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How EV charging stations could spark next business boon in NJ

Kenny Esser, manager, strategy and business development, PSE&G, at one of the charging stations for the company's fleet of electric vehicles.
Kenny Esser, manager, strategy and business development, PSE&G, at one of the charging stations for the company's fleet of electric vehicles.-(AARON HOUSTON)
Kenny Esser, manager, strategy and business development, PSE&G, at one of the charging stations for the company's fleet of electric vehicles.

Kenny Esser, manager, strategy and business development, PSE&G, at one of the charging stations for the company’s fleet of electric vehicles. – AARON HOUSTON

The New Jersey Assembly, businesses and public utilities are working to solve the conundrum inherent with electric vehicles: residents want to buy electric cars, but they’re worried that there aren’t enough EV charging stations to make a long trip. On the other hand, investments aren’t being made in EV charging stations because not enough people…

It’s clear New Jerseyans have an interest in these vehicles. The sale of electric cars in the state has more than doubled since 2015 to roughly 14,000, ranking it sixth in the U.S. in electric car sales, according to fleetcarma, an information and communications technology company that promotes the adoption of electronic vehicles.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection recently realized a $72 million cash windfall as part of a settlement with Volkswagen after the German automaker was accused of secretly implanting devices to cheat auto emissions test. That, along with newly introduced state legislation, could spark solutions for creating new charging stations.

Kevin Miller, director of public policy at ChargePoint, a California-based franchise operator of EV charging stations, said the company believes the Volkswagen settlement represents a major business opportunity in New Jersey.

“Under the rules of the settlement, New Jersey can invest up to 15 percent of that to support light duty EV infrastructure, so maximizing that 15 percent should be the floor of what they’re doing,” he told NJBIZ. “There is an unprecedented opportunity in New Jersey because it is at the crossroads of the Northeast corridor. There’s a whole host of benefits to the state in investing in EV charging infrastructure. For one thing, 46 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the state come from gas-powered cars.”

ChargePoint already operates 43,000 EV charging stations nationwide, mostly through franchising and individual charging products drivers can use at home. The company already has seen 40 percent growth in the past year, thanks to surging electric car sales.

Miller sees opportunity for public charging stations in the state, since 90 percent of EV charging is done at home, according to his company’s research. He added opportunities also exist for charging stations for “a heavier duty fleet of electrification,” particular for electric school and public busses.

ChargePoint has signaled its intent to try and partner with the state’s largest power supplier, Public Service Electric & Gas, and other utilities to make sure the power infrastructure is there to support additional EV charging stations, Miller said.

“We’re seeing the advent of autonomous vehicles and shared-use mobility,” he said. “The combination of those issues highlights the strength of electric transportation. We need to be flexible enough to respond to innovation and next-generation charging.”

A bill introduced last month in the Senate by Bob Smith, D-17th Legislative District, and Linda Greenstein, D-14th Legislative District, could further power the effort to increase the number of EV charging stations in the state, as it would allow public utilities such as PSE&G to operate such stations. Currently, almost all of the charging stations are privately operated at homes and businesses.

Some breakthroughs have recently been made. Last month, Monroe became one of the first townships in the state to offer a public charging station. And in October, Jersey City issued an RFP to companies to construct and operate EV charging stations.

Debates over who will operate these charging stations and whether to increase the number for all electric vehicles, not just those made by Tesla, have arisen. During a state senate hearing last month, Stefanie Brand, director of the state’s Division of the Rate Counsel, admitted New Jersey is an underserved market for charging stations, but said it was against public utilities operating them.

“No one else will be able to compete with them,” she said during the hearing. “We don’t need them in the competitive parts of the industry.”

Kenney Esser, manager of program strategy at PSE&G, said the utility has already invested $800,000 in charging stations with various partners, adding it is not looking to compete with other companies to own and operate them.

“We’ve already invested our own money to support roughly 200 charging stations in the state for our own employees, workplaces and for some fast-charging equipment along the [Garden State] Turnpike, so we’re already in the game,” Esser told NJBIZ.

“Those 200-plus charging stations that we’ve put in place do not use our charging technology. We’re  using other companies’ technologies,” Esser said. “We created a partnership with [electric vehicle advocacy group] EVgo to do the EV fast-chargers along the Turnpike, so we’re not looking to compete with them.

“We see ourselves as an important player in this story, but we see that role being in conjunction with the charging stations and some of the other important players who are already out there. And it’s not just us by ourselves.”

EV charging at home, Esser noted, could raise the power consumption of that home by 50 percent. Therefore, the utility is more focused on the challenge of revamping its infrastructure to support the power needs of EV charging stations, he said. PSE&G expects that there could be as many as 300,000 electric cars in the state by 2025, and that charging technology and power infrastructure need to keep pace in order charge cars faster and longer.

“That’s an added impact on our distribution system from a reliability and resiliency standpoint,” Esser said. “So we just have to do build out this infrastructure in a smart way, and that’s a debate that’s happening across the country with a bunch of different utility companies, not just us. How do we make sure as EV charging increases to get customers to charge the right way and at the right times to best complement the system.”

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