But it's a delicate dance for the companies responsible for those chargers. Overheating and degradation has plagued some models over the last decade, and even Tesla has reduced the charging speed on some of its cars based on battery health and how often fast charging was used.
"The majority can't take more than a 50 kW per hour charging, and the charge rate doesn't stay at that and declines even more as the battery heats up," said Ivo Steklac, chief operations and technology officer of EVgo, one of the predominant electric vehicle charging companies in the U.S. "In order to manage this intelligently, we didn't think it was wise to dedicate this level of charger to vehicles when the majority of them can't take it."
With EV technology evolving at such a rapid clip, EVgo is grappling to make sure its charging stations are outfitted to handle the newest and most powerful electric cars. The company has been pouring resources into figuring out not only where and how many chargers should be placed across the country, but also issues that users might face when pulling up to a station to get some juice for their car. In April it opened a 4,000 square-foot Innovation Lab in El Segundo.
Engineers there are trying to work out a number of hardware, software and logistics problems — some of which exist now, and some that might become apparent later, as batteries get bigger and vehicles can charge more quickly to eventually replace the lines at gas stations.
EVgo, which went public July 2 after an SPAC merger with Climate Change Crisis Real Impact I Acquisition Corp. now has more than 800 chargers dotted across the U.S. as the Biden administration tries to jumpstart an electric vehicle revolution. But the market share remains small as Americans groan about range and access to car chargers.
"We created this lab to do a number of tests, from electric to physical and mechanical," said Steklac. "EV manufacturers are placing their charging ports in all sorts of places on the cars so they can reduce the length of wiring for these very high-powered cables."
It follows, then, that one of EVgo's tests at the lab includes a cable reach analysis to figure out not only an acceptable length for a charging cable, but also a manageable weight for not only the average driver, but shorter people or those with disabilities. EVgo wants to banish problems like pulling up to a gas pump when the car's fuel door is on the opposite side.
EVgo's lab engineers are also busy considering EV charging times. When the company was first installing chargers a decade ago, a charging rate of 50 kilowatts per hour was considered more than sufficient for drivers. Today's Tesla's Superchargers have a 120 kWh rate, while Volkswagen-owned Electrify America is building stations with 350 kWh-capable chargers. But only a few EVs on sale now can handle that charge rate, so Steklac said its chargers have to allow for significant disparities between vehicles.
Similarly, EVgo is looking at how extensive fast charging affects the longevity of an EV's battery pack.
"The majority (of models) can't take more than a 50 kW per hour charging, and the charge rate doesn't stay at that and declines even more as the battery heats up," Steklac said. "In order to manage this intelligently, we didn't think it was wise to dedicate this level of charger to vehicles when the majority of them can't take it."
Steklac said designing the next generation of chargers to go with the next generation of electric vehicles is becoming important as the market becomes less of a niche. EVgo's CEO Cathy Zoi said during the company's Wall Street debut that the EV market in the United States is estimated to grow from just over 1% share of the passenger car segment in 2020 to more than 10% by 2030, just before state mandates like California's go into effect for new vehicle sales.
Even without the Biden administration's 500,000 EV charger pledge, Steklac believes there needs to be 50,000 stations just to support the existing market. And that doesn't even include commercial vehicles, ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft or buses and postal delivery vans that are high on the White House's list to electrify.
EVgo's automaker partnerships currently extend to General Motors and Nissan, both of which sell EVs in the U.S., and are about to introduce new, longer-range models. The charging company touts its network as the largest for fast chargers in the country, with 800 stations across 34 states.
In California, Steklac said electric car hotbeds Los Angeles, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay areas are well-served, but acknowledges there are gaps in the infrastructure. He said the innovation lab uses an algorithm and purchase data to determine where EV owners live to determine where to put new charging stations.
Shopping and entertainment centers are EVgo's target for fast charging hubs right now. Kroger and Whole Foods are among its grocery store partners, too.
"The average American goes to the grocery store twice a week and spends 30 to 45 minutes there," Steklac said. "We target those, we target pharmacies, fast casual restaurants where you spend an hour or less. These include malls and parking garages, particularly in urban areas."
Steklac said the company is also talking with regional transit agencies, as well as Amtrak where there are EVgo charging stations at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, because he said the mentality is still to "partner with anyone and everyone" in this still-early EV era.
Because while automakers and analysts expect home stations to be the way most EV owners will charge their vehicles in the long term, Steklac said that won't be the solution for every household and won't allow for the electrification of vehicles as quickly as lawmakers want. That's why the teams at the Innovation Lab have plenty of work to do over the next decade.
"Public charging is there to augment if you have home charging, but it's there to be a reliable source if you don't," Steklac said.
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Charging an electric car should soon get a bit easier in Southern California.
The region's largest power utility announced that it plans to install 38,000 electric vehicle chargers in the next five years as the state looks to ban most gas-powered car sales by 2035.
Southern California Edison (SCE), which provides electricity for most of Los Angeles County outside of the city of Los Angeles, announced Monday that it's putting down $436 million to build a network of chargers at businesses, schools, government agencies and apartment buildings.
Billed by SCE as the largest EV charging program run by a private utility company in the U.S., the company will offer qualifying customers installation and maintenance of the chargers. Customers must pay for the installation up front, but can apply for a rebate through the program.
Various companies are scrambling to identify areas that need more charging infrastructure to support the anticipated surge in electric vehicles over the next few years. Electric cars account for about 1% of cars on U.S. roads today, but environmental and government pressure means millions more are expected to be sold by the end of the decade.
SCE's Charge Ready program will have an added emphasis on putting charging stations in multifamily dwellings, such as this Charge Ready pilot project at a condominium complex in the South Bay area.
Many automakers rolling out new EVs anticipate owners will charge their vehicles at home most of the time. But charging station companies and electricity providers predict there will be consistent demand for charging in areas such as parking structures, public lots and shopping malls — especially for people who live in multi-unit buildings without off-street parking or in developments that make installing home chargers difficult.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the city of Los Angeles' utility service, has installed chargers on street lamp posts near curbside parking, which goes with its incentives for low-income households to adopt EVs. Cities served by SCE, such as Santa Monica, have taken their own initiatives to install more public charging, and some automakers also offer customers discounts for Level 2 home chargers or prepaid cards for public stations operated by certain customers such as EVgo or ChargePoint.
SCE's program, called Charge Ready, builds on a pilot program started in the city of Lynwood four years ago with six chargers for government vehicles. It was later expanded with eight public charging stations at locations that include City Hall. Projects — including 200 public chargers at the Fairplex in Pomona and more than 100 throughout the city of Long Beach — were also funded through the SCE pilot program.
SCE also offers a $1,000 rebate for the purchase of a used EV.
California is famous for its avocados, and avocados are a famously fickle fruit, ripe one moment and a ball of brown sludge the next.
Apeel Sciences is out to change that. The food science company has spent nearly a decade perfecting an edible coating that can be applied to fruits and vegetables to extend shelf-life by days, weeks or even months.
Slowing down the natural decay process offers benefits to consumers, certainly, but it also reduces food waste, and allows growers and vendors more flexibility in how they transport and sell produce.
Food waste is a massive global problem. By some estimates, a third or more of all food (valued at roughly $2.6 trillion) is thrown out — enough food to feed 3 billion people. Cutting food waste entirely could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 8%.
For Jenny Du, Vice President of Operations and co-founder of Central Coast-based Apeel, the company's vision represents a perfect mixture of environmental and humanitarian impact.
Du was born and raised in Canada and initially began her career working to develop film-forming technologies that could be used to protect fiber optic sensors to detect water pollution. For her post-doc work, she was drawn to the University of Southern California-Santa Barbara for its photovoltaic research programs. It was there that she met her friend and eventual co-founder James Rogers.
"James had been working on this idea in the background and had pitched it at a UCSB New Venture Competition," said Du, referring to the school's annual contest where students and faculty work together to launch new businesses. "As he talked about the need and the inspiration for the technology, personally it hit some important notes. For me it was about, 'How do I put my energies towards meaningful work?'"
For produce especially, getting products to consumers before it spoils relies on complex global supply chains. Some foods, like asparagus, are only ripe for a few days, meaning they have to be transported by air instead of on a cargo ship, drastically increasing their carbon footprint.
Apeel's technology works by reinforcing the existing outer layer of fruits and vegetables—the peel, in other words. Produce spoils as the plant's cells lose water and oxidize. The peel slows this process down, but not indefinitely.
"All plants were underwater at some point, but then they evolved to be surface level, terrestrial plants. In order for that to happen, they needed the formation of a peel," explained Du. "With that in mind you think about what that peel is made of."
Using the natural properties of the peel as a guide, scientists at the company have created edible, plant-based coating that dramatically extend shelf lives for eight different types of fruits and vegetables. And people are taking notice.
"This type of technology could be a 'game-changer' if these perishables have a longer shelf life," said Pedro Reyes, an associate professor of operations and supply chain management at Baylor University. Produce often requires refrigeration to extend its life. If that food could just sit on the shelf, it may ease the demands on energy, logistics and warehousing that could ripple throughout the supply.
Apeel produce is available in thousands of grocery stores in six different countries and the company claims its coating technology has saved more than 69 million pieces of produce from being wasted. Its success has attracted $360 million of investment to date, led by such heavy-hitters as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Viking Global Investors, Andreessen Horowitz and Upfront Ventures. In 2020, the 467-person company was valued at over $1 billion.
The company's strategy moving forward is relatively simple: Get more produce into more stores and expand into new types of fruits and vegetables. In the U.S., it has partnered with Kroger as part of their Zero Waste Zero Hunger initiative, which aims to reduce food waste and eliminate hunger in hundreds of communities across the country. But it enjoyed the greatest success in European markets, which Du attributes to the European Commission's climate-focused policies (a partnership with the Danish produce wholesaler Nature's Pride doesn't hurt either).
Apeel is hoping to move into emerging markets in Africa and Asia, as reflected by their recent partnership with the World Bank-owned International Finance Corporation, which specializes in creating economic growth in the developing world.
It's also looking to expand its reach into other parts of the supply chain. In May this year, Apeel acquired San Francisco-based ImpactVision, a company that specializes in hyperspectral imaging—a technique that allows users to see inside produce and can reveal the food's ripeness and details about nutritional content. It's all part of Apeel's drive to more precisely align supply with demand.
"We see a future in providing more digital solutions and being a more embedded partner to players in the supply chain," Du said. "So now that they have the edible coating and shelf-life extension technology, how do you make decisions? What do you do with that additional time?"
Lead art by Ian Hurley.