Electric vehicles are gaining popularity, but charging infrastructure remains stuck in the slow lane. Is shared ownership the answer?
When we’re talking about the future of mobility, too often the car is the star of the show. However, to deliver the promised vision of a world where we all drive clean, quiet, efficient vehicles that are electric, connected and increasingly autonomous, the less glamorous yet equally important issue of charging infrastructure also needs to be given its time in the spotlight.
Just as internal combustion engine vehicles require filling stations, electric vehicles (EVs) also need ubiquitous charging points — whether private or publicly available. In fact, they are arguably even more critical, as recharging takes substantially longer than refueling, at least with the current technology and price points. And an EV with a juiced-out battery cannot be rescued simply by injecting a few units of electricity into it from a plug.
The question of what comes first — EVs or charging infrastructure — has largely been addressed. It’s the setting-up of charging infrastructure that precedes the EV uptake.
As cities become congested because of increased urbanization and vertical living, available and accessible real estate for charging infrastructure will be a major hurdle. Collaborations and alliances — between charge point operators (CPOs), automakers, utilities, oil and gas players and real estate providers — are a prudent way to solve this real estate issue.
Beyond real estate
After space availability, getting to scale quickly on an easy-to-use, fast, widely available, vehicle-agnostic charging infrastructure is one of the industry’s biggest needs. Yet the current reality could hardly be further away from that goal.
It is characterized by geographically patchy and inadequate coverage, coupled with a baffling range of charging speeds, standards, connectors, providers and payment methods. This is enough to make charging sufficiently complicated and confusing to put off all but the keenest of customers and investors.
Although the global total of charging points reached around 3.5m in 2017, fewer than 500,000 of them are publicly available chargers.1 Only 112,000 are publicly available fast chargers of 20kW and above, and three-quarters of those are in China. The vast majority of chargers worldwide are private and slow, inaccessible to most users and increasingly obsolete as a consequence of rising battery capacity and user demand for reduced charging times.
Finding a public fast-charging point is a challenge for most users, as is paying to use it, thanks to a plethora of operators requiring different accounts and specific applications. Consequently, most of the charging is still done at home, which rules out EV ownership to apartment-dwelling urban residents for whom EVs would otherwise be the obvious choice.