18 October 2019

Smoothing the road for e-car charging stations

If battery is the heart of an electric car, charging posts must be the equivalent of blood vessels.

Without enough charging stations, it’s hard for motorists to embrace electric vehicles. Realizing the problem, and heeding the central government’s call to promote the use of clean energy to curb pollution, top-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai have announced aggressive roll-out plans for battery support infrastructure. The capital city will build 1,000 charging pods this year while Shanghai will establish 6,000 such facilities by 2015.

Also, media reports have said that US-based Tesla is in talks with NARI Technology Development, a subsidiary of China‘s State Grid Corp, to build a charging network across China for Tesla electric sports cars.

Analysts believe that if a deal is clinched, it could bring hefty profits for NARI Technology and electric power equipment maker XJ Electric.

That said, for the gains to be realized, a few problems need to be resolved first. There are at least three major difficulties.

Officials from the National Development and Reform Commission in Beijing have told the China Securities Journal that the situation is very complicated.

First of all, there is the land issue. Car parks in residential communities are quite suitable for building the charging stations, but one also needs to put up electricity transformers at the facilities — given the need to transform high voltage electricity into lower voltage that could be used in charging cars. However, finding the place to set up electric transformers won’t be easy as land is limited in those communities.

Charging technology is the second major challenge.

At the moment, slow battery charging spots are the mainstay in the industry in China, while fast-charge ports have mostly been auxiliary facilities. But both are not ideal.

Industry sources told the Securities Journal that the problem is “it takes too long to charge a battery under slow-speed charging (approximately 3-8 hours), while the battery will be harmed if the charging rate is too fast.”

Weighing a few tons easily, the bulky battery is also very difficult to maneuver.

Last but not least, there is the old problem of getting things done smoothly between different interest groups in China. Charging station projects require the involvement of many government departments and firms; coordination between them could be a headache.

The Journal quoted insiders as saying that PetroChina and the State Grid have tried to work and build the charging spots together, but the cooperation fell apart.

Car parks, grid companies’ customer service centers, highway stopovers and gas stations are all ideal spots for setting up charging stations.

State Grid and China Southern Power Grid are now the leaders in building charging stations for electric cars within the country. As of the end of 2012, State Grid had built over 14,000 charging stations while China Southern had set up nearly 3,000 support facilities for electric vehicles, according to the Journal.

Oil giants PetroChina (00857.HK), China Petroleum & Chemical Corp (Sinopec, 00386.HK) and CNOOC (00883.HK) are also building limited charging pods at their own gas stations. However, other firms will find it hard to gain a foothold in the business.

Authorities are now trying to remove some of the hurdles and resolve the problems.

In one initiative recently, the Ministry of Land and Resources announced a Hefei land auction that mandates the winning bidder to build several electric vehicle charging stations as required. It is just another sign that the government is determined to push the support facilities for new-energy cars.

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EJ Insight writer