Interest in battery-electric vehicles was already on the rise before gas prices began to spike which will only add to the urgency to speed development of a wide network of recharging stations. Last February the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Energy announced nearly $5 billion will be made available under the new National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program established by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to build out a national electric vehicle charging network.
The situation is especially acute for dense communities where EV owners may live in apartment complexes and are not able to install home chargers in a garage or are unable to afford them. On Thursday, San Francisco-based charging network Volta announced a program aimed at helping to solve that issue.
The program is called Charging for All, an expanded effort using Volta’s PredictEV tool to provide “focused insights and better serve disadvantaged communities, as directed by the federal government’s Justice40 Initiative.”
That initiative, announced last July as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), calls for delivery of 40% of the overall benefits of federal investments in climate and clean energy, including sustainable transportation, to disadvantaged communities.
In simple terms, PredictEV identifies infrastructure that’s needed and when it’s needed along with helping states build federally mandated EV infrastructure plans by their August 1st deadline (needed to secure federal EV funding). It uses artificial intelligence to analyze a mix of demographics, driver behavior and local mobility patterns to help communities better target where to place Volta charging stations.
“Volta has built a model of around the behavioral science of where do you already go, placement that matches with driver behavior,” explained
Kevin Samy, head of policy and climate strategy at Volta and a former climate advisor in the Obama administration.
“A DC (direct current) fast arms race isn’t the answer. It can’t be a DC fast station on every corner. It doesn’t make sense from an electricity delivery standpoint. At Volta we will tell a partner, come to us we’ll give you the full mix.”
Just this past April the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification(OFME) and DTE Energy (DTE) agreed to fund the use of Volta’s PredictEV to identify locations that would be most utilized within underserved areas to make the most efficient use of public investment.
“Our mobility ecosystems are most effective when they can provide real value and opportunity within all of Michigan’s communities, regardless of the size or income of the area,” said Trevor Pawl, Chief Mobility Officer with the OFME in a statement. “We are pleased to support Volta and DTE as they work jointly to improve the accessibility and equity of our EV charging locations. This is a key step to ensuring wide-scale EV ecosystem adoption across the state.”
A unique feature of the Volta charging network are charging stations with 55-inch screens showing ads from brands such as Netflix
Ad revenue covers the cost of charging at the level two, or slow, charging stations so those using them pay nothing. There is a cost for fast-charging stations but Samy sees a scenario where a combination of ad and public revenue could help lower the price for customers.
“Let’s say there’s a denser community where price of charge matters,” said Samy. “Those public dollars—we could potentially bring a match to the table with our ad revenue. The public dollars could also potentially subsidize charging in the case they couldn’t because another company may not have the ad revenue.”
Volta’s current network is in 39 U.S. designated market areas (DMAs) in 26 states with stations containing more than 4,600 digital ad screens.
By launching its Charging for All initiative, expanding use of PredictEV to help better target and place EV charging stations, Samy says Volta is hoping to achieve the ultimate goal of “charging has to be affordable, accessible and above all equitable.”