Editor’s note: This is the second post in a two-part series on building a national fleet of electric vehicle charging stations. In case you missed it, you can read the first post here.
With SolarCity and Tesla, Elon Musk and team have crafted a template for a triple bottom line business that melds the production of solar electricity and its use in transportation, residential, commercial and industrial settings. Tesla‘s Supercharger fleet of electric vehicle charging stations is a key facet of this vertically integrated, solar-powered energy “ecosystem.”
As 3p reported in part one of this series, Tesla isn’t the only one looking to build out a nationwide fleet of EV charging stations. Miami’s Car Charging Group, Inc. is working to assimilate and revive the EV charging station assets it acquired during a recent string of acquisitions. Furthermore, a recent executive hire points out the longer term direction the company may be heading, one that could capitalize on the same sort of business symbiosis inherent in the Solar City-Tesla combination.
A nationwide EV charging network: A historical parallel
Mutual interest brought oil company majors, U.S. auto manufacturers and the federal government together to produce the fuels and build the roads, highways and vehicles that have come to define American life in the post-World War II era. Oil companies produced the gasoline and diesel cars and trucks needed, and they seized the opportunity to integrate vertically and control the supply of petroleum fuels from wellhead to vehicle owner.
The largest, most successful commercial enterprises of the era, the oil industry’s “Seven Sisters,” bankrolled and built out a nationwide network of gasoline and diesel filling stations over the first half of the 20th century. To date, no large industry backer – electric utility or otherwise – has fully committed to doing so for EVs. That has left the field largely open to ambitious entrepreneurs and start-ups.
That said, there has been some interest among EV manufacturers — which at this point includes nearly all the world’s multinational auto manufacturers — and it’s growing. In May 2013, Nissan, the manufacturer of the Leaf EV, partnered with Car Charging Group to build out 48 fast-charge DC EV stations in California and “strategic places on the East Coast.”
Just this past week, news broke that Tesla, Nissan and BMW are talking about collaborating to develop standards for EV car charging and technology.
The reincarnation of EVs
In 1908, at the dawn of the petroleum era, some 28 percent of automobiles in the U.S. were powered by electricity. This initial generation of EVs was almost completely eradicated with the advent of abundant supplies of crude oil and refined petroleum products, the advent – with Mr. Ford – of scientific research-driven mass production methods and technology, and the business tactics of the Standard Oil companies.
Today, EVs represent less than 1 percent of U.S. auto sales. The beginnings of a resurgence is apparent, however. Extensive networks of charging stations will have to be built if EVs and the vision of a clean, renewable and distributed energy infrastructure is to truly take root and clean, renewable electricity become the predominant form of energy for transportation, as well as residential, commercial and industrial use.
The challenges faced by budding EV infrastructure players such as CarCharging Group and Tesla are similar to those faced by the oil majors a century ago when they undertook the challenge of building out gasoline and diesel filling stations, as well as those faced today by wind and solar power developers.
Innovative, opportunistic businesses gravitated toward and built out from local and state markets where government and public support were highest. At first, markets were small and fragmented. Businesses failed, some amid public scandal. Nonetheless, a nationwide network eventually emerged.
Faced with similar challenges, CarCharging is at present focused on integrating and reviving the EV charging station assets and business of the four acquisitions it made over the course of 2013.
Management also seems to be casting an eye further out on into the future. The recent hire of David Cohen as Chief Strategy Officer may point the strategic direction CarCharging sees itself heading.
Of EVs and solar microgrids
In a recent presentation given at a solar/distributed energy technology conference in New York City, Cohen reviewed the progress being made around the U.S. with regard to development and management of solar microgrids. He also went into some detail regarding the technical aspects of these local scale, solar-powered microgrids, and how EV charging fleets fit into an overall clean energy ecosystem.
Drawing load when charging, a large population of EVs poses problems for electricity grids and their operators. R&D to reverse the flow of electricity and make it bi-directional – electric vehicles supplying, as well as drawing, energy from the grid – is underway. Dubbed “EV2Grid,” the concept has yet to be proven at commercial scale.
Cohen’s expertise lies in developing software and systems that can balance electricity supply and demand in an intelligent way, integrating solar PV and hybrid generation assets with energy storage solutions and EV charging stations, as well as smart grid demand response (DR) and automated metering infrastructure (AMI). The result is a localized and distributed, yet vertically integrated, clean energy ecosystem.
Ford has incorporated solar PV arrays and EV charging stations into a microgrids that supplies electricity to one of its auto manufacturing facilities in much smarter, cleaner, more efficient fashion. What may be the biggest solar-hybrid energy microgrid in the U.S. has been up and running at the University of California San Diego for two years.
Cohen and other microgrid experts’ vision of distributed solar and hybrid energy microgrids parallels the path the oil majors took in diversifying and integrating supplemental technology, products, services and business lines. Theirs differs in a big, fundamental way, however: Rather than extracting oil, coal and natural gas from deep beneath the earth’s surface, they envision electricity produced from renewable energy sources as the fuel for both power generation and transportation.
Making such a vision reality would enable the U.S., and possibly many other countries, realize huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in a short period of time. That, in turn, would significantly reduce the economic, social and ecosystems threats and costs posed by ongoing increases in fossil fuel production and use.
To top things off, building out, operating and maintaining solar and hybrid renewable energy microgrids — along with EVs, EV charging stations and energy storage systems — could power the U.S. economy well into, if not throughout, the 21st century.
Image credits: 1) Avinash Kaushik from Flickr; 2) & 3) Ford; 4) GTM Research