SHAWNEE, Kan. — A Kansas City-area startup company is trying to make it easier to drive electric vehicles in the metro and across the nation.
HiON EV is taking over fast charging stations that were installed by Evergy almost a decade ago and bringing them back online. The original stations were installed with grant money but recently became too old for today’s cellular technology that handles payment and other tasks.
“The trouble is that these stations were on the 3G network and when the 3G network was decommissioned nationwide last year, they basically went dark,” said Evergy’s Senior Manager of Electrification Products and Services Nick Voris.
Thats’ where Shawnee’s HiON EV stepped in. Jim Frank started the company three and a half years ago, capitalizing on the growing need for chargers that can give electric vehicles about 150 miles of range in about a half hour.
“All the infrastructure was in place, it just needed a new piece of equipment,” said Frank.
It’s part of the effort to address the fear among drivers that their electric vehicle will run out of charge, called, “range anxiety.”
“It’s hugely important that we have public charging, but also that public charging has to work,” Voris said. “Our EV drivers need to have confidence that when they pull into a charging station, that station is going to be operable and it’s going to give them the charge that they need.”
That confidence has been shaken by reports of unreliable charging stations.
“Early sites were bought by a single owner that wasn’t really accustomed to managing another piece of equipment they didn’t know anything about,” said Frank. “So, these things are going into disrepair and nobody’s paying attention to them.”
It’s a sign of progress in an industry that’s faced some challenges recently. Electric vehicles tend to be more expensive than gas-powered cars. Friday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury changed rules about which EVs are eligible for subsidies, excluding some of them, making them even more costly for buyers.
As owner/operator companies like HiON become more common, Frank says the customer service and maintenance aspect will quickly get better.
“The privatization is what’s going to make it more reliable because if that thing’s not on, I don’t make money,” Frank said. “So, I’m motivated more than anybody else to keep that thing up and running.”
HiON EV is installing fast charging stations across the nation. It’s getting subsidies in Kansas to upgrade the technology and Frank says they’ll take advantage of similar subsidies in Missouri to do the same work.
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Beyond that, he says the trick is figuring out how many charging stations a community needs while still being profitable as more drivers eventually buy EVs.
“So, we’re going to get some infrastructure, then we’re going to get a whole bunch of cars, then we’re going to need more infrastructure,” Frank said.