BETHANY BEACH — When you pull into a gas station to fill up, the odds are you don’t look at the manufacturer’s label on the pump, and you shouldn’t have to as long as gasoline comes out when you pull the trigger. That isn’t necessarily the case with electric vehicles (EVs).
[caption id="attachment_219145" align="alignright" width="200"] The growing electric vehicle (EV) charging network has convinced more town to build out the infrastructure to capture environmentally-minded visitors. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA[/caption]
As the industry toys with different business models to see which ones are the most sustainable, EV owners know that some charging stations require special cards or memberships. Prices can vary significantly from company to company, rather than from region to region, as it does with gasoline. So when Bethany Beach officials decided to add EV charging to some of its parking places, there were plenty of potential options. Their eventual decision was to partner with the Electric Vehicle Institute (EVI), which also provided charging stations to nearby Ocean City, Md. But the decision wasn’t an instance of taking the other town’s word for it. Bethany Beach Assistant Town Manager John Apple said the town was “dipping its toes” into the notion of public charging stations, but there’s more to the EVI partnership than just getting charging stations. One of the main challenges facing EV owners and, by extension, tourist destinations is something called “range anxiety,” the fear that your electric car will run out of juice and you’ll be stuck.EVI CEO Matt Wade said range anxiety is a real thing and it is one of the issues his company focuses on combating. EVI isn’t alone. The recent federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law set aside $5 billion for EV chargers nationwide. The thing is, there are many different models from various EV charging companies, so there still is a question about what that future will look like. Investing in culture changeEVI’s operation and fee structure look as much like a traditional gas station as it can and more like one than most. The systems that recently were installed around Bethany Beach will charge any make and model of EV. Drivers don’t have to register or use a special card, they merely have to park in one of the eight public spots, pay the $2 access fee and the 20-cents-per-hour electricity fee. The town has four chargers that can charge two cars apiece.For anyone who has tried to park in Bethany Beach during the summer, eight spots might seem like long odds, but the move is as attitudinal as it is practical. The idea is that Bethany Beach is not a town without charging options. Moreover, it is another link in an increasing number of towns in the region that can provide charging for EVs. This is where a nationwide issue comes into sharper relief through a local lens. Charging stations are an expensive and critical investment that may not pay off for years. Add to that an industry that’s in its infancy and you’ll see there is a significant risk. The deal with EVI helps both the company and the town mitigate some of the financial downside. “The biggest risk is timing and we have partners willing to share that risk,” Wade said. EVI provides chargers and maintenance, Bethany Beach provides the electricity, and the two split the revenue about 60-40, with the town taking the bigger share.
[caption id="attachment_216928" align="alignleft" width="300"] Chargers like these found in Wilmington's Riverfront are becoming more common around the state. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
Wade said that EVI is intentionally regional almost as a function of the maintenance part of the agreements they make with towns and facilities. Repairing broken or damaged chargers is a highly specialized endeavor and the specialization is charger specific. So, for example, someone who can fix a ChargePoint charger can’t fix a Blink or EVI charger. ChargePoint and Blink are among the dozen or so companies working to build national networks. Wade’s point was that it isn’t as if a local electrician can be contracted to do the work, yet. He likes to know that if something goes wrong, a technician can get to the site and have it up and running in a reasonable amount of time. Especially since EVI has to bear the cost of the repairs while it isn’t collecting revenue on a down machine. “We think you’ve got to be regional,” Wade said. “You have to have an intimate knowledge of the system.”Different companies have different plans and approaches, but the fact that EVI takes on the bulk of the burden makes it an appealing solution for towns. Buying chargersTowns and businesses can buy chargers retail for around $1,500 depending on the company, the deal and the type of charger. Some companies have upfront and monthly fees, some charge fees to both the town or business and the end consumer. There are also different speeds and kinds of charging. The machines EVI has installed in Bethany Beach are Level Two chargers. Like the style of charger made for homes, it uses an A/C charge and can take between four to 12 hours to fully charge a car based on the car’s engine size. The A/C charge doesn’t charge the car, but the charging apparatus inside the car. Speed chargers — which charge the car as well as the inner-charger — run on D/C and are more appropriate for gas stations and other quick-stop locations. What makes A/C appropriate for Bethany Beach is that it will be sufficient for most visitor needs. You park, you shop, go to the beach, get a little lunch and you’re back on your way with enough charge to get to your next destination. Wade said that for most people, even a short charge that gives them 50 miles of distance is likely enough. EVI is funded through both private investment and grants as well as the fact that its business model qualifies the company for other financial benefits. It was able to fund the Bethany Beach project from a pool of money from multiple sources. That is, Bethany Beach wasn’t awarded a direct grant to fund the project, so it isn’t locked into any long-term deals.According to Apple, EVI will supply the equipment and maintenance for the first five years. At the end of that time, the town can make more decisions about how to proceed going forward. Five years is a lifetime away when you’re considering emerging trends and technology, so it is likely that by the time this contract is up, Bethany Beach will have more than four charging stations for eight cars. Of course, that decision is going to have everything to do with how the next few years go. By Tony RussoContributing Writer
Flash Sale! Subscribe to Delaware Business Times and save 50%.