Sheila McNulty Big challenges to electric vehicle rollouts

Bad news for those out there with high hopes of moving quickly to convert the world to electric vehicles.

A new report by Accenture, the consultancy, says that the large-scale rollout of plug-in electric vehicles will be hindered unless investors stimulate demand, lower the cost of public charging infrastructure and manage the impact on the grid. Those are three pretty big challenges.

The report is based on analysis of electric vehicles trials around the world – from Japan to The Netherlands to the UK.

It found that the business case for investing in public charging infrastructure is weak because of the high costs and consumers’ initial preference for home charging. The pilots reveal a risk that consumers may not use public charging spots at rates required to recover costs, which range from about $5,000 per charging station to $50,000 for units capable of fast charging a car in about 30 minutes.

Infrequent charging will limit the ability to control the impact of charging on power flows. The pilots show that electric vehicle drivers may not plug in their cars daily. Yet plugging in vehicles whenever parked would help grid management and ease strains.

And, finally, the third finding is that while most of the electrification technologies work in isolation, there are too few electric vehicles in pilot areas to really robustly test the technologies.

A few suggestions from the report:

Today’s public charging infrastructure model is needed to drive initial large scale rollouts but caries high risks due to upfront costs, unpredictable charging patterns and possibly limited demand. More profitable commerical models are needed for a sustainable PEV market. These include:

  • Private charging infrastructure, which will include mechanisms, such as premium charging, to manage demand and battery swapping services that reduce the strain on the grid.
  • The end-to-end model, where a single service provider will offer a longterm service contracts that remove the cost of the battery from the purchase price of the vehicle and include battery swapping as an option.

One hopes the electric vehicle industry will be listening to these suggestions. It would be a shame to have such admirable efforts fail, given the importance of what they are trying to achieve – conservation of fuel and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Melissa Stark of Accenture puts the industry’s future in the hands of consumers:

The consumer is the most important factor in determining which business models will succeed… Standardisation of technologies is urgently needed to support the varied involvement of service providers. And greater efforts will be required to improve understanding of consumer preferences.

Sounds like good advice.