Walmart says it has a brick and mortar store within 10 miles of 90% of Americans. If the country needs conveniently located fast chargers for its growing fleet of electric vehicles, driving to the nearest Walmart or Sam’s Club would be super convenient, and if they happened to pop inside to do a little shopping while their EV is slurping down electrons, what’s wrong with that?
In an April 6 press release, the company said it intends to build a dedicated EV fast-charging network at thousands of Walmart and Sam’s Club locations coast to coast. The new chargers would be in addition to the almost 1,300 EV fast charging stations the company already has at more than 280 Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in the US.
“With a store or club located within 10 miles of approximately 90% of Americans, we are uniquely positioned to deliver a convenient charging option that will help make EV ownership possible whether people live in rural, suburban or urban areas. Our goal is to meet the needs of customers and members where they live and open the road to those driving across the country. Easy access to on the go charging is a game changer for drivers who have been hesitant to purchase an EV for concerns they won’t be able to find a charger in a clean, bright, and safe location when needed.
“What’s more, with our chargers located on site with our Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets and Sam’s Clubs, we can offer customers and members the convenience of being able to pick up essentials for their families or grab a bite to eat while they charge. And in line with our purpose, we aim to offer Every Day Low Price charging — helping ease transportation costs, still the second highest household cost for much of our country.
“At the same time, as more drivers transition to EVs, our network growth will help expand domestic EV charging capacity across states. We see our commitment today as a natural extension of our work to help customers and members live better, easier and more sustainable lives — a big win for busy families and drivers everywhere, our country and the planet.”
Walmart Climate Policy Includes EV Chargers
Creating a network of EV fast chargers is one piece of Walmart’s efforts to transform its business and product supply chains to reduce emissions and increase efficiencies for customers. Beginning in 2022, Walmart began adding electric vehicles to its fleet of delivery vehicles. It has also made a significant investment in Canoo, which hopes to manufacture innovative electric delivery vans and pickup trucks in the near future.
“The way vehicle ownership looks is changing fast, and so is our business. Today, we are as known for convenience as we are for Every Day Low Price. We are committed to providing customers, members, associates, suppliers and our communities at large with the services they need and want, in a way that fits their lifestyle – making EV ownership easy and simple is no exception,” the company says.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Vishal Kapadia, senior vice president of energy transformation, said Walmart thinks demand has reached a tipping point in America. He noted that once EVs exceeded 5 percent of new car sales in other markets such as Europe and China, “that has been a point where you really started to see things accelerate.” Over the last two years, Walmart has seen use of its EV chargers grow “substantially” as more electric cars and trucks are added to the nation’s roads.
Making electric cars an easier reach for the masses remains a major pillar of the Biden administration’s green energy policy, the Washington Post adds. The White House aims to address the charging gap with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides $7.5 billion to subsidize construction of EV charging stations. The federal government has begun distributing that funding to states and one has to assume that Walmart would be in line for some of that money, since the chargers located at its stores will be accessible to members of the public.
As of January, there were 150,000 public charging ports in the United States, an increase of 38,000 from the beginning of 2022, according to the Energy Department, but industry sources tell the Washington Post that number will need to grow by a factor of five to meet demand as more electric cars become part of America’s fleet of vehicles.
EV Chargers That Work
Walmart also wants to address the problem of existing chargers that are broken and don’t work for one reason or another. “Charging companies in many cases are not doing a good job delivering on reliability,” Rod Lache, an auto analyst at Wolfe Research, said at a recent automotive conference. “It’s a big problem because you could potentially damage the industry for some time if that’s not addressed soon.”
Kapadia said maintenance would be a top priority for Walmart’s network. The company sees EV charging as both a profitable business on its own and a way to bring customers into stores, he said. “There’s an obvious opportunity for us to leverage the real estate footprint that we have, which is very unique within the market. We’ve got a Walmart store or Sam’s Club within 10 miles of 90 percent of the population in this country. We know we can address range anxiety in a way that no one else can.” Over the years, Walmart has tried to use its giant parking lots to draw customers in other ways, such as allowing recreational vehicles to park overnight.
A map maintained by the federally funded Argonne National Lab shows there are still many highway corridors outside of big cities that lack regular EV charging stops. Charging infrastructure until now has been a “chicken and egg problem,” but as EV adoption grows, the outlook is shifting, Yan Zhou, a charging expert at Argonne, told the Washington Post. EVs could reach 10 percent of new car sales this year, she said, and “there’s a lot of momentum from both the federal agency and the private sector to push the infrastructure deployment, so it’s a good sign.”
Anything that moves the EV revolution along is welcome news here at Casa CleanTechnica. There is no reason why there shouldn’t be multiple EV charging networks in the future just as there are multiple chains of gas stations. Our only concern is that the country doesn’t spend billions to install EV chargers that are seldom used.
New research from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies found that public EV chargers in China are used on average about once a day. Some connectors along highway routes are particularly unloved, with an average utilization rate of 1 percent, according to the study.
“Utilization of chargers is fairly low, so you’re not going to necessarily make a lot of money by having a charging business,” said Anders Hove, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute. “It’s going to be a very low margin business, so you’re going to have to have some government regulation to make sure the quality is kept up.”
All those chargers in China delivered about 21.3 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2022, about 0.25 percent of the country’s total electricity consumption, according to Hove, who analyzed data from the China Electric Vehicle Charging Promotion Alliance. While utilization of individual public chargers is low, they combined to deliver enough power in December alone to move each EV in China’s fleet about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), suggesting that many drivers are using public facilities regularly, Hove said.
A future in which EVs are dominant also might not necessitate the same scale of public infrastructure available to refuel internal combustion engines. At least half of EV buyers in China can access a private charger, according to Oxford Institute’s report. “China has built out this huge charging network, and it’s not clear that that’s even needed,” Hove told Automotive News last week.
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