What the U.S. can learn from China — and vice versa

Source: David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2019

The United States could build on what it knows about creating a network of charging stations for electric vehicles by paying attention to what China’s doing. The flip of that is true for China’s top policy people, said Columbia University researchers in a new paper.

The Columbia report, released yesterday, compared how the charging industry is developing in the two biggest EV markets in the world, the United States and China. Led by David Sandalow, a former Energy Department official in the Obama administration who worked closely with China on energy issues, the Columbia team based its research on interviews with more than 50 people in the industry in both countries.

“The conclusion we came up with was, each country can learn from the other here. It’s not that one is better than the other,” said Sandalow, a fellow at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

The paper pointed to differences between the two countries. China, a planned economy, tends to plan charger build-outs years in advance. That has helped guide investment across the country. China’s grid operator also uses real-time data collection to understand how EVs interact with the grid. While that runs into privacy issues for EV drivers in the U.S., researchers found there’s something to be learned from that.

The report suggested that Chinese officials could learn something from the demand-response programs of U.S. utilities. The programs are meant to encourage customers to charge during off-peak hours and help ease electricity loads on the grid. And China could avoid siting chargers unwisely by using an American-style analysis of the EV charging market.

The paper also took note of the uniformity of fast-charger networks in China, which use a single nationwide standard, compared with three distinct standards in the United States.

Almost none of the more than two dozen Americans interviewed said the lack of a single standard was a barrier to EV adoption. Adapters already allow drivers to use most fast-chargers, said people interviewed for the report, and most people are charging up either at home or at Level 2 public chargers.

“We didn’t get a strong view that this is a barrier to progress in the United States,” Sandalow said.

As in the United States, where states and their utility regulators are responsible for most EV charger initiatives, development in China has also sprung from efforts in provinces and cities. About 40 percent of the country’s charging points, for example, were built by the four prominent “first-tier” cities.

“It’s pretty decentralized,” Sandalow said.

But since 2015, China’s central government has issued at least five major policy proclamations for EV chargers. These have created national standards for charger interfaces and zones for developmental priorities, provided small pots of funding, and set forth guidance for charging requirements at new residences and public buildings.

They’ve also laid out specific numeric goals, including the development of 120,000 stations and 4.8 million charge points by 2020.

“Building infrastructure is a long-term project,” Sandalow said. “If you have a vision of where you’re headed, it’s a lot easier to get there.”