Local News
September 19, 2018

EV charging providers enjoy a windfall

By Julia Purdy

The latest push in the state’s concerted campaign to put more all-electric or hybrid cars on Vermont’s highways was unveiled Tuesday, Sept. 11 by Gov. Phil Scott. The new Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment program will provide funding to install electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE), necessary to operate mid-level- and fast-charging EV outlets.

The state has set a goal to achieve 90 percent independence from fossil fuels by 2050.

According to the announcement, “The program prioritizes funding in state-designated areas, like downtowns and village centers, highway corridors, public transit stops, major tourist destinations, colleges and universities, hospitals, public park-and-rides, workplaces and multi-family housing.” Electric utilities and EVSE equipment providers may also apply.

The U.S. Dept. of Energy publishes a chart showing 166 public stations in Vermont, with 460 plug-ins, and 8 private stations with 20 plug-ins, as of Aug. 12, 2018.

Not surprisingly, most of existing the public charging stations are mid-level and are clustered in metropolitan Burlington and Montpelier, at ski resorts and college campuses, and in tourist meccas.

‘Range anxiety’

But even at that, a road trip in Vermont in an all-electric car calls for some advance planning.

The term “range anxiety” has entered the language for those car owners who rely entirely on battery power to get around.

An oft-cited significant deterrent to driving all-electric vehicles (EVs) “range anxiety” is the well-founded fear of running out of charge and becoming stranded. All-electric models such as the Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla are coming off the assembly lines with longer ranges, but the still lack the flexibility of gasoline-powered cars, partially due to the limited distribution of charging stations between population centers.

The new Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) program is grant-funded at $2.4 million to remedy that problem. The funds are Vermont’s share of Volkswagen’s consumer fraud settlements with 49 states, resulting from VW’s cheating on exhaust emissions results in its diesel passenger cars.

Vermont received $18.7 million out of the total VW settlement.

Learning curve for consumers

Semaconnect, a widespread charging network, admits on its website, “It can be confusing to learn how this new industry works.”

Utilities such as Green Mountain Power supply the electricity. Site owners, or hosts, partner with the networked suppliers. The host usually sets the hourly charging fee, and the networked supplier collects the fee and returns 90 percent to the host, as well as requiring a membership or account from the consumer, Roberts explained.

At present there is no control on hourly rate. Roberts said that Vermont PUC has opened an investigation into charging costs.

Public chargers are “Level 2” or “Level 3,” both of which require EVSE. Level 2 is not the slowest, but also not the fastest. Level 2, using the standardized J-1772 plug, operates on 240 volts and puts about 10 to 20 miles of range on the battery for each hour of charging. The ideal site would be where the driver could leave the car plugged in for several hours while working, shopping or attending classes.

The cost conundrum

Dave Roberts, Drive Electric Vermont program coordinator, told the Mountain Times that the state has up to 10 years to allocate the funds. This round is $400,000, but the state anticipates a second round next year.

According to Roberts, a Level 2 charging station, networked to a provider, could cost $7,000-$8,000.

All charging stations, regardless of manufacturer, draw on the local grid, suggesting heavier demand on the electrical system. Roberts said that the Level 2 isn’t a problem but DCFC installation may require a transformer or upgrade.

As for the drain on the grant funds, “We’ll have to see” who applies and what they are planning to install, Roberts said. He anticipates there will “quite a few” Level 2s. The grant program funds both mid-level and fast chargers, but only non-proprietary equipment – that excludes Tesla, he said.

Grant monies will be disbursed as reimbursement for completed projects, according to the release. Under the terms of the settlement, “every dollar” must be thoroughly documented, Roberts said.

While independent, non-networked chargers typically cost under $1,000 to install, the program requires the installation of networked chargers, which are connected to a payment system.

Networks – competition or cooperation?

Currently in Rutland and northern Windsor counties, network providers include ChargePoint, EVgo, Clippercreek, CHAdeMO and SemaConnect. There may be compatibility issues among public chargers. In Autoblog.com, Reuters reported that there is a fierce ongoing competition for market dominance.

“The quick-charging marketplace might be growing fast, but the issue of different types of connectivity and communication will need to be resolved going forward,” Swiss Bank UBS said in a recent study reported by Reuters in autoblog.com.

The resolution appears to be in the hands of carmakers themselves.

“Swiss bank UBS has estimated that $360 billion will need to be spent over the next eight years to build global charging infrastructure to keep pace with electric car sales, and it will be key to limit the numerous technologies now in use,” the article continued.

Carmakers that make the right pick will enjoy a robust supply chain that will attract more buyers worried about range. Carmakers that make the wrong call will have to retool their assembly lines, Reuters concluded.

In a telephone interview with the Mountain Times in 2017, Jesús Ferro, marketing director at Semaconnect, predicted that “by the year 2025, 25 percent of all vehicle sales will be EVs, and there’s the consumer demand that’s driving it. … In Vermont, when you can look at two or three all-electric EVs from one dealer and then go to another dealer and see more models, they will catch on. Looks matter,” he added. “It should look like a regular car. The third leg is incentives, government needs to provide the progressive companies with incentives to help with the infrastructure.”

EV use shows steady growth

Dave Roberts co-authored the “Drive Electric Vermont Case Study” for the U.S. Dept. of Energy in 2016 with input from the energy industry and auto dealerships in Vermont.

The case study cited the USDOE’s EV Everywhere Grand Challenge to broaden the reach of EV charging beyond metropolitan areas into “small and midsize communities.” The study found that in 2014 Vermont was tied with Detroit for “the highest percentage … of PEV registrations for cold-weather cities and has seen more than a six-fold increase in charging stations” since 2011, concentrated in the greater Burlington-Montpelier area.

VTrans’ Energy Profile for 2017 reports that the number of PEV vehicle registrations and public PEV charging stations had increased by more than 120 percent since 2015.

Gary Holloway, downtown coordinator for the Department of Housing & Community Development, which is partnering in the program,has been awaiting the VW settlement “for some time.” He reported that a lot of interest is coming from school districts, public utilities, multifamily housing, and municipalities. Applicants have to meet eligibility criteria for location, demonstrated need, project readiness, cost-effective budgeting, and potential for future expansion. Applications are scored on a point basis and will be determined on the quality of the application.

In the meantime, in Rutland County, charging stations of any kind have been scarce and it’s unusual to see a car hooked up to one.

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