed arrival of self-driving technologies. It was not long ago that we envisioned the death of these truck stops, and the communities they support, thanks to convoys of autonomous trucks bypassing them entirely – thanks to the lack of sleepy human drivers that needed to take breaks.

Now, it seems that these truck stops provide a clear return on investment for ChargePoint, which already claims to be the largest EV charging network in the world. With a ten-year timeline, however, that $1 billion does not sound so impressive, however, if it proves to be a lifeline for truck stops, via increased dwell time, then NATSO won’t be complaining.

“We are embarking on a major shift in transportation, with electrification poised to fundamentally transform mobility,” said ChargePoint President and CEO Pasquale Romano. “The collaboration with NATSO is “vital for the rapid expansion of charging around the country and will ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of the EV revolution.”

In the announcement, ChargePoint talks of connecting drivers in all 50 states, enabling long-distance travel along major routes, but also to rural communities – although there is scant initial detail on how those rural locations are going to be accommodated. All that is mentioned is a ‘focus on connecting rural communities,’ so we remain somewhat skeptical about the success of that aspect.

“NATSO for the last 20 years has successfully advocated for incentives to enable our members to profitably incorporate renewable fuels into their fuel supply. We look forward to building on these successes so that the travel center industry can continue to play a leading role in bringing alternative fuels to its customers. Our collaboration with ChargePoint will undoubtedly help us do that,” said NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings.

“Range anxiety continues to rank as one of the biggest concerns among consumers who are considering purchasing an electric vehicle. NATSO has been working with the Federal Highway Administration since 2016 to expand the use of alternative fuels and infrastructure under its Alternative Fuels Corridor Program. The MOU announced today will help to establish public-private partnerships at off-highway fuel retailers across the nation, which will help to mitigate range anxiety and expand the Interstate network of charging facilities under the current program,” added Mullings.

The two are going to be looking for public and private funding sources in this ten-year partnership, which includes more cash from Volkswagen’s Dieselgate fines. The announcement leads to a pretty sparse website, but given ChargePoint’s initial success (claiming to have 108,100 charging points and have delivered 73 million charges to date), this could be one of the most successful charging projects in the US. Projections from the IEA put US EV ownership at 30% of cars, by the time this project concludes.

But the initiative might be bolstered by the aforementioned bills. Introduced separately, the two could drive funds towards NATSO and ChargePoint, or at least act as a rising tide that lifts all boats. Of course, the two have to get through the US political system first, which is no easy feat, and given that Democrat politicians are introducing them, it seems that the polarized climate is just going to see the Republicans try to shoot them down.

The first bill is the Electric Vehicle Freedom Act, introduced by Andy Levin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which intends to build chargers along highways, encourage interoperability between EVs and these networks, and mandate that these charging stations’ payments are secure and that they comply fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ocasio-Cortez, a firebrand figure who proves extremely divisive, says that the bill is “a necessary step in reducing the barriers that have held back greater electric vehicles adoption.” The bill has support from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Utility Workers Union of America, United Steelworkers, United Automobile Workers and the Center for Transportation and the Environment.

The second bill is the Electric Vehicles for Underserved Communities Act, introduced by Yvette Clarke, which does what it says on the tin. It wants to increase access to EV charging stations in low-income communities, and like the first bill, is backed by the Sierra Club – an environmental lobbying group.

“If we are going to successfully make the transition to electric vehicles in the next 30 years, then electric vehicles and their charging infrastructure need to become highly accessible to all communities and fast.” Clarke said in a statement that in her own Brooklyn neighborhood and other cities, “I struggle to see a sufficient electric-charging infrastructure, especially in low-income communities and communities of color.”