Traditionally, automakers haven’t been very involved in powering the vehicles they sell. Beyond maybe a tank of gas (two if you’re lucky) at time of purchase, the job of fueling the vehicle wasn’t something manufacturers or dealers participated in. Oil companies, refiners, and retailers had their own supply chain for gasoline and/or diesel, and you needed to go to them.
This worked out reasonably well because the network of fueling stations has been solid for a really long time. At first, people had to do weird things like buy gasoline at drug stores, but by the 1930s, normal fueling stations were all over the place. Now, almost 100 years later, the number is contracting (especially in rural areas), but it’s very uncommon to experience range anxiety in an ICE vehicle. You can usually cross continents without planning ahead, and just refill when the car starts to get low.
Sadly, it hasn’t worked out this way for EVs. Tesla figured out early in the game that nobody else was going to build fast charging infrastructure, and the company had to do it itself to sell EVs. Efforts outside of Tesla have been half-hearted and/or half-assed, with a very limited geographic spread of charging stations, reliability problems, and very slow growth even along major highways.
The situation has gotten bad enough that manufacturers have had to rethink the strategy of letting somebody else do charging. As EV sales start to leave the early adopter phase and appeal to more mainstream buyers, the struggle that excited EV advocates were willing to put up with just isn’t cutting it for people who come from a more solid gasoline and diesel infrastructure experience. This has led an increasing number of automakers to fall in with Tesla and cut deals to get their vehicles access to the much better Supercharger network.
But, automakers aren’t comfortable with the idea of letting Tesla do all of the charging. Not only does this leave an important part of the industry in the hands of a competitor, but it leaves out opportunities to profit from better charging. So, they’ve been doing things like teaming up to start their own charging networks and working more deeply with charging companies like EVgo and ChargePoint instead of just Electrify America.
But, it’s important to keep in mind that the charging industry is complex, like the gasoline industry. Neither electricity nor gasoline are spontaneously generated at the point of sale. Gas comes from refineries, which get their raw materials from drilling companies, which must work with geologists and others to develop and maintain supplies. Electricity comes from the local utility (usually), which must generate or buy the energy and put it on a grid they maintain.
So, there are some big opportunities for manufacturers to dive even deeper into the EV charging experience, especially when you consider bidirectional charging (V2G). A recent announcement by Ford, BMW, and Honda shows that they’re looking to exploit some of those opportunities and hopefully improve the experience for car buyers.
The automakers recently announced a collaboration to establish ChargeScape, LLC. This new company, equally owned, aims to develop a cost-effective platform that will connect electric utilities, automakers, and electric vehicle customers. With the objective of benefiting both EV customers and the electric utility industry in the United States and Canada, ChargeScape will unlock new value that EVs can provide to the electric grid.
To accomplish the goal of making things better for EV owners, it will enable EV customers to earn financial benefits through various managed charging and energy-sharing services, which were previously unavailable with traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. The transaction’s closure and subsequent formation of ChargeScape are subject to regulatory approvals, and the company is expected to commence operations in early 2024.
Taking advantage of years of open vehicle grid integration platform (OVGIP) cross-industry collaboration, ChargeScape’s platform streamlines integration between automotive brands and electric utilities. It grants utilities access to EV battery energy from a diverse pool of electric vehicles. With flexible charging schedules, EV customers can earn financial benefits by charging during “grid-friendly” times. In the future, sharing stored energy with the grid through vehicle-to-grid (V2G) applications will further amplify their impact.
ChargeScape enables the smart utilization of plugged-in EV batteries by securely providing energy data to electric utilities and system operators. This includes aggregated demand response, aligning charging and EV battery usage with off-peak, low-cost hours, and optimizing the use of high renewable energy. With efficient integration with participating automakers and high levels of EV customer enrollment, these energy services offer cost-efficient operational benefits for electric utilities.
“Electric vehicles are unlocking entirely new benefits for customers that can save them money while supporting grid resiliency and increase the use of clean, renewable energy,” said Bill Crider, global head of charging and energy services, Ford Motor Company. “ChargeScape will help accelerate the true potential of the EV revolution by providing significant benefits to both utilities and EV customers through smart vehicle-to-grid services.”
How ChargeScape Aims To Better Serve EV Owners
The project development aligns with the rapid growth of electric vehicle sales and infrastructure, presenting opportunities to tackle grid challenges. With more EVs on the road, utilities face increased electricity demand for charging. ChargeScape offers energy management services to enhance grid resilience and embrace future V2G capabilities for the benefit of EV customers and utilities worldwide.
ChargeScape also contributes to decarbonizing the grid, reducing the carbon footprints of EV customers. By utilizing renewable energy sources like wind and solar, the company ensures a more sustainable electricity supply. Seamless integration between EV customers and utilities is crucial for effective energy management, while customers maintain control over their charging and energy choices.
ChargeScape, in collaboration with OVGIP, will enhance managed charging for more EV customers, eliminating marketing and outreach costs for utilities seeking to connect with their individual customer bases. BMW Group, Ford Motor Company, and American Honda have established direct, multi-channel communication with their EV customers, addressing a common challenge for utilities who typically lack an efficient and cost-effective method to identify EV customers within their service territory.
Moreover, by utilizing automaker telematics, ChargeScape aims to offer managed charge scheduling via vehicle connectivity, eliminating the need for Wi-Fi-enabled charging stations. This will benefit EV customers worldwide who do not have “smart” chargers at home, ensuring their EVs remain accessible for grid services without additional customer cost.
The three founding members don’t want to do this alone. They’re inviting other automakers to join and unlock opportunities offered by ChargeScape’s grid services when the company is fully operational.
“As Honda seeks to achieve our global goal of carbon neutrality, we are counting on this platform to create new value for our customers by connecting EVs to electric utilities, strengthening grid resources and reducing CO2 emissions,” said Jay Joseph, vice president of Sustainability & Business Development, American Honda Motor Co., Inc. “With automakers accelerating toward the electrified future, we must find solutions like ChargeScape that enable all stakeholders to work together for the good of our customers, society and our industry by enabling greater use of renewable energy for and from mobility.”
Featured image provided by Ford.
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