Billboards + Power = Free EV Charging, Says Californian Company

Very little in this world comes for free, yet until recently, most public electric car charging stations in the world have been free to use — provided you have the right membership card for the network you’re trying to use or happen to be a Tesla customer.

With the exception of Tesla, which factors in the cost of providing free charging at its Supercharging stations into the sticker price of each and every car it sells, it’s now generally considered nigh-on impossible to have a financially sustainable business model which revolves around free charging,.  Yet one Californian company thinks it has figured out the perfect way to make money and give EV owners free power to charge their car: billboards.

Volta's business model relies on ad revenue to provide free EV charging.

Volta’s business model relies on ad revenue to provide free EV charging.

Enter Volta, a Californian firm which is working hard to revolutionise the way we think about public EV charging with a very simple idea: build a charging station into an advertising billboard.

No smart card, no membership requirements, and no need to get your credit card out, Volta’s concept is elegant, simple, and leverages the high-value potential of billboards with the need for EV charging in busy cities.As any ad executive will tell you, they’ll pay top dollar for any well-placed billboard that will help reach their product’s target market, so combining the high-income role of advertising with the relatively low-cost of level 2 charging provision seems like a perfect match.

Essentially, the ad revenue from each location not only provides Volta with a steady income stream, but it offsets any costs associated with providing free electricity.

Advertising on public charging stations isn’t new. Before it went bankrupt, Blink did display ads on some of its rapid charge and level 2 charging stations. Similarly, Chargepoint offers clients who buy its charging station the option of having ad-sponsored messages displayed on the charging station for plug-in car drivers to see.

In both of these situations however, the ads have been targeted primarily at the person charging their car, and are normally too small to see from more than a few feet away.  They were essentially charging stations with ads on them.

What would you say to free EV charging if it came with a billboard beside it?

What would you say to free EV charging if it came with a billboard beside it?

Volta’s solution is the inverse of this: integrating charging stations into billboards. That’s what we think makes this such a killer app.

At the moment, Volta is concentrating on urban Level 2 charging, presumably because it’s far easier and far cheaper to install a Level 2, 240-volt charging station than it is install a powerful three-phase DC CHAdeMO or CCS charging station.  It’s also worth noting that the kind of places where a more powerful charging station is likely to be — like a freeway rest stop for example — are less valuable locations for billboard advertising.  In addition, we’d assume that even with high-rate ads, the return on investment is far lower with rapid charging than it is with Level 2. 

At the moment, the majority of Volta’s charging stations seem to reside in Arizona, but the company has plans to compete with the established charging providers for urban Level 2 charging all across the U.S., giving customers a subsidized, ad-supported free charging experience instead of the pay-as-you go model most charging providers are now moving towards.

Do you think this is a good idea? Would you park your EV at an ad billboard?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • Richard Glover

    In this interconnected world I can see that if the charge point can recognise my car then it must be able to target the adds directly at me. Could be interesting.

  • Dennis Pascual

    Echoing what Richard Glover says. Additionally, the size of the billboard is large enough to provide display ads to everyone else when the charging station is not being used. Thereby providing additional revenue to the sponsor site. nnnWhilst charging, if the station can determine the draw of the car (i.e. 3,3kw vs 6.6kw vs 10kw) it may be able to tell the type of vehicle and upsell the person charging to another model vehicle… with faster charge.nnnThe Level 2/J1772 may be the sweet spot as it is relatively inexpensive to install and provides for a “captive” EV to charge from the spot as it will take a while to get filled up.

  • just someone old

    I saw a pic of cadillac Elr sponsoring a similar station, with 2 model s’s charging! I found it funny!nBut i think it was the best marketing possible!nbesides proposing ev drivers a new possibility for their next purchase, it tels also “if you buy an ELR you could be charging for FREE here”nnin a funny way the same thing Tesla is proposing with their superchargers!nMaybe marketingdivisions of some constructors just should work together!nBilboards could be their answer to superchargers!

  • jeffsongster

    Great idea… anything simple like this that makes level 2 stations more ubiquitous is awesome!

  • Michael Thwaite

    Lovely idea, some friends and I tried to put together a viable business model to see if we could do this. We couldn’t make the numbers work. I hope these guys have better luck!

  • Now – if they could use the Licence Plate Scanner Camera’s (Like Police use on Mobile Cruisers to check plates for reported vehicles, etc.) and use it to not just identify who is there, but if they are using an ICE or EV, they could target the advertising even better – and include Public Service announcements to let them know that – according to Local Laws, By-Laws, Signage, etc., “they have been observed parking illegally at an EV Charging Station and are subject to Ticketing and Towing!” They could also advise them if they buy and bring an EV to this spot next time and plug it in – they will be saving on fuel, and helping to clean up the Air!