Everyone is talking about electric vehicles. With all the major manufacturers releasing models, smart grid companies and utilities looking seriously at integration, and the U.S. Congress potentially putting $4 billion toward EV research, this year has been dubbed as “The Year of the Electric Car.”
Just this month, GM released the price tag of the upcoming Chevy Volt: $41,000. Some analysts are complaining about the price tag, saying that only a small number of consumers will pay for the car. GM has about $750 million riding on the success of the product, so people are watching closely.
The success of the car – and others like it – will depend not just on price, but on availability of infrastructure. As the EV market grows, some people are concerned about the classic chicken-and-egg problem: Which comes first – the cars or the supporting infrastructure? Well, it appears that conundrum isn't as problematic as it sounds. With clear signals from government and car companies, EV charging companies are now preparing for a major rollout of charging devices around the world. (Well, okay – mostly in California for now).
A number of announcements for EV charging infrastructure roll-outs were made this week. Here are some of the biggest stories. Did someone say “Range Anxiety”? Not so fast.
- The California company ECOtality released a new charging station model called Blink for both residential and commercial applications. The first stations will be developed in the fall of this year as part of a 15,000 station project across six states. The company recently received a $114 million grant from the DOE to help with the effort.
- After that product announcement, ECOtality was again in the news for partnering with the telecom companyQualcomm to put cellular technology into the Blink charging stations in order to promote better data organization and transmission. These charging stations will be rich with information; the companies on the leading edge of managing that information will be key in helping drivers and utilities make smart charging decisions.
- Another California company, ClipperCreek, said that it has shipped more than 3,000 products in the last four years. In a press release, ClipperCreek noted that a large chunk of those shipments came only in the last few months as the talk around EVs has turned to action.
- Coulomb Technologies, also based in California, installed a networked charging station in San Jose this week under its $37 million ChargePoint America program. The company says it will roll out nine strategically-placed charging stations around the U.S. in the hopes of spurring development in other areas of the country. Given that California is where most of the action is taking place, Coulomb decided to put its first project there.
- Finally, outside the U.S., Korea is also jumping into the EV market. The South Korean capital Seoul will see 100 new charging stations by the end of this year, deployed by the city government in partnership with private developers. The South Korean government has also signed an agreement with the country's transportation authority to work on experimenting with new EV designs. The Koreans are known for their technological thirst. Government officials there have often said that EVs will play an important role in the country's energy strategy.
To add to these exciting developments, the California Public Utilities Commission ruled this week that providers of EV charging stations in California could not be regulated as utilities. That makes it easier for many of these companies to set up projects and sell services without an added burden of regulation. It it unclear how the California decision will impact other states, however.
These projects only begin to scratch the surface of what is needed to support an electricity-based transportation sector. But they certainly show that the chicken-and-egg problem is quickly fading away. Car companies are building the cars – now the infrastructure providers also have a reason to build.