President Joe Biden’s plan to wean U.S. drivers off fossil fuels requires massive investment in public charging stations to power the electric-car revolution. So far, none of the companies that deploy the equipment has figured out how to make a profit.
The dilemma boils down to demand, and there’s a certain chicken-and-egg quality to it. Most electric-vehicle drivers charge their cars at home, so many public charging stations get little use. But lots of people still driving gasoline-powered cars won’t consider going electric until they see charging stations widely deployed, for fear that they will run out of juice on the road.
Speculators are piling into the industry, convinced that boom times are around the corner, while short sellers and other skeptics warn that some of these companies will go belly-up long before they figure out how to make money. Biden’s plan to spend $15 billion to help create 500,000 more public stations by 2030 is feeding the optimism, with investors flocking to EV charging companies since his election. The risk is that the early movers will get badly burned, potentially souring capital markets on the industry for years to come.
“It’s definitely going to require years of investment before they get any return,” said Chris Nelder, who has studied the economics of charging for the RMI energy research institute.