For as many plaudits as Tesla has received for its cars, plenty of its success must lie with that network of Superchargers. The far-sighted idea to build out the recharging infrastructure necessary to make road trips possible in an electric vehicle has surely done much to win friends, particularly among those vocal drivers for whom the inability of a car to drive across several of the smaller states in a day is an instant disqualification.
Outside of Tesla’s walled garden, things can be a lot more confusing. There are different kinds of plugs. Some charging stations take all day to top up your battery; others can do it in a handful of hours. Maybe you get to the right charger, but an inconsiderate jerk in a gasoline-powered car is parked in the spot. These are all annoyances in the lives of EV early adopters and things that we’ll need to change before those dreams of an all-EV passenger fleet are realized.
ChargePoint is one of the companies that wants to get us there, and on Wednesday it raised another $50 million to help it do so. As most EV drivers will know, ChargePoint’s network is pretty extensive, with more than 28,000 charging points here in the US. Unlike other charging networks like NRG EVgo, it doesn’t actually own the hardware; think of it more like Uber or AirBnB.
Several weeks ago, we met with ChargePoint CEO Pat Romano to discuss the state of EV infrastructure and the future of the gas station. Public and workplace charging will become a lot more common, he told us. “Most people aren’t looking at it as a profit center, it’s an amenity or adjunct to something else,” he said. “If you look at liquid fuel it’s never been a profitable industry from a retail perspective, it’s been an amenity to a convenience store. So if you’re not generating the electricity, why do you think you’re going to make money selling it?”
Instead, a grocery store or mall that has an EV charger in its parking lot just created an added incentive for some of its customers to choose it over rivals. (Indeed, I’ve noticed this very effect working on me when Ars has had an EV or plug-in hybrid to test.) Within the next decade, we might begin to see some highway fast-charging stations, Romano told us, “but the frequency which you’re going to use a charger will be low; it doesn’t require that many sites to fully cover the major interstates.”
Romano was blunt when asked about the confusing state of having different plugs and charging speeds. “It’s pretty sordid,” he said. “In an early market you don’t want the added confusion. As they’re understanding all the wonderful things about electric driving, you don’t want to create a bad experience.”
Level-two chargers (typically under 7kW) are pretty straightforward, he continued. “You can always plug your car in, no issues with compatibility.” But DC fast charging is a mess, with competing standards SAE Combo and CHAdeMO (We’ll leave Tesla’s Superchargers out since they’re not only much faster but also exclusively the preserve of Tesla’s EVs). Hyundai’s choice of SAE Combo for its Iconiq EV platform (debuted at the NY Auto Show in March) may represent a tipping point for that standard, he thought.
Looking a bit further out, Romano thinks the gas station’s days are numbered. “By 2025, it will be virtually impossible to buy a car without a plug. With the oil industry heading into a tailspin and gas stations disappearing quickly, it won’t be long before drivers are suffering from “gas anxiety,” not “range anxiety,” he said.
As the concentration of EVs within the passenger fleet grows, gas stations will have fewer customers popping in to buy milk or Sour Patch Kids, which is where they make their profit. At some point the loss of trade will see these gas stations shutter—exacerbating a problem not just of dense urban cores but also inner suburbs.
As for that problem of conventional cars ICEing out the public chargers? It will probably take until the mid-2020s before there are enough EVs out there for everyone to finally get the message that it’s not cool to ICE out drivers who need a charge.
Source: ARS Technica