A Conversation on the Future of Electric Vehicles and Charging Infrastructure

Trevor Pawl

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer, speaks with Dedrick Roper, Director of Public-Private Partnerships at ChargePoint — the largest network of electric vehicle charging stations in the U.S. — about the future of electric vehicles, highlighting the importance of advancing charging infrastructure.

Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer, connected with Dedrick Roper, Director of Public-Private Partnerships at ChargePoint to discuss the future of electric vehicles, highlighting the importance of advancing charging infrastructure.

ChargePoint is the largest network of electric vehicle charging stations in the U.S., including stations throughout Michigan. It offers premium, convenient charging solutions for customers, employees, and fleets by manufacturing charging station hardware, developing software and network capabilities and providing nonstop driver support.

Pawl and Roper, who also serves on one of the electrification workgroup supporting the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification, discuss the benefits and challenges of advancing the EV industry, including what needs to be done to push toward a sustainable EV future.

See below for excerpts and key themes from the conversation and watch the full 30-minute conversation here:

Public-private partnerships are vital to advancing EV charging infrastructure, and Michigan has seen success in this space

Pawl: What are some innovative ways you've seen the public and private sector come together to advance charging infrastructure? And in the future, what would be a home-run public-private partnership?

Roper (ChargePoint): We've had a lot of experience working on various deployment programs throughout the nation, and it's kind of like the saying, ‘it takes a village.’ So, the state government, local government, utilities, charging operators, site hosts, etc — everybody coming together and bringing their own unique value, really spreading the burden, making sure everyone has skin in the game. From a state government perspective, that includes setting big goals, convening the stakeholders, bringing everyone together, providing the true north and then bringing in the utilities. Utilities are so critical to the build out of this infrastructure.

I think Michigan, the Department of Environment, Energy and Great Lakes (EGLE) and utilities have done a great job with the Volkswagen settlement with the program structure. It was designed such that the utilities had one-third of investment, the state had one-third of investment and the private sector applicant had one-third of investment, and its resulted in a very low investment from the state — I believe 27% of those projects were built out on the corridors.

There’s no silver bullet or one specific partnership. It's about bringing all the stakeholders together and working in the various regions to make sure that everyone's bringing their value and moving in the direction of that true north.

Developing the EV industry equitably requires collaboration with communities

Pawl: Energy equity is a critical issue here in Michigan as EV adoption rolls out across the country. How can we ensure the equitable development of the EV industry and provide pathways for low-income residents to not only have access to and own these vehicles, but to also know where the charging infrastructure is and have that charging infrastructure be no different than anywhere else?

Roper (ChargePoint): There have been a lot of states that have set mandates for investment in low income, disadvantaged communities. But that's not enough. I think it takes engagement with the local community groups that have been doing like-minded work — working on economic development, working on providing affordable housing – and really arming those groups with the education and the talking points about the benefits of electric vehicles.

Early adopters were really focused on the environment, and that's great, but there are other benefits to electric vehicles. For example, the handling and the ride experience are superior to gas vehicles and the total cost of ownership is lower than a traditional gas vehicle. It’s a matter of connecting with the community groups that have been doing the work, that are the known entities, and arming them with the other benefits outside of the environmental factors that matter to the low-income family or that matter to the fleet operator with five vehicles. It's really about how you package the information and the communicators of that information.

Keeping the costs of charging electric vehicles as low as possible will help accelerate consumer adoption of EVs.

Pawl: How are you approaching mechanisms to reduce the total cost of ownership for electric vehicles? How can ChargePoint create pathways to increase the availability of EV charging without passing the financial burden to property owners, particularly in underserved areas?

Roper (ChargePoint): ChargePoint as a service is a subscription model, whereby we provide the charging station, the software and we guarantee uptime, and it’s paid for on an annual basis as opposed to all upfront. So, this works really well for organizations that don't have a sufficient capital budget, you can roll it into your operating budget, and It's cheaper.

This is a product that we rolled out about two years ago and got a lot of good learnings from it. And now we're looking to make those products even more affordable, so that your annual payments are even less. But beyond that, your operating costs, electricity as a fuel, varies in the cost of goods. So, you can imagine, if you own a DC fast charger, and suddenly, you need to pump a lot of energy into a vehicle, you get hit with some demand charges from the utility. So, we've developed some power management tools that help charging station owners control that power. As more cars begin to plug in and request energy, we have tools and features that can kind of flatten that energy spike and keep the cost lower for you as a charging station owner.

And there are many other ways that we help drive down costs, such as the ability to overload circuits and the ability to overload panels while still operating the charging stations and being able to share power dynamically. The combination of all these software tools overall will help enable charging station owners to keep their fueling costs down over time.

Opportunities in Michigan to push electric vehicles forward

Pawl: What have you seen in terms of financial incentives around the country that have really worked for folks that you'd love to see in Michigan?

Roper (ChargePoint): First-come-first-serve rebates in earlier markets work really well, and they're really effective at attracting targeted investment. So, there are ways through your incentive program designed to identify priority communities, and some of those programs will offer an additional incentive for certain priority populations.

When there are federal investments, state investment, utility investments, I think it's really important for those agencies to work together to make sure that the incentive programs work well together so that you can have some stacking opportunities. You make sure that the private sector continues to invest, and it really helps the investment spread a lot further.

Focus on EV adoption at the local level to push toward an EV-future

Pawl: We're seeing a surge in investments and growth in EV manufacturing and EV adoption in Michigan and across the nation. And this is stimulating the pipeline of public-private partnership opportunities that you're seeing. But the government can be slow, it can be not as strategic at times and can be saddled by legacy. Where is there room to grow as it relates to what state governments can do to be more proactive strategic partners in the clean energy transition? What can we be doing better?

Roper (ChargePoint): I think the government can do a better job at more regional focus on EV adoption, convening stakeholders in those areas, and really addressing the challenges at the local level. There's a different challenge in the urban community as opposed to the rural — there's no one-size-fits-all. So, the government can be slow at times, but the government is a great convener, and the government gets all these various stakeholders moving in the right direction. I think it needs to work on more convening, getting down to the local level and looking at the issues for that specific area with those specific utilities.

Charging infrastructure plays a key role in the business community

Pawl: Fleet owners and operators are increasingly exploring electrification opportunities. How are you looking at the build-out of multi-state charging networks, particularly along high-capacity freight routes? How are you seeing the industry address some of these larger freight needs?

Roper (ChargePoint): The regional collaboration across the states is great. Again, it's the true North, and it's getting everyone working together and thinking about the network across state lines. From an industry perspective, we are working with our peer networks to establish roaming agreements, and these roaming agreements enable drivers to seamlessly charge on multiple networks. We also have peer-to-peer agreements with the majority of the networks here in the U.S.

Fleet electrification can be a bit intimidating for fleet operators. So, coming in with the vehicles and the charging stations and really laying out a map to get you started, but also thinking about the future is helpful. When you're installing a charging station, you should always be thinking about what you will need in the future because it's easier to make those capacity and utility upgrades when you have the ground open than to come back and do that later. So, having the OEMs and the charging station operators come and meet with the fleet operator and lay out that whole roadmap, working together to handle everything from the technology and design to looking at the duty cycles of the vehicles, really putting that complete package together, is how we're going to move this market forward.

Learn more about the latest in mobility in Michigan by visiting michiganbusiness.org/mobility and stay up-to-date with the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification by visiting michiganbusiness.org/ofme.

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