In October 2022, Wevo attended the 4th Annual Conference on EV Charging Infrastructure US in New York City organized by the Global Transmission Report. The delegates and speakers at this vibrant and energetic event were clear: the electric vehicle industry is not just a “for engineers by engineers” proposition anymore. Indeed, the age of EVs being a good gadget for technocrats and a path for saving the earth for tree huggers is long gone. The top luxury car – that’s right, not the top luxury EV car, top luxury car period – is an EV. And that should tell you something. The landscape has shifted from Innovators to Early Adopters, and it won’t be long until we’re even farther along the adoption curve.
Here are our top ten takeaways from the conference to help shed some light on where the industry is and where it is going.
The adoption curve is moving from Innovators to Early Adopters and beyond
EVs are moving rapidly towards mass market adoption. Increasingly, EV chargers are becoming a standard fixture in every parking garage. Municipalities are seriously looking at electrifying their fleets, a vastly different proposition from homeowners buying Teslas because they are cool. We are now seeing another level of industry maturity required for 24/7 critical services. A mayor cannot risk their law enforcement EV fleet being out of juice; it must be there when needed. And for those who have worked in the public sector, municipalities are hardly your typical Early Adopters! Private sector and public sector are both accelerating their adoption of EV technology for public and workplace charging.
Education, Awareness and Differentiation
As in any nascent but quickly growing industry, there is still a huge need to educate stakeholders on what EV hardware and software can (and can’t) do. This can be quite confusing for decision makers trying to move forward with an EV solution for their business or building. Many companies offer turnkey solutions but walk away after completing the installation. Alternatively, there are many companies that provide hardware or software solutions but point fingers at the other guys when a problem arises. The value chain is ripe for consolidation. Few players today are able to offer a superior user experience that extends beyond planning, engineering and installation.
Hardware and Software is rapidly evolving
There are a plethora of options when it comes to EV charger hardware and software. While each platform demonstrates its own strengths, one of the largest challenges raised by panelists is around EV charging management and payment systems. There is clearly a strong desire for a streamlined user experience often provided by vertically integrated companies. But on the flip side, a vertically integrated solution may be missing critical functionality available from other vendors. In addition, for critical infrastructure use cases, the industry must raise the bar on hardware reliability. While current hardware available varies widely along the cost curve, key differentiators currently exist around certifications and interoperability standards. It is only a matter of time until EV charging hardware is commoditized. As we’ve seen in so many other industries, the differentiator will be in the software, services and user experience.
EV as part of a layered infrastructure
Companies considering electrifying their fleet are making decisions for their entire built environment, which includes other Distributed Energy Resources (DERs). EVs should not be installed in a silo; their utilization and value can be enhanced when considered alongside solar, storage, microgrids and the inherent storage in the building’s own operations. This approach supports a simpler and lower cost of installation, as well as optimized ongoing operations of the site. Where and how DERs and EVs are installed should be considered in a holistic way that ensures interoperability, communication and visibility across DERs.
Standards are important
This statement seems like a no-brainer but it’s surprising how many EV hardware and software providers do not adhere to the latest industry standards. Standards like OCPP are significant for compatibility and interoperability. Ensuring that your installation adheres to security standards, while supporting data privacy and access requirements is crucial. On a consumer level, the experience is currently suboptimal. One panelist talked about having 24 different charging apps on his phone just to be able to charge his car when driving to new destinations! If EVs will become ubiquitous across building garages and parking lots, the user experience must improve. Standards play a big part of ensuring this transition.
Funding is there, but is it enough?
Through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), there is significant funding created by the Federal government to support wide EV adoption. Much of this funding is coming through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula (NEVI). Each state has submitted and received approval of how they intend to spend $5 billion of federal EV funding. The majority of funds will be spent on creating EV infrastructure corridors, in addition to various incentives and grants available to support electric vehicle programs. However, as several speakers remarked, this funding may be insufficient to create the step change needed. This funding mostly addresses public charging, while in actuality, 80% of charging is done at home. Further, some of the grant funding requires such onerous reporting and monitoring requirements that the cost of compliance may outweigh the benefits of funding. One panelist pointed out that what has been built in the US so far has mostly been done with very expensive venture capital money. If we expect to see significant expansion, this must be done with lower cost capital.
Policy has a big role to play
The energy industry is heavily regulated. Installation of EVs and other DERs are subject to a sometimes long and often painful process of inspections and permitting. The US is extremely fragmented when it comes to the process for permitting and granting approvals. Each state, locality and municipality may have their own process, requirements or standards for evaluating and permitting EV chargers. One panelist remarked that this is reminiscent of the early days of the Solar industry. Some 20 years ago, anyone who wanted to install solar would have to work with each utility and municipality in a different way. Eventually, the industry matured and processes became standardized across jurisdictions. It may take some time until the EV industry reaches such standardization across state lines, though the accelerating adoption of EVs may prove to be a driving mechanism.
Utilities may hold the key
Utility representatives at this conference were genuinely excited about the advent of EVs. Some utilities have made great strides towards simplifying the siting process. They allow building and business owners to identify the best location for EV charging stations together with the utility. Indeed, some have gone as far as advising customers on various tariff impacts resulting from EV charging installations. However, each utility still has their own decision making process and their own incentives. While some utilities are supporters, they are in the minority. Building and business owners are still mostly on their own when it comes to understanding the optimal way to build out and manage their EV charging networks and infrastructure.
V2G is part of the future
For years, bi-directional charging and the ability to have vehicles provide power directly to the grid (V2G) have been hot topics. The possibilities could certainly be significant in the future. While there are some interesting V2G or V2X pilots and demonstration projects, it is still not viable en masse. Does the investment in bidirectional charging justify the investment? Currently, that’s questionable. There are other ways that EVs can become grid resources, especially when aggregated. But that is a different conversation.
Equity and accessibility are crucial
Let’s not get carried away in the fervor of EV proliferation without due consideration to equity and accessibility. This topic features prominently in many EV funding mechanisms, such as grants for purchases of used EVs. They are also important to ensure that disadvantaged communities are not left out of the EV revolution. Equity and accessibility are considerations for many decisions around EV deployment and charger siting, going beyond the EVs themselves. For example, one panelist discussed the limitations of wheelchair accessible minivans that are problematic due to where the ramp is located. The network effects of EV proliferation will impact economic development, employment opportunities and quality of life for disadvantaged populations. As another panelist remarked, “At this stage of the EV industry, social equity is more important than profitability.”
Existential questions about the grid being able to support and withstand the EV revolution have not yet been answered. Indeed, it’s obvious that the grid – and how we use energy – will have to change. One panelist noted: “It’s not about using less energy; rather, we must use energy that is generated differently, in a different way.” Far from being an echo chamber, this conference demonstrated that there are multiple competing visions for the future of EVs. These views are endowed with experiences from industries that have gone through a similar technological revolution, such as telecom, real estate tech and solar.
At Wevo Energy, we believe that the future has to include a stellar EV user experience for building owners, charge point operators and consumers, while utilizing true smart charging to create maximum value for all stakeholders. To find out more about Wevo’s unique solution, visit wevo.energy or email email@example.com.