In the not too distant future, you’ll be able to sip coffee while your electric vehicle sips electrons. That’s because Volvo is teaming up with ChargePoint to build a network of EV chargers at Starbucks locations across five US states.
The companies plan on installing 15 DC fast charging stations at Starbucks along a 1,350-mile route that stretches from Seattle to Denver. Each station will feature four plugs, making it a total of 60 chargers. And they will also bear Volvo’s branding, making it one of the few EV charging stations in the US to feature an automaker’s logo aside from Tesla’s Supercharger network.
The chargers will be fully installed by the end of 2022, the companies said. Volvo EV owners will be able to use the chargers for free, while non-Volvo owners will have to pay a fee.
Volvo is using a range of chargers from ChargePoint, including the company’s Express Plus and Express 250 units, the former of which are capable of delivering up to 350kW of power. Volvo says it will re-power one of the automaker’s C40 Recharge crossovers from 20 percent to 90 percent in 40 minutes.
The spokesperson also declined to put a number on the size of Volvo’s investment in the project. DC fast chargers, which can range from 50kW of energy output to more than 350kW, are among the most expensive types of EV chargers to install. A public Level 2 charger, which comprises the vast majority of ChargePoint chargers in the US, might cost $2,000 out of the box, but a DC fast charger of 150kW or more can cost between $100,000 and $250,000.
Charging an electric vehicle is much different from refueling a gas car. Whereas it can take less than five minutes to refill a gas tank, it can take hours to recharge an EV battery, depending on the energy output of the charger. That’s why Volvo and ChargePoint are siting their chargers at Starbucks. It’s a tacit acknowledgment that EV owners may rather have a latte and relax in a coffee shop than sit in their cars while they wait.
Other automakers have had similar ideas. Volkswagen, which owns the EV charging company Electrify America, installs many of its chargers in big box store parking lots, like Walmart and Target. And in 2018, Tesla submitted plans to build a massive, 62-stall Supercharger station in Santa Monica that features a restaurant and movie theater.
There are approximately 41,000 public charging stations in the United States, with more than 100,000 outlets. But finding one that actually works or isn’t locked inside a gated parking garage can be a bit of a scavenger hunt for a lot of EV owners.
The charging experience in the US is extremely fragmented, especially for people who don’t own a Tesla. While Tesla’s Supercharger network has been praised for its seamless user experience and fast charging ability, the opposite appears to be true for pretty much everyone else.
The Biden administration recently announced a five-year, $5 billion plan to shore up the nation’s patchy electric vehicle charging network, tapping into funds that were approved as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law signed last year.
Experts in urban policy and electrification have said that the money authorized for a nationwide network of EV chargers would have a measurable impact on Americans’ car-buying choices. A more dependable charging network will likely help juice EV sales in the US over the next decade.
That said, the types of chargers being built are likely to raise questions about the administration’s desire to get Americans to quickly switch to EVs. Not only will it simply take a while to build out that many chargers, but the majority of what gets built will likely be of the Level 2 variety, which can replenish about 25 miles of battery capacity per hour. That means EV buyers in the US will have to get used to the idea of sipping electrons while they’re out and about and doing most of their charging at home.