As part of CleanTechnica’s Cleantech Revolution Tour in Warsaw, Poland, Zachary Shahan began a panel discussion about the hurdles, potential, and best practices of EV charging infrastructure.
His group of panelists constituted truly early adopters and early entrepreneurs in the transition, mostly EV charging leaders who were able to tell more about the difficulties of starting infrastructure, especially when education and change are not apparent to the mass market, and how to make the process smoother, easier, and more efficient.
Understanding the transition at hand well in advance, we should applaud them for their vision, patience, and tenacity — as we also listen to their constructive insights and advice.
The lessons learned and suggestions for future EV charging development and policies are especially important now, with mass-market, long-range, semi-affordable electric car models like the Tesla Model 3, Nissan LEAF e+, Hyundai Kona EV, Kia e-Niro, and others hitting the market.
The Market Is Changing Quickly
With many disruptive, transformative technologies, there’s a dramatic improvement underway for decades or for years under the surface, so to speak, before we get to a visible inflection point in the market. While the technology is improving “under the surface,” one becomes used to slow growth. Consider the old rotary phone that we had to plug into phone wall outlets. Who could have imagined decades ago, when foundational work was well underway, that small independent cell phones with full computer systems would become the norm?
Zach asked the panel, “We have to be able to efficiently and effectively get charging stations ready for this. So, practically and technically, there are various challenges.
“What are one or two key technical or financial challenges that you think still need to be overcome and work through in this market — either policy wise, politically, or anything else?”
Utilization is still low. There are large monthly payments just to be connected to the grid and ready to suck the energy at a high rate (not to mention all of the capital investment costs), but people are not using the chargers very often. So, that’s the challenge in the short term.
Zach offers more insight, mentioning Western Europe fast charging leader Fastned. They’re also eating so much money because of relatively low utilization, despite being in some of the hottest EV markets. However, they’re trying to build out as a really adequate network for the mass market. So, it’s really about long-term vision at this point … and money.
Another panelist, ChargePolska co-founder and CTO Matt Tymowski, points out that in the energy storage industry there’s another problem. The TSO taxes storage-connected charging providers for charging and then again for giving energy back to the grid. Eliminating such taxes would help charging companies to get on their feet financially.
Investors × EV Charging Leaders,
Governments × EV Charging Leaders
Zach goes on to say, “I mean, you need investment — but what do you need from this investment? What do you need the investment community to understand or to see — to get that investment?”
Peter explains that some people call it “patience money.” Investors must understand “that this is the time which you simply need to go through,” he added.
“But it’s not only about the investment, it’s about how you set up the market, for example. Since the utilization is so important in the charging infrastructure business, I tend to link any kind of support, any kind of measures from the city, from the government, from DSOs (distribution system operators) … to the number of electric vehicles on the road. Whatever we think, how to help to go through this phase, whatever kind of help, it should be somehow predictable.” Certain things should be in place to stimulate the market until a place reaches 2%, 3%, 5%, 10%, 15% market share — at different milestones, the market will respond and service consumer demand.
Zach responds that there are various measures the governmental side, the city our country, could do to support that market adoption and also EV infrastructure pioneers — they can provide land for free, co-financing (the GreenWay network is co-financed by the EU), or other support structures. Zach asks David Beeton, the CEO of Urban Foresight, about his extensive experience with what cities have done and can do to help charging companies cross the gap.
“I think a challenge cities face is, in an age of austerity, where they have limited resources and finance and expertise to make this happen, why should they spend time investing in infrastructure for electric vehicles ahead of demand?” He explains that it is a difficult. So, they have to really want to make it happen, really want to be champions.
David highlights procurement. For example, where cities own and install the infrastructure but then give companies a license to operate it. Procurement where you bundle infrastructure provision with carsharing operations is an effective solution to hit two policy objectives — more shared mobility and more charging infrastructure. And then there’s simply procuring electric vehicles for your own city government use. Looking at total cost of ownership can often make this financially sensible.
It could also be a requirement for bus operators, school bus operators, and electric taxi operators in the city — to use a certain portion of zero-emission vehicles.
David notes, “One small related point I’d like to make is I think there’s also a risk when it comes to utilization that operators, such as taxi operators or other mobility service operators start to build up their own private networks. And we’ve already seen companies, like Uber, say that they’re going to build private infrastructure networks so that they can guarantee a recharge when they need it. So obviously that dents the business case for publicly provided infrastructure.”
Zach offers some personal business insight from being a co-founder of Tesla Shuttle. “With Tesla Shuttle, you have to make sure you can get that charge for your next clients, and this is a big challenge when there’s a limited of infrastructure or even where there’s a lot of infrastructures but a lot of use, like in Norway.”
Cities Need To Consider The Cost of Health Care From Pollution
Zach also notes that cities can take into account health costs, and the savings from reduced health costs, when considering EV investments and policies. It is not only a matter of costs, but also public health savings. He asks Lena Artemenko, CEO of Tesla Club Ukraine, to talk more about this.
Lena emphasizes that EV infrastructure businesses are doing society a favor. They are working for a transportation system that is nonviolent to the lungs and immune systems of babies, children, and adults.
Lena relays a time when she was walking with a partner from Norway in India, walking with him in the city center where it was not prohibited to drive vehicles like trucks. A truck came through and a big black cloud of smoke came out of the truck. Lena and her partner said, “Oh my God, he is not thinking about how many illnesses that can produce for those pedestrians that are walking here.”
Zach jumps in, “I’m thinking about it, I’m talking about it every day. It’s really a plague on your mind once you start to think about the health costs and how they could be creating cancer for your 3-year-old daughter, your 1-year-old daughter.” But people, cities, often look at it and just accept the health costs caused by this pollution.
Zach adds that a city in California, Palo Alto, now takes into consideration health costs, climate costs, and other matters along with normal topics of cost-benefit analyses. All city policy decisions have to take these additional matters into account, since they are critical matters for the people living there, as critical as anything else.
Another option is to just ban diesel cars and gasoline cars from cities, or portions of cities.
David Beeton adds, “Yes, it’s complicated. It’s a cultural change. I think that’s the real difficulty. While it might make sense to us, policy is made in silos in government.” He continues to explain that if investments in electric vehicles come from a transportation budget, they don’t really care about these other matters. “It’s not that they don’t care. It’s not something that they are set up to consider. It is not involved in the way they make their decisions. The money for that sits over there and the money for transportation infrastructure sits somewhere else.”
It takes leadership on city councils to say, “everyone has to consider this cost, this public health cost of air pollution.”
Changing Our Mindset
Zach says, “So getting back to the practicality of installing stations, I’ve heard several times from different networks, from Tesla and other networks, the permitting process in Poland was a huge barrier to their entry and really slowed down their entry.” Permitting can be one of the top challenges. In the US as well, permitting and land leasing for good locations are top barriers. “Once charging station networks have solved those, is there anything that can be done at this point, or should be done elsewhere in the region?”
Stefan Blagovisniy, CEO and co-founder of TOKA, says, “I think we should also change the way we think. If we are going to drive electric cars, we should understand what our obligation will be.” Behaviors, patterns, and our expectation of what’s normal will have to change.
Chargers Must Come First — It is Not a Question of the Chicken and the Egg
Lena also answers, “I would like to underline this question about egg & chicken, because we think that this is a measured answer. We need to take the answer that, first of all, we need a lot of chargers. It’s not a question of egg and chicken. First comes chargers, then comes cars. We have statistics that one charger brings 20 cars. People see that it is not just the future. They see, they are starting to investigate what it is, they are interested in this, and so on and so forth.”
Zach agrees: “I see chargers as one of the best marketing tools, and that’s why I very strongly highlight the benefit of good coloring, good lighting.
Lena agrees, “Yes, because it is a kind of advertising.”
Zach, “How many people see a charging station like that and then think, ‘Hey, EVs are coming, EVs are here.'”
Lena points out, “And they are cool.”
Lena adds, “I think that if government, and other social stars, will speak more about electric vehicles, about this problem — more articles, more TV programs, everything like this, more test drives of electric vehicles when opening chargers. We are making private celebration when we are opening a charging station. … We can invite more people and show the cars, make test drives for them, make kind of of fun, and then they just love it, they want to have it.”
Zach said it makes him think of being at the Fastned headquarters in the Netherlands a few years before, “because with every station they opened, they had a disco ball in their office, and they would have a party every time — for the staff. Bring that to the community!”
Photo via EVRT Middle East
Old Rules for Gas Stations Confuse the Issue for Clean Energy EV Charging Stations
We also need rules in regulation, Peter Badik adds. Usually, charging are not in the regulations, because they’re new, and then local authorities are not sure which way to go — either requiring a full process, like for a new building, or a small [one], or nothing. “So, the first thing to do is to just get guide laws from a national level saying okay, this is the charger, it’s not going to harm anything. it is not going to leak anything out of it. … You don’t have to require a bunch of things which normally would be required.”
Lena Artemenko adds, “I think it is just more about education.” She explains the need to deliver this information — that EV chargers are safe. “It should be obligatory for developers to make special parking spots with special wall boxes,” with a list of certified manufacturers you can choose from.
For more, watch the entire video of the panel discussion.
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