The charging profitability puzzle and how the big boys are breaking it down

2021-05-14 16:19:13  News

The strong expectations of the future market and the immaturity of the existing business model have made the domestic charging infrastructure industry present a completely different pattern from the general industry development, very different but unharmed, contradictory views and contradictions in the same body, opposite and blossoming, innovation and passion.


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Can new charging solutions and methods drive the development of electric vehicles and make life easier and more convenient in the future?


Charging challenges and how each company is tackling them


After several years of development, the charging infrastructure industry has formed a certain market monopoly, with the TOP 8 companies accounting for nearly 90% of the market. And of these 8 companies, 6 are private capital. If the profit model remains unclear, can these companies, which are very much focused on input to output ratio, still stick to the circle? What do they rely on to make a profit in the case of the established ones?


1. The continued investment of the top companies


The companies that have already entered the Top 8 are forming a relative market monopoly in relation to the many small and medium-sized operators, and are initially making overall or partial profits. 


In April 2019, TGOOD Chairman Yu Dexiang wrote a letter to TGOOD's shareholders, formally announced that its subsidiary TGOOD, which is engaged in the charging pile business, crossed the break-even line and started making profits ---- This also declared the effectiveness of its operation model.


As for Star Charging, which is the second largest in terms of market size, their operating mindset in the charging infrastructure industry is not quite the same as that of TCC. "The company's core components, such as charging modules, gun wires and so on, are all developed and manufactured by ourselves, and we do the charging pile business in the form of a whole industrial chain. We have developed and manufactured all of them ourselves. In this way, product quality, maintenance, and service efficiency and quality can be guaranteed, as these are all under our own control."


A step further in scale is monopoly. As long as the monopoly is within the permissible limits, the price of its products will inevitably be more advantageous. Monopoly is bound to bring profits, it is only a matter of time. Therefore, for these head companies, it is their choice to continue to invest more.


2. High-profile involvement of the national power sector


Unlike the first two, the investment by State Grid, which ranks third in terms of market size, is of a different mindset. However, in terms of targeting future share, State Grid is the same as the first two, both of which have reached industry dominance with coverage.


In terms of current market share, the two largest power companies, North and South, have a significant advantage.


State Grid has the largest number of platforms in the world, with over 680,000 ev charging stations connected, including nearly 90,000 self-operated piles, covering more than 85% of public charging stations nationwide, and a total of over 120 social operators connected, with over 3 million registered users. In an interview with China Industry News at the Sixth China International Electric Vehicle Charging and Switching Industry Conference 2020, Que Shifeng, Deputy General Manager of State Grid Electric Vehicle Service Co. It has built 8,400 highway piles with a service mileage of nearly 50,000 km, covering almost all the key driving areas of highways.


Southern Grid Electric is the most dense service platform among the five southern provinces and regions. According to Huang To, Deputy General Manager of the Smart and Connected Business Group of Southern Power Grid Electric Vehicle Service Co., the number of self-operated charging facilities of Southern Power Grid Electric has reached 34,000, the number of effective registered users of "Shun Yi Charging" has exceeded 500,000, the number of daily active users has exceeded 20,000, and the average daily charging power will soon exceed 1 million kilowatt hours.


Of course, the national electricity sector is not without its own interests in the charging infrastructure industry.


In the view of Liu Yongdong of the China Electricity Council, the charging facility industry allows electric vehicles to become clients of electricity use, and the national electricity sector is very concerned about this potential customer base; secondly, the charging of electric vehicles helps to cut peaks and fill valleys in the electricity supply, reducing the construction and operation costs of the electricity sector; in the longer term, electric vehicles are likely to become a kind of mobile energy storage terminal in the future, interacting with the power grid.


Will the high-profile involvement of the national team have an impact on the industry? Several experts gave similar answers on this point.


Dr. Li Gang, director and researcher at Peking University's Market Economy Research Centre, said that the State Grid's strong capital strength, although still in the third position, does not preclude it from having a larger market size in the future, and will merge and reorganise or hold and participate in other charging pile companies. In the case of State Grid, they can better sell their electricity products and expand their electricity storage space through capital operation in order to enhance their own control and service capability in the electricity market.


Li Jianbo, general manager of BAIC Special Call (Beijing) New Energy Technology Co Ltd, said that although the industry currently has its own charging cloud platform between them, interconnection is also still doing well, but from a long term perspective, "there may only be 2~3 large charging operators will still exist, the other more we think should be a flow port". 


For many in the industry, however, the angle of consideration is more towards differentiation.


Different segments of the market have characteristics inherent in its own construction. For example, operational vehicles such as taxis and net cars need to be charged or changed quickly; private charging piles in the community can be charged slowly overnight; underground and surface parking garages have different requirements for charging; changing stations are completely different from charging stations and charging piles; charging scenarios in urban areas are different from those on highways; and there are regional differences, etc. All these will create different operators.


"With a suitable site, a few piles may be able to operate quite well", says Tong Zongqi, director of the information department of the China Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Promotion Alliance, which is one reason why there are currently a large number of small and medium-sized operators in the industry, and many of them are scattered among the charging alliance's statistics.


"We have a 24-hour manned charging station, which drivers like best because they can ensure timely charging whenever they come in." This real-life example confirms this statement.


3. Operating model from heavy to light


Companies that are ranked in the Top 8 but have a smaller market share compared to the Top 3, they still choose to stay in the industry because they have found a business model that suits them.


A typical example of this type of company is Jiangsu Cloud Fast Charging New Energy Technology Co.


We don't sell piles and we don't build stations", says Xu Weijie, head of the North China region of Cloud Fast Charge, "but rather "empower" small and medium-sized operators. What is "empowerment"? In total, Cloud Fast Charge has more than 50 operators in Beijing, with more than 1,200 charging terminals and a total power of more than 25,000 kilowatts. For Cloud Fast Charge, the specific work is to serve these operators: to increase the charging capacity by attracting traffic; to carry out operation and maintenance; and to negotiate cooperation with OEMs. The name of the charging station in Beijing's Shunyi National Exhibition is "Cloud Fast Charge Charging Station", but the owner of the station is not Cloud Fast Charge, but a company operating a storage business in Beijing.


Tong Zongqi said, "Hundreds or thousands of small and medium-sized operators in the industry have very small charging piles, only a few or dozens of piles, but they need more car owners to know where their piles are, so they need to use a third-party platform to improve the utilization rate of piles and shorten the time of capital recovery. CloudFastCharge addresses exactly one of the pain points of this segment of operators, helping them to operate, attract traffic and solve some of the problems in the O&M process."


Expanding operational thinking to include charging hardware equipment is something that Tesco is also a pioneer in. "The company is the first in the industry to propose the technical route of an ecological network for car charging and is currently the only company to do so," said Yu De Xiang, chairman of TGOOD.


The so-called charging network is "linking people, cars and energy in the process of charging, with financial big data and payment big data formed between piles and people, automotive industry big data and battery big data formed between piles and cars, and platform big data formed between piles and energy".


The charging network that integrates all kinds of big data can not only "rely on charging, discharging, energy storage technology and network to guide users to participate in the national grid to cut peaks and fill valleys, while allowing new energy vehicles to be charged with new energy electricity", but also "rely on the collected data on cars, charging, behavior, environment, etc. to achieve value-added Internet services for users and cars."


In Liu Yongdong's view, the trend towards "a shift towards lighter assets" is not only evident in Cloud Fast Charge's move from hard to soft, and Tesco's move to both hard and soft, but also in the State Grid's "Find a Partner Programme".


Since 2015, the charging infrastructure industry has passed the initial "horse race" period. But as the expected cake gets bigger, there will be "land" to "circle" in the future. So the industry has seen Huawei's strong involvement with DC fast charging modules, Ant Group's wholly owned subsidiary taking a stake in a pile enterprise, Ningde Time's cooperation in setting up a pile enterprise, and Ali, Drip, and Gaode have also come forward. But for most of the money, given the uncertainty of the situation, they are still on the sidelines with heavy money, waiting for the "dark horse" that will win.


How can a foreign monk read the scriptures?


European and American charging operating companies have surged forward in the past two years, with the seeds of catching up with Chinese charging companies. They are not only looking for ideas on coverage, but also on "hardware innovation" and "scenario marketing". Isn't it time we expanded our thinking?


First move: mobile charging piles


Charging stations are not always located where they are needed. Particularly at impromptu events such as trade fairs or festivals, it is not possible to use charging posts that are too far away from the event and are installed in a fixed location. This is why many manufacturers and start-ups prefer to use mobile charging posts. The Volkswagen Group has developed this fast charging system together with the electricity supplier E.ON. Just an ordinary socket is needed to charge up to 360 kWh of electrical energy storage, which does the job well even without a power connection. The mobile charging station from AEW Energie AG in Alau, Switzerland, is even more flexible because it is also able to draw energy from a photovoltaic system integrated in the roof. In addition, the ME Energy system can generate electricity from CO2-neutral fuels and thus has a charging capacity of up to 210 kW independent of the grid.


Second trick: bi-directional charging technology


With this technology, the car can be used as an electrical energy store, so it can also output electricity to power houses or other electrical devices or to stabilise the grid. The software ensures that the battery is always fully charged for the required time and that it is available for use in the car. In Japan, two-way charging is already a standard, but in Germany the necessary laws and regulations and important components (such as suitable, affordable wall-mounted charging posts) are still missing.


Third trick: inductive charging


Whereas a few years ago there was no alternative to charging via a plug, we now find inductive charging very convenient because energy is transmitted wirelessly via an electromagnetic field. To do this, the car must be parked with centimetre-level precision on top of a special mat. Of course, its efficiency is lower than charging via cables and so far only a few kilowatts can be charged. In addition, there are no uniform technical standards, which is why manufacturers have suspended development. Nonetheless, it can be considered when driving and parking on autopilot.


Fourth trick: charging while shopping


In many supermarkets, electric car drivers can park and charge their electric cars in the car park while they shop without paying extra. Many branches of the German supermarkets AldiSüd, Globus, Lidl and Kaufland, as well as IKEA, offer this service. In addition, hardware shops such as Hornbach and Bauhaus and fast food outlets such as Burger King and McDonald's can also charge, but rarely for free.


Tip 5: Streetlight charging posts


There is often a lack of space and funding for building public charging stations in cities. Berlin-based start-up Ubitricity makes the most of the infrastructure already in place by using special cables to connect electric cars to streetlight charging posts for charging. Users with standard charging cables can be authorised to charge via their smartphone. The smart solution is already in use in countries such as the UK and France. Another proposal is the so-called SmartCable. this charging cable is mobile and has an integrated electricity meter with a SIM card that charges the exact amount of electricity consumed.


The sixth trick: express electricity for bicycles


The lack of charging infrastructure in cities is the reason for the creation of this service. The idea is that, if necessary, a bike courier can take a mobile battery box with him and through it charge the battery in the electric car. The aim of these start-ups is to improve the current state of urban mobility. There are already a number of car sharing and mobility providers such as Sixt, ShareNow and Voi. in addition, smart software helps to manage shared trips efficiently.


Tip 7: Smart charging with multiple sockets


The more electric cars there are, the greater the likelihood of not being able to find free charging facilities. This is because up to now, only one car can usually be connected to each charging post and it can be occupied for a long time. That's why Munich-based start-up ChargeX offers a system called Aqueduct for fleets, underground garages and car parks. All you need is a power connection, which can be expanded into special modules using a plug-and-play method depending on the number of charging posts needed. The intelligent control system recognises the electrical demand of each vehicle and determines the sequence of the charging process and the charging power, taking into account the departure time.


Tip 8: Fully automatic charging


The Austrian start-up Easelink's system brings a high degree of convenience, similar to inductive charging. Once the car is parked above a charging mat fixed to the ground, a device from the underside of the vehicle connects to it and charging begins automatically. The Matrix-Charging system is competitively priced at about the same level as a high-quality wall-mounted charging post. Easelink is testing the technology in several projects with partners and car manufacturers, but there is no information on availability yet.


Tip 9: Battery trailer rental


French startup EP Tender is working on a solution for long-distance driving. The battery trailer, which will be in series production in 2022, will allow electric car drivers to rent it to get a longer range without wasting time recharging. The trailer is capable of delivering 60 kWh of charging power. The start-up plans to set up rental stations every 50 kilometres on major transport routes. An annual fee of 40 euros is planned, with a maximum daily rental of 15 euros and a cost of 5 euros for replacing the trailer. The EP Tender is currently being tested with the Renault Zoe and there are no plans to sell the trailer. Success will depend on whether the manufacturer allows its own electric cars to be charged while driving.


Tenth trick: mobile chargers


If the battery runs out sooner than planned, you may be faced with the awkward situation of not being able to find a charging station immediately to recharge. At the moment, this is a real problem. The American company SparkCharge has launched a product capable of ultra-fast charging. The unit consists of a 9 kg DC fast charger and up to five individual battery modules. Each battery module weighs 22 kg and holds 3.2 kWh of energy, giving a range of 24 km. The added range of 120 km will take the electric vehicle to the next charging station without any problems. sparkCharge also wants to offer a breakdown service or provide the service directly to the user via an app.


Luoyang Grasen Power Technology Co., Ltd is a professional AC home charger and DC fast charger EV supercharger manufacturer for 11 years in China, the charging connectors can be any two of CCS1/CCS2/CHAdeMO/GBT. Please enter our website for more information: https://www.grasen.com. Please send email to sales@grasen.com for inquiry.


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