Resources for the Future (RFF) is releasing a new episode in its Policy Leadership Series Podcast, which highlights conversations with leading decisionmakers on environmental and energy issues at RFF’s flagship Policy Leadership Series events. This week, RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell and former EVgo CEO Cathy Zoi discuss Zoi’s experience in leading one of the nation’s largest developers of fast-charging electric vehicle stations, Zoi’s insights about current and future efforts to electrify the US transportation sector, and how the government and the private sector can help facilitate a transition to electric vehicles.
Visit the event webpage to watch a video recording of this conversation.
Listen to the Podcast
- Richard G. Newell: “Annual battery-electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle sales have increased more than fivefold in the United States, more than tenfold globally—and it was less than 2 percent in 2017, and now it's about 8 percent in the United States and 14 percent of car sales globally.” (1:30)
- Cathy Zoi: “There’s not a car company that’s not investing significantly in electrifying its offerings to the tune of a trillion dollars globally. That is a once-in-a-century transformation of a major sector that is happening, present tense. So, I did not anticipate that that amount of commitment by private capital would happen so quickly, and that’s really heartening. What that means is we’ve got to get out there and build more [vehicle charging] infrastructure more quickly.” (2:28)
- Cathy Zoi: “The vast majority of sales, and of [electric vehicles], and of our stations, and of our throughput, were in California. That has now shifted … Our fastest-growing markets are—wait for it—Texas and Florida. So, this is not a red-state-blue-state thing. I mean, electrification is happening everywhere. [Electric vehicles] are a great product. People like to drive them. There are abundant choices, whether you want to drive a pickup truck or a van or a small car. There’s so many choices now that it’s really happening everywhere.” (16:57)
- Cathy Zoi: “We’re currently at 30,000 fast chargers in America right now. If we meet that timetable of [electric vehicles] on the road by 2030, then we're going to need somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 fast chargers by 2030.” (24:57)
The Full Transcript
Elizabeth Wason: Welcome to the Policy Leadership Series Podcast from Resources for the Future (RFF). In every episode, leading global decisionmakers speak to RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell about big environmental and energy policy issues. In this episode, Richard speaks to Cathy Zoi, the former CEO and director of EVgo. Their conversation took place on November 29.
Richard G. Newell: Cathy, thanks for being with us, especially in this month of your retirement from EVgo. So, what's next?
Cathy Zoi: It's been so much fun for six years to be running EVgo and to grow it. I will continue to work on climate solutions. I've been working 30+ years on climate solutions from a variety of vantage points. And I think, what's next: I've got a couple of board seats lined up, which are fun, but I also want to complement that with some real “doing” stuff.
When I went to EVgo six years ago, it was a 50-person company that didn't really have a revenue model, and we've been able to scale it to, as you said, a leading fast-charging company in a really important sector. I'd love to be able to apply some of that experience to other young companies, but in an advisory capacity.
My husband and I also have a ranch in Ojai, California, which we are turning into a sustainable-ag property. So, that's kind of fun. We're growing agave instead of citrus.
Richard G. Newell: Awesome. Sounds great.
You started EVgo in 2017, and it's been really a period of tremendous change for electric vehicles. Annual battery-electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle sales have increased more than fivefold in the United States, more than tenfold globally—and it was less than 2 percent in 2017, and now it's about 8 percent in the United States and 14 percent of car sales globally. So, as you reflect back on that period of tremendous change when you were heading EVgo, what strikes you the most about what changed there, and what do you think has changed the most? Are there things that happened faster than you thought, even back then? Are there things that you're still kind of surprised about, like, "We didn't realize how hard that would be."
Cathy Zoi: When I showed up at EVgo (and again, I didn't found it, so it was already established—so the credit where credit's due as somebody else's really cool idea), it wasn't clear that the whole world was going to electrify. I mean, back then in 2017, you could get a Nissan LEAF or a BMW i3, and the ranges of those cars were that maybe you could drive 70 miles on a charge.
Now, there's not a car company that's not investing significantly in electrifying its offerings to the tune of a trillion dollars globally. That is a once-in-a-century transformation of a major sector that is happening, present tense. So, I did not anticipate that that amount of commitment by private capital would happen so quickly, and that's really heartening. What that means is we've got to get out there and build more infrastructure more quickly.
What is probably underestimated by everybody was the complexity of building a new ecosystem, because it's not simply … As Richard said, we focus on fast charging, which is you basically can get 100 miles of range in 5 to 10 minutes. That's different than when you plug in overnight, or you plug in at the office, and you basically need six hours to get your battery charged up. Our fast chargers are highly complex pieces of equipment, and they have to talk to … On EVgo's network, we charge our vehicles, 50 different models of cars, all that have different battery signatures, all that have different software and firmware, and then we have to educate drivers on a whole new experience of what it is to go and charge a car. All of those things, the complexity of that, we interconnect with utilities.
My goodness—there's another part of that ecosystem: the utilities. In the old days, when I got to EVgo, we liked to build where people are, anyway. So we're not at gas stations, particularly. We build in front of your favorite grocery store. When you're going to go to Target, when you're going to take your kids to the park, that's where we'd like to build our stations, so you can just plug in, go do something else, and come back, and your car is charged. So, working with local utilities to connect to the grids in those places.
When we started, we were building two stalls in a location. We're now building 10 stalls in a location. That requires a transformer upgrade by the utility. That's another part of the ecosystem. Every single station requires the local government to approve it. That's another part of the ecosystem. Again, as a business, we have to have our revenues exceed our costs, if we want to be a truly sustainable business. We rely on tax credits, grant programs, and everything else. So, another part of the electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem is government and government agencies.
With all of those players, I would say that we're trying to create an ecosystem that works like a Swiss watch, but we're still kind of in the early innings.
Richard G. Newell: Yeah.
Cathy Zoi: So, is that taking longer than I thought? It's just taking longer than I hoped.
Richard G. Newell: Right.
Cathy Zoi: I want it to go faster.
Richard G. Newell: I guess one of the convenient things is EVs—at least they drive on the roads. So, you don't need to reinvent the road network, right?
Cathy Zoi: That's correct. Electricity is everywhere, and when you compare it to, say, the hydrogen economy—we don't need whole new pipelines.
Richard G. Newell: Right.
Cathy Zoi: Power is everywhere, right? So, that's one of the things that makes EVs so exciting.
Richard G. Newell: Do you work at all in homes?
Cathy Zoi: EVgo doesn't. No. I mean, one of the things that's funny is, if you're going to charge at home, you literally could just plug into an existing power outlet. If you're totally depleted, it might take you 30 hours to recharge your battery, but it will work. We call it trickle charging. Or you can actually plug into a dryer outlet, which is 240 volts. And again, that's Level 2. You don't need any special kit other than your electrician needs to come and install the right connector type, and then you can plug your car into it and you can get an overnight charge.
But we don't do that. Our revenue model, our business model is a bit different. We do dedicated fast charging away from home, and it turns out that probably about a third of Americans don't have access to home charging, because they either live in an apartment or they live in a home without a driveway. And increasingly, as there are more models of EVs at different price points, those are the newest buyers of EVs, right? Because they don't have access, and they definitely need to rely on fast charging.
Richard G. Newell: You mentioned tax credits and the government as being an important part of the ecosystem for transportation generally, and particularly for electrification of transport. So, we'd be remiss if we didn't talk about the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which has been a massive piece of legislation for the clean energy transition in general and also in particular for EVs. What were the most notable parts of the IRA for you and for EVgo?
Cathy Zoi: We think of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act as one big basket of incentives that are really accelerating transportation, and we're very excited about all bits of that.
With respect to the IRA, the thing that's most exciting for a charging company in particular is 30C, which is a tax credit that's available to charging infrastructure investments. What's new about the IRA is that transferability of those credits is allowed. We're an early stage company, we're growing really quickly, but we are not yet profitable. So, we don't have tax exposure. What we can now do is build a charging station that's eligible based on being in a disadvantaged community and all the other things that are required or will be required by the IRS, and then monetize that credit by selling it to somebody who does want to reduce their tax burden. So, that policy innovation means that the 30C is very meaningful for EVgo as we go forward.
Richard G. Newell: And remind us: It's an investment tax credit for EV charging. Is it 30 percent as the base, and then—
Cathy Zoi: Yes, it is about 30 percent, up to $100,000 per … And again, I've just spent the last few days in Washington urging various members of the government to issue the guidelines, because we don't yet have the firm guidelines from the IRS.
Richard G. Newell: Got it.
Cathy Zoi: So, we think we know, sort of, how it's going to work, but it's based on census-tract eligibility, what's the definition of a piece of equipment, and things like that. It'll all come out good, but sooner is better than later.
Richard G. Newell: Well, you've actually answered one of my next questions. It was going to be, What remaining work is there with regard to the IRS? So, there's getting the specific tax provisions out, the guidance on that. And it's interesting that I didn't actually anticipate you bringing up the transferability, but critically important for an early-stage company like EVgo.
Any other aspects of the IRA, besides nailing down those? There's the specificity around, say, something about the equipment. Is that related to domestic content, or what's the issue?
Cathy Zoi: The Build America, Buy America provisions are actually associated with NEVI, the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure bill, which is a couple-billion-dollars pot of money that gets distributed from the Department of Transportation to state Departments of Transportation, then gets in turn bid out to companies like EVgo to build infrastructure—and it's grants. I should have started with that. It's a grant program that flows down.
In order to be eligible to receive those grants to build … The first tranche of it is for highway corridors. And again, it's a good public policy objective. The federal government has said, "We want to have a fast-charging station at least every 50 miles on every US interstate that exists." So, that's the whole first tranche of money, and the states are distributing the money. In order to be eligible to receive the grants, you need to have the equipment built in America and you need to pay prevailing wages.
So we had to quickly … Our equipment that we had been using for years was built very cleverly by Delta and Sungwoo and a few others, but in Taiwan and in South Korea, respectively. As soon as the law was passed, we said, “You're going to need to build factories in America.” They started planning for it, and the manufacturers have factories in Plano, Texas. So they are now building—
Richard G. Newell: Producing already?
Cathy Zoi: Already. Delta was super-fast. I mean, I visited the warehouse in Plano, Texas, in June, and I'm telling you, it was an empty warehouse. And I was meeting with the folks from Delta who had flown in from Taiwan, and they said, "August." I said, "Really? August?" And they said, "Yeah." And they did it. It's remarkable.
And we've tested it, and that equipment is now getting put into place in various projects across the country, again, and it's NEVI compliant. The upshot, though—I mean, we have to be honest about it—that equipment that is manufactured here with the US content is more expensive than what is made in Taiwan. And that is a public policy decision that we are all collectively making—paying prevailing wages—and we've always done this. We've always had some projects that were built with union labor and some that weren't. The union labor is a bit more expensive, and that's not a surprise to anybody. The difference at the moment: the delta is about 30 percent when you add that in terms of CapEx, the capital expenditure per stall of charging.
Richard G. Newell: Interesting. From a pure profit-centric perspective, as a company, you get extra funding if you're … Do you have to do the prevailing wages, or you get extra—
Cathy Zoi: No, in the new rules, it's binary: You cannot apply for the grants unless you are committing to prevailing wages, but they are such generous grants that it's worth it.
Richard G. Newell: So, you've started dipping into this, and you think about the general tax provisions, and then also specific domestic content provisions of the IRA, and other recent legislation like the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, administrative actions related to international trade, and also I think a general sentiment among policymakers on both sides of the aisle toward what used to be kind of a bad word—“industrial policy”—over the last 5 to 10 years, and we've started to touch on that. And when you think about the explanations for this, I think there's a sense of the inequitable benefits of global trade. There's geopolitics that are clearly related to economic competition, including with China, and then there's the need to confront big, systemic transformations like those related to the energy transition and climate change. I think all of these things come together and have come together in some of the recent legislation. So, with that backdrop, and bringing your experience as a CEO of companies, and also having worked in government—how do you think it's going?
Cathy Zoi: Look, I think it's really laudable. I like the objectives of developing talent, developing technologies, deploying technologies that we develop in this country here. And I think that it's a good thing for my kids and my someday grandchildren for sort of the growth of … it takes time to do that. I was amazed that Delta was able to get a factory up and running as quickly as they did in Plano, Texas. It's not going to happen with every kind of technology that quickly.
So, as we're designing policies, as government people are designing policies, I would just encourage there to be a glide path as we onshore things, as we train workforces. I mean, one of the big provisions of the IRA is an apprenticeship program, which is, again—these are good jobs. So, if you are going to receive any of this grant money, you have to make a commitment to have an apprenticeship-training program to train new workers in these important, growing clean energy industries. And I like that. It does take time and it does cost something.
As I said, at the moment, the delta between a completely offshored non-union charger and the converse is probably about 30 percent. Now, that will narrow, because there'll be economies of scale as we build more here, and there'll be more competition for labor. But it is interesting, and it's important.
I mean, I would say, when you think about the recent auto-worker strike, we had the Big Three American automakers that are having to pay union labor, which is a great thing for so many jobs—for so many Americans. Tesla doesn't have to pay union wages. So there is a non-level playing field, even with the domestic manufacturing here that we're seeing, that has an impact. That, again, policymakers need to consider.
Richard G. Newell: One of the things you brought up in terms of the different expectations for receiving government grants for charging infrastructure—and also, I think, corporate commitments at EVgo—there's a question about disadvantaged and underserved communities from the perspective of the electrification of transport, given the history there.
Say a little bit about how you see that unfolding. Is that something where specific actions need to be taken? How do you think we're doing there?
Cathy Zoi: EVgo is committed to electric for all. We've always charged all EVs, and it's very important to us to get EVs into the hands of as many people as possible and to make charging as easy as possible for folks in their communities.
When we are looking at where to build, we'll be looking at a bunch of criteria. I mean, fundamentally, we have algorithms that are able to help us determine what the utilization of a particular charging station is going to be over time. And we have to have the use of that to bring in revenues enough to exceed the cost of building that station. It's a fundamental business principle. It just makes practical sense.
But we also look at, Where is that located? Is it in an environmental justice (EJ) community? And it turns out that about half of our stations are located in communities that, by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) definition, are environmentally disadvantaged. And we're very proud of that. And we continue to look at that. So, where we can build, we try to make sure that our network is as diverse as possible, and we build in communities. I mean, that may not be true if we're building on a highway corridor, right? Because that's a different sort of use case. But when we're building in metropolitan areas, we endeavor to be able to make sure that disadvantaged communities have access to our charging stations.
And I'll tell you another reason that it actually matters from a business perspective: one of our fastest-growing sectors that loads on the EVgo network is rideshare drivers. We have partnerships with Uber and Lyft to make commitments to go zero emissions by 2030, and they're actually doing it. They're getting EVs into the hands of rideshare drivers. It turns out that many rideshare drivers live in multi-unit dwellings that don't have access to home charging or access to driveways. So, the overlap of EVgo building stations in communities with high density, lots of apartments … and also potentially not building in Beverly Hills, but building in Compton instead—it's great for our business.
Richard G. Newell: Does that involve a corporate collaboration with Uber and Lyft to identify, say—
Cathy Zoi: Well, we can determine where to build on our own, because we've got all the algorithms. The partnership with Uber and Lyft is that, because they're high-volume drivers, they get a special price on the EVgo network. Win, win, win.
Richard G. Newell: Interesting. So there's incentives in place to make that connection.
Elizabeth Wason: Each episode of RFF's Policy Leadership Series Podcast is made possible by listeners like you. This series provides thoughtful conversations with leading experts to better connect and inform our community on the latest environmental and economics issues. And you can help us by supporting RFF. You join us in our mission to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economics research and policy engagement. Learn more about contributing to RFF today by visiting rff.org/support.
Richard G. Newell: Have you noticed changes over time, from a demographic point of view, in terms of where you're seeing uptake of electric vehicles, where the charging … Has that shifted over the time you've been at EVgo?
Cathy Zoi: Yeah. I mean, when I got to EVgo, the vast majority of sales, and of EVs, and of our stations, and of our throughput, were in California. That has now shifted, so more than half of our throughput and half of our stations and everything else is outside of California. Our fastest-growing markets are—wait for it—Texas and Florida. So, this is not a red-state-blue-state thing. I mean, electrification is happening everywhere. EVs are a great product. People like to drive them. There are abundant choices, whether you want to drive a pickup truck or a van or a small car. There's so many choices now that it's really happening everywhere. So, we watch that continuously, and we've got a 13-variable regression model to help us figure out where we are going to site our next transit chargers.
Richard G. Newell: Interesting.
So, let's talk a little bit about standards for connectors for charging EVs. There's an old debate among experts in innovation about the implications of standards for technological innovation. On the plus side, there's the economies of scale you get from a network and by making things interoperable. There's also, on the risk side, if you over-standardize, you might lock in to a technology early on in its development, and later on, it turns out, ex-post, that wasn't really the best thing to have locked in to. So, there's this kind of trade-off between the economies of scale and building a larger network, and then challenges that can be related to lock-in.
So, unpack for us a little bit the decisions by different automakers with respect to charging connector standards. There's also been some recent announcements over the last several months about different automakers making different decisions about the directions. Unpack that for us: what's at stake, what's leading to the decisions being made, and what are the implications?
Cathy Zoi: EVgo is living this. We've always charged all EVs. And when I first got to EVgo, there were two primary power-plug connector types. One of them was CHAdeMO, which was the Japanese car company (Nissan and Mitsubishi), and another was called CCS, and that was the Europeans and the Americans. And then there was Tesla, and Tesla had its own walled garden. We then cleverly said, "Well, we're going to put some Tesla connectors onto our charger." We did that so that we could charge all EVs. And Europe went the way of CCS.
My feeling was, it's all going to happen, and it's going to go CCS—until last spring, when first Ford and then GM announced, "Well, no, we're going to go with the Tesla connector," which is called NACS, the North American Charging Standard, which is sort of funny that they decided that they were going to be the North American charger, but it turned out to be kind of prescient. So, they decided to go NACS.
And why did they decide to go NACS? Because the charging experience for a driver is great. And I can tell you—I have a Tesla. One of the reasons that it's great is that it's light. Half of the brain of the charging with a NACS system is in the charger plug (anybody that has a Tesla knows it’s light), and half of the brain is inside the car.
And you can do that. If you design the car, and you design the charger, you can actually split it up and say, "You guys, this over here, and this over here." What everybody else had to do was put all of the brain of the charging in the charging connector itself. So, the CCS plug is actually heavy, and if anybody's got one, it's a little bit more cumbersome. So—
Richard G. Newell: Sorry to interrupt. That was because of the interoperability of the vehicle, and the charging unit was what led to that advantage for Tesla.
Cathy Zoi: Well, yes, but the CCS is also deemed by engineers. Again, this predates me, and I'm not a deep engineer on this. I just listen to the engineers.
Safety protocols, reliability, and all kinds of things. It was designed by engineers. It wasn't designed by Steve Jobs with that attitude in mind, like a seamless experience. It was designed for redundancy, and the CCS plug is like a tank. But it's harder for grandma to manipulate because it's heavier, right? Basically, the car company said, "Let's have it be a seamless driver experience."
For us, it doesn't matter. We added Tesla connectors when we felt like it. We are now working with our suppliers on cables that are going to be NACS cables on our next gen of new chargers. And plus, where are we going to retrofit with NACS? It's frankly a bigger decision on the part of the automakers to say (the new ones—not Tesla), "I'm going to need to build a charging brain inside my car," right? Because that's what the protocol is. You're going to have half a brain inside the car. So, EVgo is going to be ready probably before the car companies will be to do that, but that's great. We're all excited.
So, back to your question. I think was just like, "Should the government have done this? Does the government need to set the standard?" And I had people ask me that two years ago, and I said, "Look, I think it's going to happen naturally. We don't need the government to do this." And I was wrong, because I thought it was going to be CCS, and it's going NACS, instead. But again, it's happening naturally. What the government does need to do—and I was just having conversations this week with some government officials about this—is make sure that, whatever the standard is, if the IP [intellectual property] is shared, that it's safe, that it's reliable, that it goes through some sort of UL [Underwriters Laboratories] certification, or whatever the standard body is. And Tesla hasn't had to do that, because it had a walled garden. But if it's going to be for everybody, for all cars, there needs to be some common standards that need to go through some rigorous testing.
Richard G. Newell: And what agency … Is that NIST [National Institute of Standards and Technology]?
Cathy Zoi: We are involved in it. The car part is SAE [Society of Automotive Engineers]. I mean, the charging parts currently go through UL certification. So again, I'm not sure where the home should be. Somebody else can decide that, but everybody needs to be subjected to it. When we did some testing of some of the NACS connectors in our lab, they wouldn't pass our test in the earlier days, because if you drop them, or whatever.
Richard G. Newell: So, if you were to predict where you see this going, with regard to different vehicles, do you think that a fast-charging company like EVgo will need to have different … Do you currently have several different units—each one housing its plug, and you just pick the one that makes sense for you? It's kind of like the 87 octane and the 89 octane, and the premium pump?
Cathy Zoi: Yes, so almost all of our stations have more than one connector type.
Richard G. Newell: Got it.
Cathy Zoi: Sometimes the dispenser will have two plug types. Sometimes it'll be a CCS, and it used to be a CHAdeMO. We don't do CHAdeMO anymore.
Because look, there's 3 million cars on the road right now; over a million and a half of them have CCS. Those cars are going to need to be driven. They're going to need to be charged for the next 10 years. So, charging companies like EVgo are going to need to provide the different connector types in 15 years or 20 years. It'll likely all be NACS. But that'll be a transition period. Again, it's just not a big deal.
Richard G. Newell: Interesting. And the final question on this: Is there an international interplay on that? The European auto companies presumably were going CCS and have focused there? Or is that not true?
Cathy Zoi: I don't know. And China's different yet again. I don't know whether there will be a grand global unification, or whether the North American market will just keep its own standard for a while.
I'm going to Australia to take a little break in a few weeks, and I just ordered my adapters, because we all travel with 16 things that need to be charged at night, and Australia has a different plug type. So, I ordered a three-prong thingy. It may be that that's going to persist for a while.
Richard G. Newell: So, we've touched on interoperability standards for EVs, but let's now touch on regulatory standards for automobiles, which alongside tax incentives for infrastructure and for vehicle purchase are providing mandates, and for EV penetration. And so, the greenhouse gas tailpipe standards that have been proposed (not yet finalized, but proposed) by EPA have set a level that envisions a majority of US car sales will be EVs by 2030, and up to two-thirds will be EVs by 2032. That's a pretty rapid transition phase, right? Are the automaker investments and product-development plans that are being put into place—and the charging infrastructure is being developed—is it consistent with those standards?
Cathy Zoi: It's quick. I love it. As somebody who's been involved in greenhouse gas–mitigation efforts for decades, I love it. It absolutely can be done.
We're currently at 30,000 fast chargers in America right now. If we meet that timetable of EVs on the road by 2030, then we're going to need somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 fast chargers by 2030.
Richard G. Newell: So, 10 times.
Cathy Zoi: Yeah, so 10X—that's fast growth. But look, you and I watched that with the Recovery Act stuff. I mean, that is absolutely possible. I mean, we're on this trajectory.
We've got 3 million EVs on American roads right now, currently. By the end of 2024, that's going to be between 5 million and 6 million. So that's 2X. So, it is certainly possible.
At EVgo, we've built a machine that can scale up, so we actually know how to deploy quickly. We have line of sight to 10,000 locations that would make business sense for us to do it. It's availability of capital. So we're able to do this.
I can tell you, on the charging side, we're up to the task. It's a big task, but we're up to it. But, as I mentioned, it's a whole ecosystem. So, the utilities need to do the planning, because they need to order the transformers to be able to handle the load, the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers].
Every single car company has plans to electrify, right? They do. I mean, Toyota was a big laggard, but they now plan to electrify. Can they scale up? I mean, they'd love the sales. Can they scale up to do it? I hope so. It's ambitious, but achievable.
Richard G. Newell: Related to that, there have been some recent reports that automakers are pulling back their EV plans. What do you think about that?
Cathy Zoi: I think it's an ephemeral thing to the extent that they're even doing it.
But let's go back to what the forecasts are. If they're pulling back, they're pulling back from a slope that was like this to a slope that looks like that. It's still very fast compound annual growth rates. It’s like, a new model that was going to come out in Q1 next year, it's going to come out in Q3 instead.
Every EV that's getting made is getting sold. I mean, I was inquiring about the Chevy Blazer EV that just got all of these super awards. So I thought, "I'd go have a drive of that." And I can't find one in Southern California right now. They're selling like this.
Richard G. Newell: Related to the scale-up, you mentioned you have a rigorous site-selection process. Does that look like gas stations, or in any case like it's a dedicated place where you just go to charge, or are you colocating with supermarkets, or is it all the above? What's the business model there?
Cathy Zoi: Our favorite business model for metropolitan applications is to be in retail, to be near a grocery store, in a parking lot. Target is one of our partners. We have a bunch of the shopping-center owners that are partners of ours. We have these portfolio national brands that are portfolio partners, like Chase Bank. We love that because, again, electricity is everywhere. You might feel like sitting in your car for 10 minutes, but why not go get a coffee? That sort of thing. So, that's our favorite place to build.
With that said, for our fleet customers, we're building depots. We have a number of fleet partners where it's a dedicated depot of 20 or 30 stalls.
Richard G. Newell: Got it. So not anybody drives up.
Cathy Zoi: It depends. And on the highways, we've got a partnership with Pilot Flying J, which is a big truck-stop company. Those are dedicated truck stops, and they know what's coming. And so, in this case, it's a business line we call EVgo eXtend, where we don't own the assets—Pilot Flying J owns the assets, and we do all the other work for them.
So, we're kind of white-labeling the charging services, and we do the design, the construction, and the maintenance on them, and they own them, but they co-brand them.
Richard G. Newell: So, many gas stations—if not most gasoline stations now—will have a store, right?
Cathy Zoi: A C-store.
Richard G. Newell: A convenience store.
Cathy Zoi: Apparently, they make more money in the C-store than in the gas.
Richard G. Newell: Do you think in the future, are those going to be charging stations, or is that going to just disappear, or is it just going to become a convenience store without—
Cathy Zoi: I think they will. I mean, we've got 14 locations at Chevron stations in California. So, Chevron is sort of nibbling around the edges. And we're happy to do it, but I always used to joke with them when we were talking about the next site. It's like, "You guys are going to need to improve the quality of your coffee if you want people to stay, right?" Because we also have a partner in Whole Foods. And guess what? You'd rather have Whole Foods than beef jerky at Chevron.
Richard G. Newell: Right. Got it.
So, we're in Washington, DC, and pretty soon, we'll be in an election year, where the political environment could change dramatically again. And, while we're a nonpartisan organization at RFF, we do pay attention to the politics of it, because it influences everything that we do. So, what aspects of the electrification of transport do you see as being most resilient to any political changes? Also, there's the federal level; there's the state level; international, as well. What are the most resilient to that, and what's most at risk?
Cathy Zoi: This is a multifaceted answer, but there's a couple things that are on the side of electrification of transportation.
One is the capitalist view—and you guys think about capitalism all the time, because you're an economics organization—with a trillion dollars of capital being invested by car companies that are global. That engine is moving—it's spinning, right? And factories have been built. Lithium supplies have been procured. I mean, they are all in on electrification. So, that's the capitalist momentum there—the capitalism momentum.
On the consumer side, I have not talked to a driver who has experienced an EV that doesn't adore it, right? And this is why you've got the market growing in Texas and Florida as quickly as it is. I mean, they are really great products. They're comfortable, they're fun to drive, it's a better-performing technology. And people say, "I love not having to go to a gas station anymore."
Those two factors, I think, are really important.
I guess the third thing is part of the Buy America stuff: there are jobs getting created across this country in electrification, whether it's the battery factories, or the car assembly, or charging stations, or the construction jobs. We have a lot of construction jobs that happen with each of our stations—all of that is creating jobs. And we've witnessed this.
I mean, you have witnessed this on the renewable side. There were elected members of office in this town that might have been hostile to clean energy because it's environmental, and yet their constituents, the farmers of Iowa, are making more money out of having wind turbines on their property than they are out of the corn they're selling or the soybeans they are growing. So, all of those factors, I think, mean that, while there might be some political football going on and some jockeying, we're building jobs and IP in this country that are going to be great for the US economy.
Richard G. Newell: I wasn’t going to ask this, but it just struck me: How do you think the US is doing relative to other countries or regions, just on that technological frontier with EVs? I think there was a sense that there has been some catch-up happening, but I don't know.
Cathy Zoi: Yeah. Well, look, there has been catch-up happening, but look at the choices that you've got with American-made EVs. Tesla is an American company. Great. Obviously they're the world leader. Rivian is a brand-new one, with super-duper cool cars. GM has tons of offerings. I mean, they built this platform called Ultium, and they've reconfigured it. So, every EV that you're now buying from General Motors was designed from the ground up to be an EV, right? That's really cool. And Stellantis has a whole bunch of really nifty things coming.
So, look—I don't don't know whether it's catch-up or not, it's too early days to say that. It's a big, giant, global market with a very strong American innovation presence there.
Richard G. Newell: I'm also sensing that the phenomenon that you talked about earlier, which is the momentum of at least personal transport toward electrification—it's not just a US thing. It's in Europe, it's for sure in China, and other notable places globally.
Cathy Zoi: Did I hear this on the radio this morning? Did I read it? It might've been on NPR this morning. Literally somebody was interviewing some people in China about EVs, and EVs are being driven by everyone. The quote from the person that was being interviewed said that there are now more EV charging stations than there are gas stations in China, which, I thought, "We are a long way from that in this country." But that's really neat. I mean, that's the thing about an autocracy, is that when they decide that they want something to happen, it just happens. There's less of the grist in the mill to slow things down in China.
Richard G. Newell: Good grist.
Cathy Zoi: Good grist.
Richard G. Newell: So, Cathy Zoi, look to the future of electrification and of transport. What excites you the most?
Cathy Zoi: The choice. I think that there's so many choices, and once you drive an EV, the benefits to the air of not having tailpipes … I mean, I was talking to somebody on this trip that was saying, "My son now goes out, and he says, ‘They have a tailpipe.’" Because they're driving an EV, which is just sort of fascinating.
Richard G. Newell: There will be time when that seems like a weird thing.
Cathy Zoi: Yeah. So I think that's really exciting, and it's happening really fast. We are seeing utilization on our network.
Utilization—what does that mean? Throughput on our network measured 24/7/365. So now, nationally, EVgo has on average of over 15 percent utilization, which means 15 percent of the minutes of every day, an EV is plugged in, and we're dispensing electricity to that EV—and we're building ahead of demand. Nearly a third of our stations have 20 percent utilization, which is amazing, right? Some people that thought about the sector said, "It's never going to get higher than 15 percent." But it is. We have a station in Brooklyn, its utilization is month-on-month 52 percent, which just means that 52 percent of the minutes of every single day, somebody's plugged in and charging there. And that's all happening so quickly to me. It's really heartening.
Richard G. Newell: So, is utilization happening faster than you expected?
Cathy Zoi: It's happening a little bit faster than we thought.
Richard G. Newell: Interesting.
Cathy Zoi: And you and I were talking about this a little bit beforehand: One of the reasons it's happening, we underestimated people's excitement about using fast charging. The whole idea was, if you can charge at home, you're only going to charge at home. Turns out that's not the case. If you have a charging station conveniently located in front of your grocery store, people are topping up when they're there. It's a good parking space. They spend five bucks while they're going to get their weekly groceries, and they come back out, and they've topped up, and it feels really good. The EVs that are being sold, the batteries are bigger, and they're heavier, and so they're a little less efficient to get a mile, which means that folks need to fill up more frequently. Again, all of that is like, "Well, that's good." People, even if they have a garage at home, are doing this convenience charging.
Rideshare is electrifying more quickly than we would've thought.
So, all of those things are getting people to come to fast-charging stations. And we knew that we would be in the practice of helping to create those norms. We name our charging stations, and we do all sorts of things to create a delightful experience. You can make reservations on our busiest stations. We have a coupon program that you can actually—when you plug in, you might get a coupon, or you might get a free month of Amazon Audible or things like that.
So, we're trying to create that experience, and I think the public is responding.
Richard G. Newell: I would usually at this point say, “We have time for one more question,” but we don't have time for one more question. That was our last question.
It's been a really stimulating conversation. Thank you so much, Cathy.
Cathy Zoi: My pleasure.
Richard G. Newell: And, as I said earlier, you'll be able to watch this in full online at rff.org. Thanks, everybody, for being with us today.
Elizabeth Wason: That was Richard Newell, President and CEO of Resources for the Future, in conversation with Cathy Zoi, the former CEO and director of EVgo. If you like what you heard, remember to like or favorite RFF's Policy Leadership Series Podcast on your podcast platform of choice, where we will release new episodes with leading environmental and energy policy decisionmakers. You also can find recordings from our Policy Leadership Series events at rff.org/pls and receive updates about RFF's events and podcasts at rff.org/subscribe.
The live event was produced by Holli Jones, in conjunction with the communications team at Resources for the Future. Music is from Blue Dot Sessions. RFF podcasts are managed by me, Elizabeth Wason, and made possible by you, our listeners. You can contribute to RFF today by visiting rff.org/support. Thank you for joining us.