The Death Of The Gasmobile: EV Charging As A Service (CleanTechnica Interview)

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The diversified Italian energy company Enel has been turning heads with its deep dive into the sparkling green economy of the future. In the latest of its rapid-fire moves, Enel is bringing its experience as an energy services operator into the world of EV charging. That mobility-as-a-service approach provides the company with the ability to leverage new customer service opportunities for EV owners — ones that their old gasmobile will have a hard time matching.

CleanTechnica sat down for a phone interview with Enel’s Alberto Piglia to explore what electric vehicle owners can expect — and what they’ll be leaving behind when they cut ties with gasoline and diesel fuel.

Utilities And EVs, Perfect Together

For those of you new to Enel, the company’s ventures as a sustainable energy provider are on high profile display in the US, with its massive 320-megawatt Rattlesnake wind farm in Nebraska.

That project had stalled out back in 2013 when its former developers couldn’t find buyers for their new green wattage. Enel’s subsidiary, Enel Green Power took over and worked out an agreement with the local Omaha Power District that drew interest from two A-list customers, Facebook and Adobe.

Another good example is EGP’s new 292-megawatt solar farm in Brazil, billed as the largest of its kind in South America.

EV Charging Made Easy

Mr. Piglia is head of e-mobility services for Enel X, the wing of Enel tasked with marrying digital solutions to zero emission driving. Think cloud-based services and you’re on the right track.

Back in the day, range anxiety was a big deal for EV early adopters. That concern has faded with the advent of longer-range batteries and an increase in the number of charging stations. However, improving EV charging station convenience is still a key factor in promoting the mass adoption of electric mobility.

To be clear, range consciousness is also built into the DNA of gasmobile drivers. It’s just something that’s been accepted as a matter of course for more than 100 years. If you drive a gasmobile, you plan ahead so there is always a gas station in sight when you need it (unless you’re one of these guys).

One reason for the relative calm among gasmobile drivers is the assurance of standardization among gas stations, petroleum based fuels, and filling equipment.

Gasmobile drivers have the luxury of assuming they can refuel at any gas station they come across, regardless of whether the franchise flies the flag of Exxon, Shell, BP, or any other company.

That’s a key factor, and it’s something that Enel X addressed earlier this week when it announced a new electric vehicle charging partnership in Italy with the company Route220.

The new Route220 agreement is the latest in a series of reciprocal agreements that link Enel X’s charging stations with other companies through the app evway.

Another Big Step For Enel X

In the latest significant development, earlier today Enel X announced the launch of its “Juice” family, a series of new products aimed at leveraging its digital-driven approach to smooth the road for EV drivers throughout Italy:

1. JuiceBox: A connected charging station for homes with an easy color-coded system that enables drivers to remotely monitor the charging status of their vehicle from a smartphone.

2. JuicePole: A roadside charging station that updates earlier 2007 models with a new screen and two-car capability. They can be activated with Enel X’s new Recharge app as well as other payment systems.

3. JuiceLamp: A variation of the JuicePole, this “intelligent LED lamp” can provide video surveillance, air quality monitoring and other services in addition to two-car charging.

So…Now What?

That’s great, right? That’s nothing! The real magic kicks in when you look at the services Enel X offers for fleet owners.

The offering for commercial fleets is JuiceStation, a scalable system for combining the commercial version JuiceBox with one or more JuicePoles.

In a press release, Enel X describes how its long-term partners fleet partners can take advantage of JuiceStation’s fleet management capabilities. Along with the system comes the “Recharge Manager,” which as the name suggests is a tool for managing the charging infrastructure.

Enel X is pitching the JuiceStation to potential RechargePartners — commercial enterprises with parking spaces that could be dedicated to EV charging. If you’re listening over there in Italy, jump in now and you’ll get the deal at no cost for eight years. Better act fast, though. According to Enel X, in January the company will offer Recharge partnerships at market rate.

What Are You Waiting For?

In our phone conversation, Mr. Piglia underscored how Enel’s utility-based experience turbo-charges its approach to EV mobility, both for individual car owners and fleet managers (comments edited for flow and readability):

Our view on mobility in general is that we come from the world of a utility infrastrucutre, and we have an understanding of the energy market.

We understand the needs of the customer. They need an easy charging solution that enables them to have efficient way of charging at home on the road or public.

[Our] new charging stations improve the customer experience. They also provide business with the ability to have branding. For example, supermarkets and car sharing customers can brand their charging stations.

Mr. Piglia also noted that the market for on-site EV charging is “growing exponentially” and is ripe for products like its Juice line:

We see that buildings are open for charging cars. When you put new buildings in place, you have to have a place for charging.

We are signing deals with supermarkets and banks that give us space in their parking lots to put charging stations because it attracts customers.

We also have the ability to manage the load, so this is an opportunity for them.

The way we see this, charging electric is different from petrol…you can charge while you’re doing something else.

You can also plan to charge overnight, when you actually get better rates. With intelligent solutions, you can manage when to charge.

As for range anxiety, studies have long revealed that most drivers only go a few miles a day. Mr. Piglia pointed out that the latest generation of longer-range EVs adds an extra layer of convenience:

Nowadays cars have around a 200 km range, and people don’t do more than 20 miles a day, so you don’t need to recharge every day.

The current EV range covers 90% of drivers, and if you don’t have the ability to charge at home, you could charge at office. You also have public charging stations, so you get into the habit of using opportunities to charge.

Italy Roars Into Electric Mobility Future

The EV charging market has been heating up in the US, too, so brace yourself. Enel X is casting its eye on the US and other EV charging markets beyond Italy (if all this is beginning to sound familiar, keep your eye on the company eMotorWerks, which was acquired by Enel just last fall).

Here’s a rundown of Enel’s five-year plan for EV charging infrastructure in Italy:

…14,000 stations by 2022, with a total investment of up to 300 million euros. The Enel plan envisages comprehensive coverage in all Italian regions. It is a dynamic, flexible plan, open to all those (public and/or private organisations) who wish to collaborate on expanding electric mobility in Italy. This vast network will help overcome the fear of running out of power (so-called range anxiety) and accelerate the offering of electric cars in Italy, stimulating car manufacturers to bring new models to the market.

As of now, only 680 new public charging stations have been installed, but Enel X has signed agreements for another 4,300 with government, commercial, and industrial customers. That breaks down to about 60-80 installations weekly, putting the plan on track to reach its goal.

No, Really, What Are You Waiting For?

This is just a taste. Enel and its subsidiaries are involved in a raft of collaborations with other public and private entities including fast EV charging initiatives with Europe’s EVA+ project, and a consortium spearheaded by Germany-based Ionity.

The aim is to enable seamless EV charging throughout Europe and Italy. Enel CEO Francesco Starace sums up the relationship between grid services and EVs:

Electric mobility is a ‘revolution in progress’ and Italy starts with the advantage as it already has a fully digitalised grid.

So, what does this mean for drivers here in the US?

You mean, aside from less air pollution, less noise and the convenience of charging up wherever the day (or night) takes you, instead of detouring to a gas station?

Well, with the help of your smartphone — and a modernized grid — US drivers can expect less of this:

Drivers who attempt to stretch a tank of gas too far could end up stranded. AAA cautions drivers that allowing their car to run out of fuel can not only put them in a potentially dangerous situation, but also could result in costly repairs.

That’s right — for all the hype about EV “range anxiety,” the dirty little secret behind gasmobiles is that drivers often run out of gas.

Here in the US, AAA routinely has to warn drivers against driving with a low tank. The problem is especially acute when gas prices spike.

AAA’s own surveys show that 24 million US drivers keep driving after getting a low fuel alert, and empty fuel tanks account for hundreds of thousands of roadside assistance calls yearly.

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Photo (cropped): via Enel X.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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