There they go again. Under the leadership of CEO and President Mary Barra, General Motors has been on a renewable energy tear of late. In the latest development, GM has paired with the leading fast charging company EVgo to install more than 2,700 public electric vehicle fast charging stations across the country, all powered through clean power contracts. The plan aims to ramp up EV sales by making more fast chargers — and more clean power — available to drivers who don’t have the security of a fast charger at home or work.
EVgo Hearts Renewable Energy
The renewable energy angle is an important one for EV charging because it enlists drivers in the broader transition away from fossil fuels. As it stands today, EV drivers who charge from the grid may still be getting their power from coal or natural gas. Fast charging companies that insist on 100% renewable energy gather thousands (and soon, millions) of individual EV drivers into a powerful force that accelerates the demand for wind and solar.
That’s the case with EVgo. As of last year the company was already laying claim to the nation’s largest EV fast charging station in the US, and it announced a plan to contract for 100% renewable energy at all of them.
And how did the company do that? That’s a good question! Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, EVgo leveraged its membership in REBA, the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance. REBA launched in 2018 with the goal of motivating private sector support for 60 gigawatts of wind and solar by 2025, partly by taking the guesswork out of buying renewable energy credits.
EVgo has already partnered with leading wind and solar fans from Coca-Cola to the US Department of Energy on charging station initiatives, and the new GM partnership will help the company shepherd REBA’s ambitious dream into being. EVgo currently has 800 public fast charging stations in its portfolio, and another 2,700 will turbo-charge its influence on the renewable energy market.
GM Hearts EV Fast Charging For All
If all goes according to plan, the new fast charging stations will begin to come on line early next year, just in time for GM to roll out whole new fleets of sparkling new electric vehicles — including an all-electric version of the Hummer.
The idea is to nudge more of the buying public into EV ownership by making it just as easy and convenient to charge an EV as it is to drive over to your local gas station.
Come to think of it, driving over to your local gas station is getting more inconvenient as the years go by. The number of gas stations in the US peaked in the US in the 1970s and has been sliding downhill ever since. “Fuel deserts” are already popping up in urban areas where new buildings have replaced ancient gas stations, and consolidation in the gas station industry means fewer stations.
As for home EV charging, the problem for EV makers is that many drivers can’t or won’t install an EV charging station at home, either because they rent, or because they live in multi-unit housing or other housing situation where charging stations are impractical.
In a press call earlier this morning attended by CleanTechnica, EVgo CEO Cathy Zoi emphasized that the partnership with GM has helped to identify demand growth areas for EV fast charging, which explains why the partners are focusing the 2,700 new fast charging stations on 40 metropolitan areas. They are seeing the potential for rapid EV sales increases among apartment dwellers who rely on public charging stations, as well as ride-sharing drivers and other gig-work car owners who need to charge more frequently than other car owners.
Quick, convenient public charging stations could attract drivers in households that have two EVs but only one home charging station. That goes double for multi-generation households and shared households where three or more vehicles are crammed into one driveway.
GM and EVgo are eyeballing supermarkets, retail stores, playgrounds, places of entertainment, and anywhere else that people are going for 15 minutes to half an hour. The new charging stations will provide for 100 to 350-kilowatt capability, according to the two companies.
GM & The Race For Clean Power
US corporations have been a major force behind the clean energy transition, but in many cases their clean power development primarily benefits themselves. For example, leading tech firms have been gobbling up clean power for their new data centers, without necessarily leaving much on the table for the rest of the watt-buying public.
That’s beginning to change, and the GM approach illustrates how major corporations can stimulate the broader market for clean power.
GM provided a hint in that direction last year, when it contracted for the equivalent of 300,000 megawatt-hours in wind power in support of the Michigan utility DTE’s new green power purchasing program.
The initial investment kickstarted the development of three new wind farms, and supported two solar farms already under way. Earlier this year, GM doubled down with another 500,000 megawatt hours.
All that activity is in fulfillment of the company’s pledge to power all of its southern Michigan facilities with renewable energy by 2023, and that circles back around to the EV charging station topic because the company is also a big fan of workplace EV charging.
In the latest development on that score, last March GM announced that it would install 3,500 new charging plugs at its facilities in the US and Canada.
So, here’s something interesting. A couple of years ago GM was dipping into the hydrogen fuel cell field, but earlier this month our friends over at The Detroit Bureau reported that the current emphasis is on stationary applications, not vehicles. They also reported that GM has a hydrogen announcement forthcoming, but mum’s the word for now.
Interesting! GM is participating in the Energy Department’s new energy storage initiative, and there is an emerging trend in which green hydrogen is used as a storage medium to support EV fast charging stations that are powered with significant amounts of wind and solar. EVs — and their battery packs — are getting bigger and more powerful, so more on-site energy storage will be needed to help balance the additional load.
Anyone out there guessing that GM is dipping a toe into the green hydrogen EV charging station energy storage trend, drop us a note in the comment thread.
In the meantime, both Zoi and Barra, GM President and CEO, made it clear during the press call that private sector investment is only one piece of the EV fast charging financial puzzle. They intend to take the case for a rapid EV infrastructure build-out to Congress, as an essential part of a comprehensive federal stimulus plan that leverages the powerful US auto industry for a green recovery on the heels of the COVID-19 crisis.
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Photo: GM Bolt electric vehicle rollout at 2015 Detroit Auto Show, by Tina Casey.