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Ad Revenue Might Be the Secret to Lowering EV Charging Barriers

Some two dozen public EV charging stations will be installed in Hoboken, N.J., at no cost to the city or the drivers using them. Revenue generated from advertising on 55-inch screens will help subsidize the operation.

An EV charging station on the side of a street.
The installation, maintenance and electricity for Volta electric vehicle charging stations in Oregon are subsidized by advertising.
Submitted Photo/Volta Charging
Ad revenue will subsidize electric vehicle chargers in New Jersey, opening the door to a new funding stream meant to make the cost of deploying and operating public charging cheaper.

Volta Charging will install about 25 public chargers on curbsides in Hoboken, a small, dense city just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The project will not only be at no cost to the city, but for EV users, charging will be free when using a medium-speed Level 2 charger.

“So literally, no cost to the city, which is a really exciting part of this program,” said Ryan Sharp, director of transportation and parking in Hoboken. “That was one of the key requirements in the request for proposals specifications that we put out for this program.”

Volta will cover the cost of installation, maintenance and electricity for the charging stations, as well as pay the city a rental fee for using the public right of way. Volta will keep the ad revenue — generated from advertising posted on 55-inch screens — and the city gets to use 10 percent of the ad space for its own messaging, which can include information related to city events, services, real-time transit information and more.

“We can be innovative with using charging stations for beyond just charging,” said Sharp.

Volta sees this business model as an innovative approach to reducing the up-front costs of deploying chargers, as well as subsidizing the cost of the electricity.

“What Volta has done is brought in another stream of capital to every single parking spot. We put a station in the ground, and that quite literal value from ad revenue, that upside, is shareable across the board,” said Kevin Samy, head of policy and climate communications at Volta.

The business model also enables the company to deploy chargers in locations where there may not be enough of a concentration of electric cars to justify the placement of a charger.

“A lot of our peers that just rely on electricity [sales], if there are no EVs, it doesn’t pencil for them,” said Samy. “Whereas for us, if there are eyeballs, we can be there without the cars yet. So we are solving that chicken-and-egg problem.

“At the end of the day, with my policy hat on, if the goal is accelerating adoption, Volta is the front edge in terms of a clever business model,” he added.

This business model may be the secret to enabling more charging in high-density housing areas and apartment developments, which have remained a persistent challenge for EV advocates, conscious of the fact that for EVs to gain wider adoption, they will have to be a reasonable option for drivers beyond single-family homes who have access to overnight charging.

In Hoboken, the exact locations for the chargers have not yet been finalized, however, project requirements stipulate that each charger must be within a five-minute walk of all residents.

“That was really important to us for equity reasons, and just for making it as convenient as possible,” said Sharp. “Hoboken is very much a walking city. If you own a car or an electric vehicle, you’re going to be walking at some point. So having the convenience of a charging station within a five-minute walk of your residence is about the closest thing that I think we can get to a more suburban experience that a lot of people who have an EV have, where they can actually charge overnight at home.”

An earlier pilot project demonstrated that drivers seem to prefer curbside chargers.

“Over the first year of the program that on-street station accounted for close to 50 percent of all of our public EV charging that took place,” said Sharp. “The convenience and the high visibility of having a charger there, on the street, I think had a huge impact for the popularity of that station. And so, based off of that data, we believe that additional street charging stations are going to be utilized much more so than stations in parking garages.”

Locating the chargers on the street was as important for Volta as the city. Because if advertising needs eyeballs, the street is where those are, not necessarily a dark parking garage.

“As the [EV] landscape proliferates and grows… making space for clever and innovative models is something that will continue to be interesting. It’s really cool to watch Volta exist very much in that way,” said Samy. “What happens in Hoboken to really address the hidden costs of EV charging, you could make that replicable across other cities.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.