Global oil and gas companies have begun diversifying into renewable energy and EV charging assets over the past few years and now they’re practically tripping over each other to catch up with Tesla and other EV stakeholders. The latest example is BP, which just put up $5 million to jump into the EV charging market in Europe and the UK.
Okay, so $5 million is a drop in the bucket relative to BP’s size, but when one of the Earth’s sprawling fossil fuel giants puts some serious money into EV charging, that’s a tipping point.
BP Gets Serious About EV Charging
Last summer, BP made some rumbling noises about installing EV chargers at its gas stations, and it looks like this is the solution, or at least part of it.
In BP’s new electric vehicle venture, the $5 million pie will go to the US company FreeWire, which markets a clever little EV charging station on wheels called Mobi. You just plug it into any home outlet that can handle a major household appliance and you’re good to go.
Mobi comes equipped with onboard energy storage in the form of “second-life” EV batteries, so yes, electric vehicles are already eating themselves.
Considering that Mobi is about the size of a pushcart, it sounds like you’re not going to spend much time on installation, right? All you need is a place to park your Mobi and a place to plug it in. BP expects to send the little guys rolling into selected BP stations this year in the UK and Europe.
In a press release, Tufan Erginbilgic, chief executive of BP Downstream made the point that EV charging is the road BP is taking to lay claim to the title “fuel retailer of choice” at some future point, though he did hedge a little:
“EV charging will undoubtedly become an important part of our business, but customer demand and the technologies available are still evolving.”
That’s an interesting point, especially that part about customer demand. When Ford recently rolled out its ambitious $11 billion plan to electrify more of its cars, the company made noted that it was forging ahead even though its customers weren’t exactly clamoring for electric vehicles.
A recent survey of auto execs and auto buyers also suggests that the consumer market has yet to be completely sold on EVs, particularly not in the US (I know, right? Shocker!).
In that context, a fleet of cute little mobile charging stations sounds like a low-risk, high-impact way to pinpoint demand hotspots for EV charging and fill that demand with lightning speed, at relatively low cost. Here’s Erginbilgic enthusing over the potentials:
“Using FreeWire’s mobile system we can respond very quickly and provide charging facilities at forecourts where we see the greatest demand without needing to make significant investments in today’s fixed technologies and infrastructure. The opportunity also to explore options for providing charging services away from our existing retail sites makes FreeWire an ideal partner for BP.”
Yep, better get moving on that EV charging thing before Tesla beats you to the punch!
$5 Million For An EV Future — With Renewables!
If FreeWire rings a bell, that could be because CleanTechnica got wind of the company back in 2015, when it was competing in the SAFE Energy Security Prize. The company had some ambitious plans and now it looks like all that hard work is going to pay off. Here’s the FreeWire pitch from 2015:
“Mobis can also be used as grid resources while recharging by soaking up excess renewable power and modulating recharge rates in response to demand response events. Our diesel generator replacement version, Mobi Gen, delivers clean, quiet power wherever it’s needed, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions and demand for oil … using a core competency, mobile battery systems, to add value in multiple different markets allows us to play a major role in securing America’s future energy.”
Not too long ago, EV doubters raised the point that more electric vehicles translates into more demand for power generation, and consequently more demand for coal and nuclear energy. Baloney. The energy storage angle is the key to integrating more wind and solar into the grid.
For the record, BP met up with FreeWire through RocketSpace, a San Francisco–based accelerator that does exactly that: hook up huge corporations with startups.
Also for the record, BP is still on the hook for fallout from its fossil fuel legacy, but it has been ramping up its renewable energy transition.
Just two months ago BP sank $200 million investment in the solar developer LightSource, which is a big 180 from the company’s position on solar energy just a year or so ago.
Follow me on Twitter.
Photo (cropped) via BP