By Jeff Nisewanger
Volkswagen expects to build fast DC charging sites in the U.S. over the next two years that would rival and in some ways exceed today’s Tesla Supercharger network.
This news comes via a draft plan released by the California Air Resources Board a couple days ago in advance of a board meeting later this month. Final approval of the plan is on track for April with construction to begin soon after.
Volkswagen says it plans to spend a total of $200 million in California over the first of four 2.5 year investment cycles. A further $300 million would be spent nationally in states other than California. In total, VW expects to spend $2 billion over 10 years as one part of its recent settlement of claims related to its cheating on 2.0 liter diesel engine emissions.
As part of this first cycle of its investment plan, VW would spend $120 million on EV charging infrastructure in California.
About $65 million of that would go toward long-distance highway corridor fast DC charging at 50 locations. Each location would typically have about five chargers or charging stalls. All of the chargers would be next-generation units designed to support a maximum charging rate of at least 150 kilowatts with about half of the chargers supporting a rate of up to 320 kilowatts, according to Volkswagen’s draft plan. The sites are being designed to be “future proof” for medium to long-term use rather than just meeting the immediate needs of today’s electric cars.
About 25 of the new highway charging locations would be built along the I-5 and US-101 highways which independently run between the Oregon border and the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. Smaller numbers of stations would be added to intersecting highways throughout the state consistent with a broader plan to build a nationwide network.
Almost all existing non-Tesla DC charging stations support between 25 and 50 kilowatts in the United States so VW’s stations could support charging at up to three- to six-times faster when plugged into some future electric vehicles. Even some existing cars may be able to charge somewhat faster than they can on today’s chargers.
A further $40 million would be spent on metropolitan area community charging at up to 350 locations in the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, and Sacramento. These locations at workplaces, public parking garages, and multi-family residential buildings would get a mixture of 150 kilowatt and 50 kilowatt DC chargers plus so-called Level 2 AC chargers supplying 240 volts typically at up to 7 kilowatts.
Some $15 million would be set aside to cover ongoing maintenance, networking, and other operating fees. VW says they may be able to pay for some electric utility peak grid demand charges from these funds but customers of the sites will have to pay the cost of ordinary electricity. Estimated customer prices for using the new VW-owned stations are not yet known but they will be available to be used with all DC-capable car models and will not be located at or near VW dealerships.
The new California highway corridor charging and community charging efforts combined would cost $120 million and be located at 400 locations with a total of 2,000 to 3,000 charging stalls. Both the CHAdeMO and CCS standard plugs used by non-Tesla EVs would be supported.
Tesla has built a proprietary fast DC Supercharger network of its own since late 2012 that supports maximum theoretical charging rates of up to 145 kilowatts at just over 50 Supercharger locations in California. Some current Tesla vehicles can charge at a peak rate of about 120 kW at these stations.
Most of these Tesla sites are located along highways away from large metropolitan areas and are primarily intended for use by travelers on long-distance trips. Roughly 33 of these rural locations have a combined 260 charging stalls in California versus VW’s plan to build about 50 locations with 250 charging stalls along highways by the summer of 2019.
Tesla’s remaining 20 or so California locations are in metropolitan areas with roughly 180 charging stalls that serve highway travelers as well as some local drivers. Some of VW’s 350 community charging locations will likewise have 150 kilowatt and 50 kilowatt charging but the plan is vague about how many.
Tesla’s overall nationwide Supercharger network has just over 350 highway and metropolitan locations. Full details about Volkswagen’s charging infrastructure draft plans for outside of California have likely been filed with the EPA but are not yet publicly available. However, the company has talked about building 200 highway fast DC charging locations nationwide with a further 300 metropolitan locations on its Electrify America website.
By the time VW has completed its first buildout of charging stations in 2019, Tesla itself will likely have greatly expanded their Supercharger network to support an expected wave of less expensive Model 3 sedans hitting the road late this year.
One detail that is known about the national non-California plan is that of the $300 million budget for this first 30 month spending cycle the large majority of it, some $250 million or twice California’s $120 million amount, will go towards building charging infrastructure.
VW has no plans to fund hydrogen fuel cell vehicle filling stations during this first round of spending but may do so in the future. California is strongly encouraging VW to add hydrogen fueling investments in later years.
The new electric chargers are expected to support flexible payment schemes including both simple credit cards and subscription-based plans. VW said they aim to create shared billing agreements with other charging providers. This presumably would be similar to or include the ROEV Association being created to link the billing systems of ChargePoint and EVgo.
EVgo, a spin-off of the NRG electric utility, today has a nationwide network of over 900 DC charging stations at over 600 locations but they are 50 kilowatt or less and are often clustered in big cities leaving large gaps without charging on the highway.
State grants approved by the California Energy Commission last year would add about 100 additional fast DC highway corridor charging sites over a similar two year time period finishing by late 2019 with typically only one or two chargers at each site. Some of those new state-funded sites will include chargers capable of up to 100 and 125 kilowatts. ChargePoint, one of the four service providers to receive the CEC grants, says it plans to begin installations later this year using its recently revealed next generation station hardware.
The good news for Tesla drivers is that they can utilize nearly all of these new charging locations by using a $450 CHAdeMO adapter sold by Tesla. However, the existing adapter is limited to about 50 kilowatts and will not be able to take full advantage of the faster new chargers. Tesla joined the CCS standards consortium last year and there is speculation that they could release a new higher-powered adapter in the future.
At California’s request, VW has plans to concentrate a further $44 million towards so-called Green City initiatives that seek to demonstrate transformative use of electric vehicles within a city. Sacramento has been tentatively identified as the first city to be targeted to receive services such as electric car sharing along with electric delivery and taxi fleets.
In order to promote public awareness of electric vehicles, VW plans to spend about $20 million of its California budget and a further $25 million or so from its non-California national budget. About half of that spending would go towards television ads beginning this fall.
VW says their expenses for personnel and other administrative overhead would be about 8 percent of the overall budget or $16 million out of California’s $200 million during the first 30 month spending cycle.
The company has already held a round of meetings with suppliers and plans to begin negotiating contracts this month. It says it does not intend to “reinvent the wheel” and will purchase hardware and software from existing companies. It plans to operate the network in a sustainable long-term fashion “in line with the same economic constraints faced by others in the charging industry”. In the past, ChargePoint has strongly urged that VW not be allowed to use its diesel settlement funds to unfairly dominate the industry.
Further details about VW’s plans may be revealed at a CARB public meeting in Riverside, Calif. on Friday, Mar. 24.
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