Disclaimer. After nearly 40 years managing money for some of the largest life offices and investment managers in the world, I think I have something to offer. These days I'm retired, and I can't by law give you advice. While I do make mistakes, I try hard to do my analysis thoroughly, and to make sure my data are correct (old habits die hard!) Also, don't ask me why I called it "Volewica". It's too late, now.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

An EV charging network to rival Tesla's

The factors holding back widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) have up till now been:

  • Cost.  Electric cars have been more expensive than their petrol-driven equivalents (ICEVs) Only in the last year or so have we started to get EVs which cost the same as the average ICEV (the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Bolt, Tesla's Model 3, though that is still not available in its cheapest configuration)
  • Range.  Because batteries cost so much, most EVs had small battery packs, which meant they had low ranges, with the obvious exception of Tesla. 
  • Charger network (again, with the exception of Tesla.)  These two (small battery packs and poor charging infrastructure) combined to produce range anxiety.  What if I run out of power 20 miles from home, or from the nearest charger?  How will I recharge my car if I'm stuck on the road miles from anywhere?
  • Availability.  In the US there are 43 EVs/PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles), of which 14 are pure EVs.  In Australia, there are a handful of either EVs or PHEVs.
  • Knowledge.  In a recent survey in the US, nearly 2/3rds (60%) of Americans aid they were "unaware of electric cars".  Not all are "Tesla tragics" like me.
Of course, these factors all interact.  Because EVs were expensive, sales were low, so charging networks were scanty, which meant range anxiety was and is a big issue  (more than 72% in the survey I linked to above) which meant sales were low, and so on and so on.  On the other hand, this feedback between these factors can also be positive: more EVs on the road mean that there is an incentive to extend the charger network which reduces range anxiety and so on.

Electrify America's planned supercharger network.
The cities highlighted will be home to metro networks.
(Source: Green Car Reports)

In the US, the non-Tesla charge network is being given a kick start.  Ironically, this is because of Dieselgate  As part of its settlement of criminal charges, VW agreed to spend $2 billion building a network of EV/PHEV chargers across the US.  It set up a new subsidiary, Electrify America, to own and run the new chargers.  This report, from Green Car Reports, gives more detail:

Mark 2018 as the year that practical, widespread electric-car charging really started coming to America.

We've had a lot of news about new charging networks coming to the U.S., and it doesn't look like it will be slowing down any time soon.

Following the announcement last week that 100 Walmart stores would get electric car fast chargers, Electrify America has announced that it will install 2,000 additional fast-charging stations at 484 locations across the country.

Electrify America is building a network to rival Tesla Superchargers that will serve electric cars from all the other automakers. It will give them the same ability to drive across the country that Tesla drivers already enjoy.

The chargers are coming now thanks to Volkswagen's settlement with the government over its diesel emissions scandal.

Under a consent decree with the EPA and California, the company agreed to spend $2 billion over 10 years to build a nationwide charging network for electric cars. Electrify America was formed to spend that money and build out the network.

The consent decree stipulates that the chargers have to be compatible with and accessible to electric cars made by any automaker.

This latest announcement, along with the Walmart release last week, constitute the bulk of the first $500 million phase of that rollout.

We spoke with Electrify America's chief operating officer Brendon Jones to get a get more detail on what the new network will look like, and whether to expect the kind of convenience that Superchargers now offer. In short, the news sounds encouraging for those who drive electric cars other than Teslas.

In accordance with the consent decree, the new network will roll out in phases, much like the Supercharger network did in the beginning.

The goal of the first phase is to expand electric car access to major travel corridors and within 17 metro areas across the country. These are mainly, but not entirely, in coastal cities.

At the end of the first $500 million investment phase, Electrify America also expects to have chargers spaced at approximately 80 mile intervals along two major cross country routes. Other cities and other routes will follow until the network is completed nationwide at the end of Phase 4 in 2025. Each construction phase is expected to last about two years, making the rollout a little slower than Tesla's, but just as comprehensive.

[Read more here]

Electrify America will also be installing some very fast chargers:

The Terra High Power charger can charge an electric vehicle (EV) in just eight minutes, thus adding up to 200 km of range, says ABB, which launched the new model at this year’s Hannover Messe.

“By operating at powers of up to 350 kilowatts, the newest model from ABB, Terra High Power charger, adds up to 200 kilometers of range to an electric vehicle in just 8 minutes,” said ABB in a statement released. This is said to add seven times more range in the same time than current models on the market.

ABB added that it has recently been selected for use by Electrify America, which announced last week that it will install electric vehicle chargers at more than 100 Walmart locations across 34 states by June 2019.

[Read more here]

Of course, this is still a decade behind Tesla.  But it's happening, at last.  Range anxiety will soon be a thing of the past. 

An aside:  The logical place for EV chargers would be at service stations.  EV sales is the US will be 5% of total sales by the middle of 2020, or earlier.  They're doubling every 18 months, so by 2023 they will be 20% of total sales.  If you own a chain of service stations, you should be starting to worry about declining petrol sales. Service stations (at least here in Oz) already offer coffee, snacks, and junk food as well as petrol.  Installing fast chargers would complement your existing business.  The European oil majors (BP, Total and Shell) seem to be aware of this risk to their retail businesses, with plans to roll out superchargers to European service stations.  The US oil companies do not.

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