KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) – It was a project 18 months in the making, but one Pilot Companies CEO Shameek Konar was excited to take on.
“We’re flat out excited and optimism about it,” Konar said sitting in Pilot’s Knoxville headquarters.
Konar and Pilot were partnering with General Motors and a company called EVgo in an ambitious project to bring quick electric vehicle charging stations to Pilot and Flying J service stations across the country.
“We do not have a reliable end-to-end charging network that can take you coast to coast or border to border,” Konar said.
The three will work together to install between five and six quick charging EV stations at nearly 500 service centers spread from sea to shining sea.
“We felt like if we can solve that problem it would help with the uptake in EVs,” Konar said.
The investment from Pilot doesn’t have a price tag yet.
The undertaking will take years to complete with the first expected station to be installed during the first quarter of 2023, and if everything goes to plan nearly 2,000 charging stalls operational by the end of 2026.
“You know we’re really excited because we’re going to meet the needs of a customer base we don’t serve today,” Konar said.
This idea was to provide services for customers buying electric vehicles, a base that’s growing by the day.
The charging stations will help what Konar referred to as range anxiety, which could be slowing down the average car buyer from hopping behind the wheel of an electric vehicle or stopping a keen family on road trips from using one to traverse across the country.
While and excited optimism Konar added this won’t come without hiccups.
The biggest issue facing this project was preparing electric grids, some thousands of separate cooperatives across the country, to be able to provide this infrastructure that pulls an incredible amount of energy.
“There is some reconfiguration that utilities have to do. Just to give you context one of these charges we are putting in is equal to almost two of our travel centers as far as how much electricity it uses,” Konar said.
The CEO knew it sounded outrageous but to charge vehicles like the modern EV in 20 to 40 minutes, the chargers that will be at Pilot and Flying J’s will consume more energy than the service station they’re sitting outside of, adding stress to an electrical grid that varies from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine.
Users of the chargers will be charged, how that looks and what the cost is will depend on agreements between electrical co-ops, but Konar said the intention of the EV is to offer an alternative to gas and diesel, and it will have to be cost-effective at that.
Lastly, this won’t change how Pilot Companies does business now.
Gas, diesel, and hydrogen were all part of the company’s footprint and Konar added they are still committed to bringing the best product to market for customers in whatever energy form they need.
“I say this a joke sometimes but if our guests were driving cars that run on peanut butter, I’d find them the cheapest peanut butter for them to buy,” Konar said with a smile.
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