Schneider joins ABB, Siemens, Eaton in EV quick-charging race

[Editor's note: In other news related to EV charging, check out Max Baumhefner's story today about how a new rate proposal from PG&E could give EV owners in its service area access to clean fuel costing the equivalent of $1 per gallon.]

Quick charging, also known as fast charging, is widely considered an important gateway to the mass adoption of electric vehicles. The process "fills up" an EV battery up to 80 percent capacity in 15 to 30 minutes, effectively extending the range for all-electric vehicles as long as a string of quick-charging stations are on the way.

And indeed a growing number of infrastructure providers are taking steps to bring quick charging stations to market in hopes to make potential EV owners more comfortable in buying and driving EVs.

This week, at EVS 26 in Los Angeles, Schneider Electric announced U.S. availability of its new EVlink DC Quick Charger through authorized channel partners. The product meets full compliance with existing standards for quick chargers and includes RFID authentication and credit card payment systems as well as installation and maintenance services.

"We see DC quick charging as a tremendous opportunity in removing barriers and building out a pervasive charging EV infrastructure," said Mike Calise, director of Schneider's EV power business in an interview. Schneider Electric currently offers both indoor and outdoor Level 2 charging stations -- the more common plug-in station that typically takes up to 8 hours to deliver a full load -- and a range of EV charging solutions.

Calise sees opportunities for quick chargers in parking garages, shopping malls, car-sharing programs and private commercial fleets.

Schneider Electric plans to integrate the full suite of EV charging products as part of an intelligent cities strategy, Calise says, and is working with multi-tenant building owners, utilities and municipalities to enable the next major wave of electric vehicles.

Indeed, as the EV infrastructure continues to build out, many players are ready to pounce on the growing EV market.

Eaton Corporation (NYSE: ETN), for example, announced last week the installation of Canada's first DC quick-charge station at Mitsubishi headquarters in Ontario. Earlier this year, Eaton partnered with Coulomb Technologies, who has 6,000 charging stations in 14 countries, as part of the cloud-based ChargePoint Network offering payment services and mobiles app to find and locate charging stations. (For its part, the Calif.-based Coulomb Technologies also announced this week the completion of $47.5 million in Series D financing.)

Siemens (NYSE: SI) has a quick-charger pilot project in Germany and a plan in Portugal to install 100-plus charging stations in 25 cities by the end of 2012. Zurich-based ABB is rolling out 200 DC quick charging stations in Estonia with full nationwide network coverage. Manufacturing will begin in New Berlin, Wisc., with availability expected in the second half of this year.

Other noteworthy competitors include AeroEnvironment (Nasdaq: AVAV), which is installing a network of EV charging stations along the I-5 corridor in Oregon and NRG Energy, which is investing $50.5 million to cover at a minimum 200 fast charging stations around California as part of a comprehensive settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission in March.

As if that weren't enough, the race to find the most convenient way to enable wide-scale EV adoption includes a competition between quick charge and battery swapping.

Well-known Israel-based Better Place offers the option to swap out depleted batteries for fully charged ones, a process that takes significantly less time with the added benefit of reducing stress on the electrical grid. But battery swapping remains a capital-intensive process, in the realm of $500,000 per battery-swapping station, versus $15,000 - $25,000 to deploy DC quick-charging stations.

All in all, it should be an interesting, high-stakes battle as Schneider Electric and counterparts continue the rollout of fast-charging facilities in North America, Europe, Japan and beyond.

Photo courtesy of Schneider Electric.