Consensus: When It Comes to EV Charging Infrastructure, It's All About Location, Location, Location – And Power

Published on
Jun 23, 2023
Written by
Jonathan Colbert
Read time
8 min
Thanks for joining our newsletter
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Consensus: When It Comes to EV Charging Infrastructure, It's All About Location, Location, Location – And Power

The Voltera team was excited to participate in the EV Charging Summit and Expo a few weeks ago in Las Vegas. It was a packed two days of insightful presentations and conversations among thought leaders across the industry. In this event recap, get insights from Voltera CEO Matt Horton and other industry luminaries.

Identifying the ideal charging site

Voltera CEO Matt Horton participated in a panel discussion on site installation fundamentals. Co-panelists were Brian Shaw, Executive Director of Transportation at Stanford; John Incorvaia, EV market segment leader at GPRS; and John Doran, President at Plug-in Stations Online. The panel was moderated by Russ Clark, Director at EV Research Centers.

Kicking off the discussion, Stanford’s Brian Shaw explained his focus on developing charging capacity for new buildings, rather than trying to retrofit existing properties: "We’ve added over 200 new facilities built from the ground up, and those are required to have charging capacity – installed and ready to go as well as wired for the future. We adopted that approach versus trying to retrofit because our campus is old and there are places where we don’t have power for charging."

Following on Brian's articulation of the challenge for organizations with large existing real estate portfolios, Matt Horton explained Voltera’s approach: "We work with customers in situations like Brian’s where they can’t get the charging they need at their existing sites, so we build sites nearby. We have the luxury of not being constrained by an existing real estate portfolio; we can focus on the most ideal sites."

Matt continued, "Due diligence is critical in deciding if a property is the right fit. We have robust site selection tools that take over 50 data sets into account – first and foremost is whether the site can be adequately supplied with power and whether it’s in a convenient location. Once we identify a small handful of potential sites we conduct in-depth due diligence to find the right one." Learn more about Voltera’s approach to site identification and acquisition in our new Playbook.

"By far the most critical factor is power availability. That drives site selection. There’s such a pressing need for charging today that we try to find sites where there are already good distribution assets and grid connection. But we’re also working with utilities to do future phases where we can bring more power to the site."
Voltera CEO Matt Horton

"Power availability is starting to become a piece of site selection strategy for fleets," explained Dave Mullaney, a principal at RMI, in a panel on infrastructure design for fleets. "In addition to whether the site location makes sense for the fleet’s routes. They’re looking at utility lead times (how long does it take to get power if it’s not already at the site). You never used to hear about that." Speaking on a panel about fleet diversification and transition from ICE, Bill Combs, VP of Sustainability at Penske said, "We looked at our California locations and picked sites where we had enough extra energy to charge vehicles onsite. That gave us a lot of speed for our initial start."

As Andreas Lips, President & CEO at Shell Recharge remarked, "The power grids in the US and Europe are old and not designed for the kind of demand coming our way. It’s not only EVs; the whole world is electrifying. To meet the demand, the key is cooperation between OEMs, utilities, and charge point operators. Collaboration is not something many companies are used to or good at but it’s essential to solve the challenges the industry is facing."

RMI's Dave Mullaney echoed the sentiment: "We need anticipatory investment to fix the grid. When you look at the reality of what it takes to interconnect large loads to the grid – from both a regulatory and an infrastructure standpoint – there’s a big gap between what exists today and what’s being required by rules like Advanced Clean Trucks and Advanced Clean Fleets. So how to bridge the gap? The Department of Energy has started looking at anticipatory investment that’s both fair to the rate payer and cost effective."

"When talking about the EV charging infrastructure deployment timelines, I’ve heard many people say utilities are the long pole in the tent," remarked Charlotte Fagan, Principal Analyst, Clean Energy Development at National Grid. "It’s true that as utilities we need to do a lot of work to shorten timelines. But if you care about rapid deployment of EV chargers, decarbonization of transportation, you also need to think about the long pole for utilities. Why does it take us so long to interconnect to your site?"

Charlotte continued, "You should care about utility planning. Utilities can only build assets that are used and useful for existing ratepayers. Yet as we stand here at the beginning of what will be hockey-stick growth in EV deployments, we do need to think ahead. Sites that are currently parking lots are going to need the same power as a stadium, a small town, a factory by 2030-40. So what are new ways to do utility planning? In New York we’re working hard to figure out where we should build in a way that’s fair to current ratepayers and gets stuff built in time. I would love to come back to this conference in 5 years and not be the bottleneck."

Planning ahead for whatever the future might hold

For many fleets, the first foray into electrification is at existing sites. RMI's Dave Mullaney explained, "It starts with fleets charging behind the fence – like consumers charging at home – but ultimately fleets will need off-site charging." Speaking about PepsiCo’s transition, Electrification Program Manager Dejan Antunović said, "Everything we do today is behind the fence. We size charging for business needs and duty cycles. So we have a mix of DC fast charging (DCFC), level 2 charging, and megawatt charging (MCS). As the years have gone by we’ve seen technology evolve such as level 2 flexibility and capability, new DCFC technologies, battery integration. But it’s always matter of what fits the best based on our duty cycles."

When asked about the speed of evolution in the industry, and how organizations can plan for the future given how fast the industry is moving, Stanford’s Brian Shaw said, "How we develop charging capacity will be dictated by the market. Where is the market going?" How soon will EVs be ubiquitous? How soon will vehicles be autonomous? "We will have to respond to how market conditions change,” Brian said. “We need to be prepared for what ultimately comes."

Matt Horton explained Voltera’s forward-thinking perspective: "We have to look at a 20-30 year time horizon on the investments we’re making. We’re locking up land for the long term so we have to be thoughtful about how development is likely to unfold over the next decades. No one’s crystal ball perfect but there certainly will be a core need to put electricity into vehicles in dense urban areas and other places that will be critical for transportation. We are getting ahead of the market by making investments in key geographies. But we’re finding so much pent-up demand that most of our facilities are contracted shortly after we’ve acquired them."

As far as development of those sites, Matt said, "We have to think about flexibility at sites so they’re viable many years into the future. We know technological change will continue. So what combination of assets will we deploy to deliver power? On-site generation assets like solar, energy storage, and bi-directional charging are all tools we’re considering. We need more power and we have to use the power we have more efficiently."

Asked about his perspective that "our collective future depends on zero-emission transport," Matt explained, "This challenge in front of us is one of the biggest that we face as a civilization. As an industry we get to sit between two powerful forces: the electrification of everything in transportation and the cleaning of the power grid. There’s a lot of work to do at every stage of the value chain. We need more renewable energy to come onto the grid. We need to electrify all our vehicles. Fortunately the capital markets are responding and tens of billions are flowing to meet the challenge."

"To put the challenge into perspective go back 110 years to when there were no gas stations anywhere," remarked Vic Shao, President at bp pulse fleet. "By 1920 there were gas stations everywhere, tens of thousands, and that deployment was accomplished in the middle of World War I. So deploying EV charging infrastructure at scale is doable. It will require alignment of interests between utilities, technology companies, charging companies."

"I have confidence that we will have the capability to scale the way we have to."
Voltera CEO Matt Horton