How Amazon Became the Largest US Private EV Charging Operator (Part-2)

Amazon also acquired patience and flexibility. The company prefers production-line-like cookie-cutter procedures. In reality, Amazon's hundreds of last-mile delivery warehouses have diverse designs, parking lot layouts, and local utility protocols. “It was a bit of a surprise, how long we would need to prepare for infrastructure lead time,” said Amazon logistics sustainability team leader Chris Atkins.  

Amazon was questioned by large utilities in 2020 about how much power it would need and where. Commonwealth Edison, Illinois's largest electricity provider, sent representatives. The pandemic made it difficult for the utility to buy new equipment, so it repurposed existing transformers for Amazon. Diana Sharpe, who handles large customers at Exelon Corp.-owned firm, said, “We were doing some pretty creative stuff internally to make sure we had what they needed and that we could meet the timelines that they wanted.”  

Rivian began rolling out huge numbers of vans in spring 2022 when ComEd routed power to an Amazon warehouse in Pullman, Chicago. Rivian's CEO cut the vans' ribbon in July. Four Amazon facilities in greater Chicago utilize ComEd to power 1,100 chargers.  

Amazon learnt and doesn't want to talk about: becoming green can be pricey at first. Bloomberg believes that Amazon's hardware, mostly Level 2 chargers, cost between $50 million and $90 million, based on National Renewable Energy Laboratory cost estimates. Beyond connectors and accessories, excavating through a parking lot to lay lines or installing electrical panels and cabinets might treble that amount. Amazon would not disclose their EV charging spending.  

Electric car fleet operators pay for chargers and utilities upgrades. Companies like Amazon, whose Maple Valley warehouse has three megawatts of charger power, pay for capacity upgrades, making the utility whole for work done for a single customer. Amazon covers upgrade costs as defined by utilities, however in some regions the upgrades fit within the usual service power companies will handle out of pocket.  

Amazon ordered Rivian because program staff expected an electric delivery fleet to be cheaper than the company's conventional fleet, which includes bulk-ordered gasoline and diesel vehicles from Ford Motor Co., Mercedes-Benz Group AG, and Stellantis NV. Chempananical said Amazon liked Rivian's price, but Amazon's presence is unknown. “All of those costs continue to scale down,” he said. “As usage grows, demand, supply, efficiency, and driving improve.”  

Amazon had to organize charger sharing. At the Maple Valley warehouse, 77 electric vans can choose among 307 level 2 chargers. Some places offer fewer chargers than vans. Van charging takes many hours, which first caused problems. Amazon first ordered van fleet and driver subcontractors to maintain their workforce working overnight to rotate vans between chargers. Amazon took that function in-house last November, freeing subcontractors to drive instead of babysit charges. “They need the drivers, ultimately,” Chempananical said.  

The vans, designed for Amazon's harsh package-every-90-second routes and numerous stops, are popular with contract drivers. Amazon's Delivery Service Partners, the drivers' employers, are unhappy. Two West Coast delivery service providers, who requested anonymity to protect their connection with Amazon, claimed Rivian van body work costs two or three times as much as conventional vehicles since few body shops are authorized to operate on them. Spares are scarce.

Trucking is harder for Amazon and the industry. Electric automobiles and light-duty trucks are significantly farther ahead than tractors that transport cargo containers from ports and warehouses (see Tesla's semi truck, which is still in pilot production years after its unveiling). Rivian electric vehicles with bug eyes are widespread in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and their suburbs.  

The areas that host the large warehouses farther up the supply chain, frequently impoverished neighborhoods in northeast Pennsylvania or California's Inland Empire, have yet to gain from electrification. According to a source, Amazon has delayed and shelved trucking-related and other “middle mile” sustainability expenditures in its post-pandemic cost-cutting efforts.  

Atkins dismissed the criticism, citing Amazon's purchases of compressed natural gas trucks and green hydrogen manufacturers. “It's important that we get it right and not scale with the wrong partners,” he said. “It will get there,” Chempananical said of Amazon's middle mile initiatives. “Just when and how we get there.”  

At the Maple Valley warehouse, Amazon delivery service provider Pacific Delivery and Logistics owner Justin Shearer shows visitors his area. He works another job like many of Amazon's small army of delivery contractors. Shearer sold mining and logging equipment before becoming a commercial fisherman. Not an environmentalist. But keeping oil products off the road has obvious benefits, he said.  

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