I wish to revisit a topic discussed before, the profitability, or lack thereof, of electric vehicle charge station operators (EVSO). The issues are twofold: not enough plug-in vehicles (PEVs) on NH roads, and not enough fast charge stations.
We should strive for more PEVs. Assuming zero emission vehicles (ZEVs/EVs) are a good technology for NH (it is, see G.E.T.’s April-May 2021 issue on page 6), then we should encourage more ZEVs. Hence my recommendation is that NH join the New England ZEV Mandate Coalition. Without the ZEV Mandate, NH is left in short supply of EVs. We need cleaner air, and we want a growing economy. It just makes common economic sense.
The other major issue for more EV sales is not enough fast-charge stations. NH is behind our neighboring states in the number and distribution of fast-charge stations. Why buy an EV if you can’t get it charged? But these stations are expensive and need funds from use, or upfront funds to make the investment affordable. There is a need for grant money to seed early fast- charge station sites. The Volkswagen Settlement money is available but not yet disbursed by NH. We hope this will be accomplished soon. This grant money has been offered two times recently, without any takers. Among the reasons is that it is difficult to make a profit in NH as a charge station operator. Early charge stations will be under-used (not enough EVs), until the station occupancy rises to a profitable level. Underused charging stations are a temporary problem, but a big stumbling block in the short term.
Why not just install a charging station and use it when needed? Legacy grid policies get in the way. Even though the average use of electricity by a new charge station may be low, charging sessions require high electricity flows (50-100kW now, headed toward 350kW, then 550kW, then 750kW by the end of the decade). Larger grid assets are needed to handle the anticipated high use, and this is expressed as a “demand charge” for commercial users. These demand charges put low use charge stations into the red quickly. At some level of use, demand charges break even with average use rates and the problem is solved.
A practical solution, implemented by several surrounding states, is to adopt a temporary deletion of demand charges and smooth them into the charging site electricity rates. Fortunately, the number of stations and electricity assets are low so the investment can be absorbed by the utility without much disruption. At some future point, the increased demand would need to be reassessed. But the first step is to adopt this practice, and NH and its grid operators should so consider.
The other idea needing support among grid operators is a ‘make ready’ program. Make ready programs are a commitment by the grid operator to provide grid feeds to an area close to the charge stations to minimize the buildout cost to the charge site operators. Since these assets will be used over a long period of time, they are beneficial to the grid operator as an investment in future growth and use of the grid.
To summarize: We need better enablement for EV owners to encourage faster uptake. Suggestions include the following.
Join the New England ZEV Mandate states to get an adequate supply of EVs.
Another idea is to offer a home charger-line rate for TOU (time of use, cheaper rates at night, more costly in day) to encourage EV owners to charge at night when existing grid assets are under used.
The other essential improvements are to enable the charge station operators to make money at low usage.
Offer the VW grant funds again for fast charge station buildout, soon.
Average demand charges into the charge site rate package for some period of years to enable lightly used charge equipment to exist until the demand builds.
Implement ‘make ready’ programs to reduce the charge station install cost at some public and private venues.
Thank you for your interest and consideration. Stay healthy and safe, and drive electric!
Randy Bryan is one of the co-founders of Drive Electric NH. Bryan has been an advocate for electric cars since 2006. His company, PlugOut Power (formerly ConVerdant Vehicles), has converted vehicles to plug-in hybrids and currently develops and sells inverters that turn electrified cars into emergency generators.