Home, work chargers to become ‘relics’ — CEO

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The chief executive for one of the nation’s largest electric-vehicle charging companies said last week that home and workplace chargers will eventually become “relics,” as drivers ditch their cars in favor of ride-hailing services and public transportation.

In perhaps 10 or 20 years, ChargePoint Inc. CEO Pasquale Romano said, cities and suburbs could begin converting parking garages into charging depots for buses, shuttles and ride-hailing drivers. Companies like ChargePoint would move away from servicing private cars to acting as managers of those depots’ networks.

“In another decade, we’re going to see a continued shift from personally owned vehicles to shared — ride-sharing services, ride-hailing services,” he said on a panel at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit in New York City.

“Every business that’s buying our infrastructure for [workplaces] eventually won’t need it,” he added.

His comments may serve as a signal to investors that the company is looking to beef up its network of fast-chargers and fleet services. The vast majority of its chargers are Level 2s that serve drivers at homes and workplaces.

They might also be taken, if unintentionally, as vindication by EV-skeptic regulators and consumer advocates who have sometimes doubted that utility-built chargers will get enough use to justify their expense to power consumers.

But the idea that today’s chargers won’t serve as tomorrow’s transportation backbone reflects some future scenarios sketched out by transportation experts, who say any serious emissions-cutting program will need to combine electrification with a push to get people out of their personal cars.

That raises questions about where new chargers should be sited, if they’re meant to encourage shared mobility and even automated technologies, often considered the third prong of future systems.

One policy brief from the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, published in 2017, noted that two locations currently considered high priorities for new chargers — workplaces and multi-unit residences — would be less-than-optimal sites if most people were getting around in shared vehicles.

In order to prepare for future scenarios and avoid “stranded assets” — underutilized chargers — policymakers “can begin to consider how the charging needs of automated and shared EVs may differ from personally owned EVs,” the group said.

That happens to be exceedingly complex, say some experts.

“There’s no way to avoid building tomorrow’s stranded assets today,” said Chris Nelder, manager of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s mobility practice.

A 2017 white paper from the sustainability think tank, led by Nelder, found that peak car ownership could occur as early as 2020.

But the places where chargers find their ideal use, and the types of chargers needed, are hard to foretell, he said.

If ride-sharing were to predominate, it would make sense to build powerful, expensive fast-chargers in charging depots. Empty autonomous vehicles could trek off to substations at the edge of town to refuel. For now, low-power Level 2s at homes and offices are far cheaper, and thus the least risky option.

“Nobody knows how the future of mobility is going to evolve,” said Nelder. “There’s no such thing as future-proofing.

“The best you can do,” he added, “is drive within the range of your headlights, and build the charging infrastructure that customers need today.”