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“Overcharged” EV infrastructure needs to better balance supply and demand

Contrary to the popular belief that charging infrastructure, or the lack there of, is one of the major roadblocks holding back consumers’ desire to purchase an EV, the reality is that the infrastructure may be “overcharged.”

That was the conclusion from one of the speakers at CBU’s Monthly Automotive Salon (MAS) held on Shanghai on May 19 with a theme of Charging the EV Infrastructure.

David Zhang, a senior auto industry consultant with Neusoft Consulting Group (NCG), found out that roughly about 70 percent of the more than 100 charging spots in 10 cities he investigated recently were empty with charging pillars idle and about 20 percent had traditional gasoline vehicles parked. Only 5 percent were utilized.

Granted that the number of charging stations (in working conditions) is still far below that of gas stations, Zhang’s findings seem to show that there is oversupply of charging pillars or that most of them are just not being used. In fact the number of charging service providers have almost mushroomed overnight, and by Zhang’s count, there are over 300 such providers in China big and small, from state-owned to private ones.

Obviously there are reasons why Zhang’s findings seem to contradict popular belief. One of them, as he pointed out, is that some of the charging spots charge a parking rate that is three or times the cost to charge one kWh or electricity. Furthermore, charging spots may not be in convenient locations and many people who own an EV might be accustomed to go to fixed locations to charge each time the battery is about to die, rather than look for a nearby charging spot.

The fact of the matter is, we are witnessing a “great leap forward” of charging service providers and charging stations and pillars thanks to the opening up of the market and also strong supportive policies. Nothing wrong with that as more of them is supposed resolve consumer anxiety toward EV range and put the problem of “chicken or egg first” to rest. But the country should also caution whether some of the 300 or so charging service providers are in it for real and not for the subsidies. The Ministry of Finance just announced a week ago that it has finished an investigation of NEV manufacturers over subsidy fraud and results will soon be announced. Let’s hope that it doesn’t have to do the same thing again for charging service providers.

Rather than pushing to increase the number of charging stations or pillars, the country must consider having the right number in place that balances the actual demand, as well as making it easier and convenient for EV owners to charge their vehicles.

Ding Zhengyu, the other MAS speaker, said it best, “we need to build infrastructure where the demand is.” That’s why his company has focused exclusively on providing charging service to residential areas and making the charging experience smart and convenient.

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