How Amazon Became the Largest US Private EV Charging Operator (Part-1)

Speed is built into Amazon's Maple Valley, Washington warehouse. Some big rigs drive up to one end at night to unload boxes and padded mailers from a larger warehouse down the road, while others arrive by cargo plane. Waiters scan, sort, and load them into rolling racks.  

Before 7 a.m. each day, several racks are pushed to dozens of vans in four painted lanes. Like the starting line at a Formula One race, $22-an-hour delivery workers bring shampoo and batteries to suburban Seattle homes. Amazon has vowed to eliminate most of its carbon emissions in the next decades from its routes, the penultimate leg in a thousands-mile journey.  

Rivian Automotive Inc. delivery vans are powered by 309 Siemens electric car chargers in the parking lot across the street. Delivery without tailpipe emissions and expanding the electric fleet are two of the easiest ways Amazon can reduce carbon emissions.

Amazon is the largest private electric vehicle charging infrastructure operator in the US, having deployed over 17,000 chargers at 120 facilities in two years. “We’ve figured out the path,” said Amazon last-mile delivery fleet manager Tom Chempananical.  

United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. have aggressive electric vehicle ambitions, but many have failed to reduce e-commerce delivery emissions. Amazon withdrew its promise to make half of its deliveries carbon-free by 2030, citing climate aims. However, the company has advanced faster and farther in the EV transition than other competitors. Understanding Amazon's constraints, which include meeting tight shipping dates, can help other companies across industries reduce their carbon footprints.

“Amazon’s scale matters,” said Kellen Schefter, director of transportation at the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association for investor-owned utilities that has connected Amazon to power firms. “We can prove this all works if Amazon meets its climate and package-delivery goals.”  

Amazon needs improvement. Since Jeff Bezos's 2019 promise to quit emitting greenhouse gases, the Seattle-based company's 2022 emissions rose roughly 40% to 71 million metric tons. Air freight, ocean transportation, building, and electronics manufacturing are among Amazon's emissions sources that don't have a carbon-free alternative. Amazon has made little progress on decarbonizing long-haul trucking, whose emissions are concentrated in industrial and remote locations rather than the large metropolis that inspired its electric delivery vehicle expansion.  

Amazon plans to buy as much solar, wind, and other carbon-free electricity as it uses by next year. Amazon believes Rivian, which it has invested heavily in and ordered 100,000 custom-built delivery vans, 13,500 of which have been delivered, can reduce its last-mile delivery emissions.  

Amazon had to learn to call the electricity company to get there. Amazon was a new customer for electric utilities, which previously powered home auto charging setups. A 100,000-square-foot warehouse in an industrial location may consume 50 kilowatts for lighting and air circulation, according to government figures. Setting up 100 parking lot chargers could use 10–20 times more power.

“What was different here was this was a new type of electric use,” said EEI's Schefter. “That’s a huge parking lot power requirement.” That need could be supplied rapidly if local transmission lines have surplus capacity. Upgrades can take years in unused grid areas. 11 Startups Driving the $1.8 Trillion Climate Tech Revolution  

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