For EV Charging, You Can’t Beat Free

By · June 02, 2010

ChargePoint Installation in San Jose, Calif.

A Coulomb Technology ChargePoint installation in San Jose, Calif.

The San Francisco Bay Area and eight cities will receive nearly 5,000 charging stations and residential charging equipment courtesy of the federal government. The Department of Energy has funded a $15 million project that will provide equipment from Coulomb Technologies of Campbell, California.

This build out of charging infrastructure is paid for under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and will provide equipment to applicants in Austin, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Sacramento, Redmond, (WA) and Washington DC. Companies and individuals seeking the charging equipment would have to cover the installation and other service costs, which is expected to net Coulomb Technologies another $22 million.

Individuals who purchase the Ford Focus Electric sedan or Ford Transit Connect Electric van in the nine areas can apply to receive the free charging equipment. Coulomb also has marketing agreements with General Motors for the Chevrolet Volt and Daimler’s Smart ED to promote its charging equipment. Coulomb has not announced pricing or availability for its upcoming residential charging product, but CEO Richard Lowenthal assured me that it would be available in advance of any electric vehicle deliveries. He said that Coulomb is also applying for state grants to provide additional charging equipment.

Charging equipment vendors have been relying on government funds for much of their revenue to date. Previously the ARRA allocated the funding of 11,210 charging stations and residential equipment across five states in a project administered by charging equipment vendor Ecotality.

In Search of a Business Model

As outlined in our recently released Pike Research Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment report, the lack of a clear business model for operating public charging stations is likely to hamper commercial sales. The government-sponsored charging stations will provide rudimentary charging infrastructure in 14 areas, and retailers and other commercial entities are expected to either charge for access to their equipment or provide free charging.

The companies that receive free charging equipment through these programs are more likely to provide complimentary charging because of the low cost of electricity, but this could make pay-for charging more challenging.

As consumers get accustomed to free charging (and low cost charging at home), they are less likely to want to pay for charging elsewhere.

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