Convenient and Compelling EV Charging

Originally published on CNBC on April 21, 2017

Anyone paying attention to mainstream news should notice a steady, growing stream of headlines about electric vehicles (EVs) and EV charging. The space is moving at breakneck speed in anticipation of the coming EV marketplace. In February, Germany announced plans to expand investment in electric vehicle charging. Shell, the oil giant, also recently announced plans to deploy EV charging in the UK and the Netherlands.

Given the momentum in the space, it may prove useful to dig into the topic, examine key factors and assess how this might play out.

First, some general perspective. When new technology comes to market, the first deployment tends to emulate the closest legacy comparable. When radio first came out, radio hosts often simply read newspaper stories on air, before delivering programming native to the new format. Many early TV programs were simply adaptations of popular radio programming.

That’s a long-winded way to suggest that while EV charging may start as a new “pump” at existing gas stations, it may not land there ultimately. Traditional city gas stations may not be where/how we “energize” our cars in the future.

Yes, there will be supercharging energy stations along major highways for long-haul traffic with fully depleted batteries and a need to recharge to continue the journey. Not those stations. Consider the gas stations on the street corners around Main Street. Those stations will likely see less and less use over time.

We’re too focused on wired super charging at gas stations and not focused enough on wireless charging everywhere else.

Let’s talk numbers to frame the assertion.

Coming out of 2017, with the Tesla 3 and the Chevy Bolt, we’ll have two electric vehicles priced in the mid range that feature well over 200-mile range. The number of models with comparable range will certainly grow, and we’ll see range improvements to boot. EV owners generally have home charging stations, and the majority of EV drivers will leave their house every morning with a “full tank” that supports a range over 200 miles.

Looking at Statistic Brain, over 95 percent of commuters have daily, round-trip commutes that are less than 150 miles. Ninety-two percent are under 70 miles. A 200-mile range easily covers most Americans’ daily routes and needs.

Short story, most EV drivers will not need to charge up during the day. If charging is inconvenient in any way, there is no real need to bother.

We’re likely to see behavior similar to that of cell phones, whereby EV drivers will seek to “top off” where convenient or compelling on their daily route. These charges will be “energy snacks”, with little need for a supercharge.

What is convenient and compelling?

  • Convenient is pulling into Whole Foods and having the car charge wirelessly while you shop.
  • Compelling is Whole Foods topping off the battery for free while you shop because you’re a Rewards member.
  • Convenient is pulling into the commuter train station and having the car charge wirelessly, reflecting the “roaming charges” on your electrical utility bill.
  • Compelling is the utility maximizing your self-consumption of solar by coordinating charging to occur when your solar panels are producing excess energy in the middle of the day.

What’s not convenient or compelling is getting out the car, connecting a plug, executing a commercial transaction and waiting. For that reason, we won’t see much EV charging at the gas stations around town. Around highways for long distance support, sure, but not around town.

Based on convenience, we are going to start seeing wireless charging develop in the EV charging landscape. Dave Roberts from Vox had it right when he referred to wireless EV as his “pet dark horse” in a recent article.

Yes, wireless charging is early in its tech life cycle, but it’s real. It’s coming because it’s convenient and compelling.

Up to this point, the analysis here has been from the perspective of the EV driver, but wireless charging is compelling for commercial property owners as well. If you’re IKEA or Target and 20% of your consumers (eventually) have EVs, do you want an array of visible charging stations with a bunch of grimy cords in your parking lots? They’re unattractive, and that’s before the hazard from the cords turns into liability.

On the manufacturer side, Mercedes has already announced wireless charging to be built into its S500e plug-in hybrid sedan. BMW is working on it, and most of the rest are rumored to be. Nissan just announced a collaboration with WiTricity around EV charging.

It is also worth noting that wireless charging is likely a requirement for autonomous vehicles to proliferate. (Admittedly, there are other solutions. There’s the Tesla charging snake. Cars could also conceivably drive themselves to a place where humans plug in wired chargers.)

Back to the point.

People aren’t going to go a place to charge. They’re going to charge at the places they go.

EV charging isn’t likely to happen at upgraded gas stations around town. It’ll be overnight at home and at locations that feature in daily rounds. And, it will likely be increasingly wireless in the coming years.

For retailers, utilities, oil companies, parking facilities, auto manufacturers and entrepreneurs, there are exciting opportunities to offer new consumer convenience and create business opportunity based on the way that EV charging evolves. The companies that move quickly to build alliances around convenient and compelling charging networks will secure a long-standing asset of value and stand to capture business differentiating capability. There are incredible opportunities ahead to deliver consumer delight with big upside.

REFERENCES: