In this episode of CleanTech Talk, I talk with Bill Loewenthal, Senior Vice President of Product at ChargePoint, about the US EV market, advancing EV charging in the USA, and ChargePoint’s role in EV revolution.
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In this first part of the interview, we spend a bit of time delving into what exactly ChargePoint offers and its role with charging stations installed across the country (or world) after installation. As Bill summarizes, “ChargePoint is a solution provider for a complete experience enabling drivers and businesses to go electric. We offer a series of capabilities to site hosts as well as a free charging app to drivers. …
“The solution that we provide to site hosts is a combination of — we have a broad array of charging stations they could use for their particular application [as well as] a cloud service.”
In terms of the cloud service, ChargePoint can govern access control. “Do they want their station published in that mobile app I just described for drivers to find? In some cases, it’s not appropriate. … Who can access that station? Are there different privileges based on different driver groups? What’s the pricing policies for different types of driver groups?” But access control is just one part of it. “And then there’s other aspects about station management, monitoring, reporting, energy management, some other capabilities.”
So, basically, aside from an app that helps EV drivers find charging stations (something that practically every EV owner in the US is familiar with), ChargePoint sells EV charging stations to site hosts and then also helps to provide control over the stations in various ways — payment, access, energy management, monitoring, etc. Bill adds more:
“When we look at the marketplace, every parking lot ultimately needs to go electric. And the kind of segments that we focus on enable that. Look at our business in several segments. There’s a commercial segment that includes workplace. It includes parking operators and retailers and hospitality chains — think of restaurants and dining environments. And they all have different reasons that they want to offer charging to their constituents. … Our business is constructed to serve the goals of the site host. We don’t set the price of the charging station. We don’t make money based on utilization, the sales or usage of electricity. That is all the goals of the site host. We’re providing a set of tools for the site host to enable their business model — so, in a retailer example, it might be a loyalty program integration; in a workplace, it is potentially a special access code that provides employees a free charging session, but that same station available to the general public could be on a paid basis. And, increasingly, as the world goes electric, there’s a very mixed use behavior to the charging stations that are deployed around the globe — during the day, it could be for employees; at night, it could be for residents of a particular mixed-use facility, or for the vehicles for particular employers, like their fleet vehicles.”
Bill talked a bit more about the importance of providing fleets with charging services and also the base of the charging pyramid — residential charging (at single-family houses as well as multi-unit dwellings). He also talked about the shift from site hosts putting in charging stations as an amenity, “because they could,” to charging stations becoming something that they must put in to be competitive in their particular markets.
After getting those fundamentals down, I focused a bit more on ChargePoint’s operational role since there has been some confusion about what ChargePoint is responsible for and what it is not. We clarified a few things:
- ChargePoint doesn’t make money on the use of its charging stations. (Station owners — aka site hosts — may or may not make money on them, depending on whether they charge for use or not, but ChargePoint doesn’t).
- Site hosts pay ChargePoint “a recurring subscription fee for the cloud service that administrates that station” — on top of a one-time fee for the station itself. The site host can also choose to pay for maintenance as needed — through ChargePoint’s “Assure” or “Assure Pro” service. This is even if they don’t choose the next option.
- Going a step further than the basic cloud service and basic maintenance service, ChargePoint also offers “charging as a service” (ChaaS) that provides support, monitoring, and proactive maintenance to site hosts; an enhanced alternative to the base cloud service in all of those respects. “Increasingly, more and more of our network is covered under that plan.”
We also talked about utilization rates, how to service and appeal to mass-market consumers rather than just early adopters and super early adopters, and what the market looks like right now in regards to consumer expectations and needs. Bill also talked about how the switch from fossil fuel vehicles to electric vehicles requires a change in perspective about “refueling” habits, something that is a bit difficult for both consumers and site hosts to get their heads around until they experience EV life.
“Unless you’ve driven an EV, you do not understand the fueling model. Most of the world thinks, ‘I’m gonna drive to fuel, and I’m gonna top off from a 0% battery, and how fast does that happen?’ Whereas, if you’ve driven an EV, you realize it’s a lot more like my cell phone — I fuel while parked, and I’m only replacing the fuel dispensed to get from Point A to Point B. So, I’m in a top-off environment, and I’m onboarding 80% of my fuel at home and at work.
“And so, a big emphasis for ChargePoint is enabling that home & work fueling model, and then of course, opportunistically, if I’m out for dinner and they offer charging, that behooves the dining operator because maybe I’ll spend a few more minutes there and buy dessert, because I’ll be able to top off my battery further if I wish.
“That fueling model — of fueling while parked — is not well understood beyond probably the folks that are regular readers of your platform.”
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