With the recent announcement that public EV charging utility Ecotality was going into bankruptcy, a sober conversation is being had among the remaining providers of charging stations. Is there a sustainable business model for public charging points? The answer is no, not really, and if anybody should be providing customers charging points, it’s the automakers selling the EVs.
Common-sense studies show that EV owners do 90% of their charging either at work or home, leaving very few opportunities for privately-owned charging companies to make money. This is why Tesla is providing its Supercharger service for free, as it is seen as both a perk of ownership, and there probably wasn’t any way to Tesla to make enough to support each station. And where Tesla paid off its government loan, Ecotality looks like it could swallow most of the $99.8 million government grant it got in bankruptcy.
Most EV drivers have found that they can easily stay within the driving distance provided by a single charge, with studies confirming that even short-range EVs like the Nissan Leaf can handle 95% of trips. There’s simply no need to have EV chargers everywhere when most charging is done at work or home, and certainly not when it costs a premium price. Project Better Place, another bankrupt charging concept, learned that lesson the hard way as it was forced to charge a high-price for its complicated, membership-only charging infrastructure. But the slow adoption rate of the specialzed electric vehicles meant few buyers, and a billion dollars later Project Better Place is dead.
Still, there is need for some charging stations outside of the home garage or office parking lot. Tesla has the right idea, installing Superchargers along major driving routes like Interstate 95 on the East Coast, as well as up and down California. In fact, other automakers should lead by example and start installing charges sans government assistance, because our dysfunctional nation can’t even keep our national parks open. America the beautiful, am I right?
By providing EV charging stations at dealerships, which are often located near major shopping areas, it would give salesmen a chance to pitch the latest and greatest products to a captive audience. Pair charging points with coffee shops or delis, place stations near malls or stadiums, or even offer exclusive specials to drivers of high-end plug-ins. It would also give automakers a chance to sell “lifetime charging plans” that charge a flat monthly fee for use of well-placed fast-chargers at dealerships, malls, and elsewhere.
Dare I even suggest that automakers get together and contribute in equal parts to a universal charging network? Install them at key places, use the SAE-approved Combo charger, and almost overnight a national charging network would pop up. Keep these stations “advertising neutral”, but only put them along major interstates where drivers are likely to need to stop, rest, and recharge. There is no need to have EV chargers at every Starbucks or Trader Joes. Ecotality installed 13,000 chargers nationwide, but many of those were barely used at all; they put the cart before the horse, and so far the only bid for Ecotality is a paltry $3 million.
The idea that the government and local businesses should provide the infrastructure for a very minor part of the driving population is as dead as Ecotality and Project Better Place.
Source: Green Car Reports