Published on June 5th, 2018 | by Kyle Field0
Blink Network Founder and Executive Chairman Michael Farkas Talks Public Charging (CleanTechnica Exclusive)
June 5th, 2018 by Kyle Field
There are two primary segments of the public charging market that charging network operators are looking to tap. One segment of the market is all about “filling up” on the go. These operators want to help you charge up as fast as possible, much like gas stations do for gas cars. They’ll be built along expressways and at freeway entrances and exits. They’ll sport the highest speeds possible. In the US, evGo and ChargePoint are very much leaning into DC fast charging. In Europe, there are companies like Greenway and Fastned.
The other segment banks on drivers having long chunks of time to charge. Think home charging, workplace charging, and destination charging. In these cases, there is no reason to install expensive, top-of-the-line DC fast charging stations. Instead, a “Level 2 charger” is generally the best value for both parties, offering a nice rate of charging without blowing the bank.
For more on these different trends, check out The State of Public & Private Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure, and the Landscape Looking Forward.
A Place for AC
The Blink Charging Network, or Blink for short, was one of the early movers into public plug-in vehicle charging and continues to expand. Notably, Blink’s network is wholly owned and operated by Blink, which requires that chargers themselves be cost effective and financially viable from the get-go. CleanTechnica talked with Blink Charging Founder and Executive Chairman Michael Farkas to get an update on where the company is headed in light of the rapid increase in membership over the last 12 months.
Michael reiterated the base case for most drivers living in single-family homes, where day-to-day charging simply isn’t an issue. “Most people who have a single-family home with dedicated parking will charge there.” In addition, a good percentage of the population lives in multi-family buildings where charging might not be available, making public charging networks the primary source of juice for plug-in vehicles.
On the public charging side, Michael shared that Blink is investing heavily in AC charging (slower charging than DC fast or superfast charging), with roughly 90% of its chargers being AC chargers. Blink is charging forward with AC for a number of reasons, with long-range EVs at the top of the list. “As we’re seeing these cars mature and the battery cost being reduced, we’re seeing greater and greater ranges on these cars. What’s ultimately going to happen is that people simply won’t need to charge their cars as often.”
The cost of upgrading the electrical infrastructure to support DC fast charging is almost always cost-prohibitive. “Most of those places, especially in urban places where public charging will be necessary, won’t have the capacity for DC charging.” Blink’s owner-operator model forces accountability for each charging station as it must somehow be self-sufficient and profitable for the install to make sense.
Being a newer technology, DC charging stations are also much more expensive than the rather basic AC charging stations. This is further exaggerated by the constant churn of technology, bringing faster and faster charging stations into the equation. For a little perspective, 20 kW was “fast charging” not that long ago in the US, but that concept is laughable today.
Today, 50 kW stations are the norm, with 150 kW emerging as the new standard and 350+ kW being talked about by a handful of automobile manufacturers, charging network operators, and charging hardware manufacturers. For Blink, Michael shared that it is today “one of the largest owners of DC infrastructure in the country.”
The final straw for DC fast charging is demand charges. These are special charges applied by utilities when large amounts of power are pulled over a short period of time. DC fast chargers put a much larger straw into the bucket of electrons and, as such, they can slurp power much more rapidly, incurring demand charges that can consume a month’s worth of charging profits in a single session.
As station costs continue to fall and utilities develop pricing models that are more EV-friendly, DC may have a place in the future. “DC is not as profitable today but it is heading in this direction.” Until then, Blink is pushing full steam ahead with AC charging. “Our AC model currently, as well as for future hardware, makes financial sense that is profitable today.”
Up and to the Right
In parallel to its member growth over the last 12 months, Michael shared that the Blink Network is growing as well. Blink recently went public and, since then, the masses have taken notice. “We have a lot of eyeballs on our business over the last few weeks … everyone is finally now convinced that EVs are happening.”
It is truly an exciting time to be alive, and with all of the affordable, long-range electric vehicles hitting the streets in cities and countries around the world, public charging networks do seem primed to ride the trend up to new heights.
Anyone who has driven a plug-in car understands what an assault it is on our smartphones and wallets, as each charging network operator requires its own app or charging card to use its system. Compared to a petrol station, where any standard credit or debit card does the deed, EV charging is a mess. The ROEV network promised to alleviate this pain point but Michael shared that the ChargePoint-led alliance was doomed from the start, sharing that “‘ChargePoint is the biggest impediment to interoperability, period.”
Michael’s perspective was that ChargePoint not only didn’t steer the industry towards a standard but that the company has actively worked against a single charging card, noting that, “they have put every obstacle in the way of making that happen.”
As for Blink, it is all about playing nice. “We believe in complete interoperability.” A lot of this is likely the tension between the top dog (which wants to hold its position) and smaller charging networks, but Blink and others share a similar sentiment that interoperability is not a matter of which charging network is better or worse, but rather, a decision that is in the best interests of the consumer.
A Brave New World
Well, ChargePoint, the ball is in your court. We, the masses of plug-in vehicle drivers, would love to have a single card to rule them all. One card to charge at any EV charging station, AC or DC, fast or slow, near or far. What do you say?
Update from Chargepoint
To get the other side of the story, we reached out to ChargePoint for some perspective on the statements above and they came back with some context from team orange.
“ChargePoint founded ROEV along with several companies with the commitment to support single car roaming across networks. One of the primary goals was to make it easier for drivers to charge where they needed, when they needed, in line with ChargePoint’s desire to enable the future of e-mobility by providing and open, secure and robust network.
“Today, ChargePoint is still part of ROEV and our commitment remains the same, while others have decided to stop supporting the effort by leaving the organization. We firmly believe that open networks are great for the market and for drivers which is why we continue to support this very important initiative from a company and industry perspective.”
ChargePoint followed the statement up with a link to its open network policy page which adds a bit more color to the above statement. The site makes it clear that ChargePoint allows Open Charge Point Protocol compliant hardware and systems on its network. On the roaming side, the site paints with very broad strokes:
“The goal of the ChargePoint Network is to be open for all. The network lets drivers, on any network, charge at ChargePoint Stations. And, be able to do this without having to sign up for multiple accounts. All transactions are processed securely and billing is handled directly within the driver’s network.”