The great EV infrastructure challenge

The great EV infrastructure challenge

5 Electric Vehicle chargers
Shutterstock Plinsboorg

This article has been adapted from GreenBiz's weekly newsletter, Transport Weekly, running Tuesdays. Subscribe here

As a former tech reporter who covered the emergence of communication networks such as fiber broadband, 3G and home WiFi, I find myself thinking a lot about the infrastructure that will be required for the coming electrified transportation revolution. 

Building out such infrastructure — chargers, grid gear, software and communication networks — will be a massive business opportunity and also a colossal challenge. 

A group of transportation leaders at our Commercial ZEV Summit last month named the lack of resilient charging infrastructure as the commercial EV industry's biggest bottleneck. In Bloomberg New Energy Finance's annual EV Outlook report, the research firm describes EV charging infrastructure quite simply as "a challenge in our forecast."

But for a big energy company such as Siemens, which sells hardware and software from plug to grid, the need for electric vehicle charging gear is a defining market opportunity. It's "a tsunami that is happening right now," says John DeBoer, head of Siemens' eMobility and Future Grid Business Unit.

DeBoer says that last year, Siemens decided that "e-mobility" would be one of the top strategic growth fields for the entire company. That's following a period where the company entered the market a little too early (in 2009) and ended up retrenching. 

Last year, Siemens opened a factory in Wendell, North Carolina, that produces chargers for electric buses and trucks. The truck and bus charging market "really took off in the second half of this year," says DeBoer. Now Siemens is working with public and private fleet managers to build truck and bus charging depots "in an intelligent way," says DeBoer, which includes looking holistically at scaling, financing and options such as onsite battery storage. 

Expect the rollout of big commercial electric charging depots to be a hot trend in 2020. Look, in particular, at places such as California that can tap into state incentives, such as the Frito-Lay facility in Modesto, California.

Check out the battery-powered Budweiser beer truck created by BYD for Anheuser-Busch. The beer maker bought 21 of them.

Anheuser-Busch's electric delivery trucks
Anheuser-Busch

Today, I'll be at The Battery Summit in Menlo Park, and I plan to give a brief talk on 10 things you should know about the future of EV infrastructure. Here's a sneak peek for my reader friends:

  1. The market opp: The deployment of EV infrastructure is a huge market opportunity. Research firm Navigant estimates about 1.2 million charging ports were available throughout North America last year and that number will grow to over 12.6 million by 2027. At the same time, there are hurdles in the business model of deploying and operating EV chargers.
  2. It's lagging: The electrification of transportation is partly being held back by the slow pace of electric vehicle charging infrastructure deployment. Tech innovation and policy could help reduce barriers for EV charging, which would significantly speed up the EV transition.
  3. One thing that's killing charging: Utility demand charges have been a barrier for the use and growth of fast public EV chargers. This challenge has led to new workarounds: pairing chargers with batteries, as well as new rate design. Startups are creating new products that combine batteries and chargers and utilities in piloting new rate designs.
  4. Utility evolution: The role of utilities is changing around EV charging. More utilities are beginning to see EV charging as a business opportunity and a potential way to manage grids. Many are taking a proactive approach to plan for the integration of EVs.
  5. Fleet electrification: Fleets of transit buses, school buses, delivery trucks and port trucks are beginning to quickly electrify, and this is requiring the buildout of massive charging depots that deliver megawatts of electricity.
  6. Big oil: Big oil companies such as Shell are beginning to invest in charging infrastructure at their fueling stations. However, this could lead to a skewed public charging market around existing facilities.
  7. Rate design innovation: There needs to be more innovation in rate design for this early phase of EV charging. Rates that are more friendly to consumer and commercial EV drivers could significantly boost EV adoption.
  8. Home charging: Owners of passenger EVs do about 80 percent of their charging at home. This creates a barrier for an EV owner that doesn’t own a home with a garage. Cities and utilities are piloting better ways to charge EVs at multi-family dwellings and for renters.
  9. V2G: Electric vehicles are beginning to be used for grid services in early markets, but barriers to vehicle-to-grid applications remain, such as a lack of business model and vehicles with the capability.
  10. Partnerships: Collaboration among diverse stakeholders — utilities, automakers, infrastructure providers, regulators, building facilities managers — will be key to deploy EV infrastructure more rapidly.