With most major OEMs racing toward full electrification as fast as their budgets and resources allow, if their projections of accelerating demand for EVs prove anywhere near accurate, the need to efficiently charge the North American fleet of battery powered vehicles will have to expand rapidly.
So Charge Enterprises – a “portfolio of global businesses with the vision of connecting people everywhere with communications and electric-vehicle charging infrastructure” – has partnered with charge unit installer and service provider Smart Charge America to pursue its mission to be the “dominant player” in EV infrastructure development.
“Together we will collaborate to deliver reliable and efficient EV charging solutions to help people everywhere with residential and commercial installations and work together to tackle range anxiety and overcome the barriers to buying electric vehicles,” Charge Enterprises Chairman and CEO Andrew Fox says at the recent announcement.
“Our mission is to accelerate the electrification of sustainable transportation,” says Smart Charge America Vice President David Laderberg. “By forming this Alliance with Charge Enterprises, we will cement that mission and ensure EV growth across the United States.”
The companies say this partnership marries CE’s “expertise in delivering seamless bespoke, end-to-end infrastructure solutions including EV charging design, engineering, installation, equipment selection and sourcing” to Smart Charge’s “crossover infrastructure solutions addressing intelligent wireless networks necessary for operating, as well as service maintenance and monitoring of charging hardware.”
Wards caught up with CEO Fox and veteran auto executive and CE president Mark LaNeve (pictured, left) to discuss these plans.
“Together we will build a nationwide capability to be the foremost player in the industry in terms of infrastructure solutions,” says LaNeve, “with the caveat that we are equipment agnostic. Whether it’s one station or a whole set of stations, you have to design and engineer it, permit and project manage it and figure out if you have enough power or need electrical service upgrades for the facility. Then comes the installation, then software monitoring.”
LaNeve says they plan to accomplish this mission through a combination of wholly owned subsidiaries and alliances with companies like Smart Charge America and others “all the way down to mom-and-pop electrical shops” to provide everything from project management to design, installation, maintenance and servicing.
“The strategic alliance gives us the capability to operate in markets where we would not normally be able to in a relatively short time frame,” Fox says.
One challenge is what LaNeve sees as a “major educational opportunity” with potential clients including auto dealerships, supermarkets, big box retailers, fueling stations, hotel chains, residential and office complexes and commercial fleet operators.
“They know the EV revolution is coming,” he says. “But do they really need the equipment? Will it get adequate utilization? When will there be enough density? Do they have enough power in the building to drive a Level 2 or a Level 3 solution?”
For example, hotel and supermarket chains with hundreds of locations will need some level of charging availability nationwide, and auto dealerships are under pressure from OEMs to do it now to service all the new EVs coming to market.
“If the average dealership installation is two Level 3 DC fast chargers and two or three Level 2s,” LaNeve says, “most will require a service upgrade. The transformer and the feed of electricity into the dealership won't be adequate to power those charging units along with the building’s other electrical loads, which will require working with local utilities to bring in a larger or additional transformer or power source. These can be complicated jobs that require a high degree of expertise.”
As for residential jobs, customers can go online and find EV charging solutions, says Fox (pictured, left), “but getting it professionally installed is a whole different challenge. There is so much variation. Does the home have a 240-volt line? Is the electrical box far from the garage? Is there room in the garage for the installation? You have different ordinances in every municipality and permits to be pulled by licensed electricians.
“Our primary focus today is in the commercial sector, but we really want to solve the residential problem with some partnership ideas. Can we combine with other entities to get the right boxes to homes and systematize the installations with the understanding that there will be variations depending on the municipality and the physical characteristics of the homes?”
Fox says OEMs have recommended dealers help their EV customers through the process of acquiring the right charger and getting it installed, but it’s different for every OEM.
Then there’s the challenge for customers in condominium and apartment complexes instead of private homes. “Something like 53% of private vehicles are not garaged,” LaNeve says, “so a lot of EV customers will need easy access to fast charging, and that is a growth opportunity for us.”
Who will pay for the millions more publicly available chargers – which can total $12,000-$30,000 for high-output Level 2 commercial applications to well over $100,000 for Level 3 DC fast-charge stations – that will be needed?
“A combination of private capital and local, state and federal subsidies,” says LaNeve. “I believe the federal government subsidies will be distributed to the states to develop programs, and local utilities will also have programs. Downstream it becomes much like the gasoline station model because it will have a value proposition, but we’re a few years away from that as we transition toward complete electric-vehicle conversion.”