EV Charging Stations not Leading the Charge Fast Enough - Jobs at Risk

Renault EVThis is the typical chicken and egg problem. No charging stations, no electric cars; no electric cars, no charging stations. Without charging stations everywhere, the range of EV's will remain a problem, until battery and charging technologies deliver break-throughs in increased capacity and shorter charge time.

Scientists estimate that it will take 5 to 10 years to get to a point where it will take 5 minutes to charge an EV battery for a 300-mile range. Currently it can take from 1 to several hours to charge EV batteries on a 110V circuit. For example, the Nissan Leaf gets 6 miles per hour of charge with a 120V charger, and 12 miles with a 240V charger. To compound the problem, in order to be truly clean, EV charging stations should be powered by renewable energy sources.

In addition to the U.S. France is a good example of this chicken and egg problem: due to the small number of charging stations (2,000), EV leader Renault has just launched a program to install 1,000 fast chargers around France to kickstart the market. France plans on building 75,000 charging stations by 2015, but Renault can't wait (full disclosure: I'm French, but I don't own Renault stock!). In contrast, Germany and The Netherlands already have 15,000 stations.

Market research firm Frost and Sullivan estimates that the U.S will have over 4 million charging stations by 2017. How will we'll get there remains a big unanswered question. And tens of thousands of green jobs are dependent on the EV market taking hold.

Car manufacturers and venture capitalists both have a very keen interest in this market. Its potential is huge, measured in tens of billions of dollars. Both have been pouring huge amounts of capital (well over $1 billion) into charging station companies in the past 5 years.

Four of these charging stations companies are coming out ahead of the pack. The race is intense with all the players trying to sign partnerships with large retailers (Ikea, Walmart, Walgreens), parking operators, mall operators, airports, rental car companies, fortune 500 companies (Boeing, Google), and of course, the largest potential customer, the federal government. But the pace is not fast enough.

  • Better Place
    Better Place has raised a staggering $830 million in 5 years, including $100 million last week from its Israeli backer Israel Corporation. In my opinion its system of swapping depleted batteries with fully charged ones in a few minutes is absolutely the best, compared to the time it takes to recharge batteries. Edging its bets, Better Place also provides a battery charging service. The company is building swapping/charging stations in Israel, Denmark, The Netherlands, China, North America, and Australia. Its main problem: acceptance by electric car makers. So far only Nissan and Renault have built EVs that are compatible with Better Place's battery swapping system.

    Better Place currently has no open green jobs.

  • Coulomb Technologies/ChargePoint
    Coulomb Technologies's ChargePoint system is today the most developed with almost 10,000 charging stations in 14 countries, including the US. Coulomb has raised about $100 million in venture capital (from top VC firm Kleiner Perkins among many others), and recently received an undisclosed amount from BMW iVentures. Coulomb has also received $37 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for its ChargePoint America program. Coulomb is partnering with Fisker, GM, Ford and is the official charging station for the Nissan Leaf, and the Mercedes Smart Fortwo.

    ChargePoint seems to be ahead of its competitors with an impressive list of partners, and its smart phone apps to help EV owners locate charging stations, and manage their account. In a smart branding move to focus its brand awareness on a single name, Coulomb recently renamed itself ChargePoint, Inc.

    ChargePoint green jobs.

  • eVgo
    evGo is a fully owned subsidiary of NRG Energy, an electric utility. It has signed a $100 million contract with the California Public Utilities Commission, just approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The contract calls for the installation of 200 publicly available charging stations in retail locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Los Angeles area, and San Diego County. The installation is expected to create 200 construction jobs over 4 years, and an economic benefit of $185 million.

    The dark side of the story behind evGo/NRG and the state of California is that the $100 million they are investing is the result of a settlement between NRG and the California Public Utility Commission after NRG was found to have overcharged its customer $1 billion in 2000 and 2001. ECOTality (see below) filed a lawsuit against the California PUC in April of 2012 to annul the settlement, claiming that it's anti-competitive.

    evGo green jobs.

  • ECOTotality
    Founded in 1989, ECOTality is the oldest of the charging station companies. ECOTotality has 3 main business units: Blink, its network of charging stations, Innergy Power , a maker of EV batteries and solar panels, and FuelCellStore, an online fuel cells store.

    ECOtality is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, but its outlook is not very bright. It has received a notice of de-listing from Nasdaq for failure to maintain a minimum bid price above $1.00. In 2009 and 2010, the company received two U.S. DOE grants totaling $115 million to build charging stations and deploy Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt EV's in 5 states. It also received an $8 million grant from the California Energy Commission in 2010.

    ECOTality green jobs.

The charging station market is starting to layer itself with 2 different types of players: the developers and makers of stations, and the companies that are installing and operating them. The four companies above are all makers of charging stations, and sometimes act as installers and operators as well.

Other charging station makers and operators include 350Green, AeroVironment, Aker Wade, Andromeda Power, Eaton Corporation, EVCharge America, General Electric, OpConnect, and SemaConnect.

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