Navigant Research Blog

Wireless EV Charging Powers Forward

— February 2, 2012

The prospects for commercializing wireless EV charging are rapidly improving as the industry’s greatest challenges are being addressed.  Auto manufacturers have shown great interest in the convenience factor of wireless charging as a way to increase demand in EVs.  But without technology and performance standards, their investment in wireless charging is likely to be limited to demonstration projects and small custom fleets. 

However, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the governing body whose decisions on standards carry the most weight in the global market, expects to have a final draft specification for wireless charging completed by the end of the year. 

Currently the market is clogged with a variety of competing technologies (including electromagnetic induction or magnetic resonance) and charging speeds, resulting in a lack of interoperability between products.  SAE established the J2954 wireless charging working group to establish wireless PEV charging standards for the minimum efficiency of power transfer, equipment positioning, wireless communications, software, interoperability, and safety. 

With a draft standard in place, the move to commercialization could move much more quickly, as it did when the cabled standards for Level 1 and 2 charging were finalized by SAE.  While other standards groups, such as the Geneva-based International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), may take other approaches, the SAE’s standardization of wireless is a critical first step. 

As shown below, the market for wireless charging will start off slowly, and remain a niche of the overall EVSE sales, with just 5% of total revenue by 2017, according to data from Pike Research’s report, Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment

Qualcomm, a company better known in the telecommunications industry than automotive circles, is moving closer to commercialization of its wireless charging technology.  In January, the company unveiled its technology at CES and began testing a fleet of wireless-charging equipped vehicles in London.  Also in January, wireless charging company Evatran signed up with financially troubled Sears to sell and install its Plugless Power equipment. 

For wireless charging to reach commercialization will require large and well-connected companies such as Qualcomm, Siemens, Delphi and others to supplement the efforts of niche players such as EvaTran and WiTricity to get automakers on board.  If January 2012 is any indication, the sector is poised to make major strides by year’s end. 


EV Maker Coda Moves Into Chaotic Grid Battery Market

— January 30, 2012

Even before selling its first all-electric sedan, Coda Automotive has spun out a subsidiary looking to take its battery technology in a new direction. 

The newly created Coda Energy will leverage the company’s expertise in designing automotive battery systems and apply it to the grid energy storage market.  Coda Energy  hopes to carve out a niche in the burgeoning market for lithium batteries that will be used to support utilities, renewable power, and microgrids. 

Coda is hardly alone in this move.  Many battery companies that originally targeted the automotive market (e.g., A123 Systems and Ener1) have widened their focus to include the grid storage market. 

With its origin as an automaker Coda is unique, but the company has built up several battery assets that it will use to pursue grid opportunities.  The company’s batteries are produced in China through a joint venture with China’s Lishen Power Battery, and Coda acquired battery management systems company Energy CS in September of 2011.  This expertise in building complete battery systems can be applied to either market, although there are important distinctions (customers, regulatory requirements, etc.) that Pike Research will be exploring in an upcoming webinar

Though sales from lithium ion battery makers to the transportation industry are expected to be more than four times greater than to the grid services market ($14.6 billion and $3.5 billion, respectively, in 2017), having a secondary battery market is essential to producing batteries in volume and for competing with other similarly diversified companies. 

Diversifying the battery customer base is a credible strategy for a young company, but dividing the company’s attention even before the first sedans are sold (cars are due to ship in February) could give the impression that the Coda is hedging its bets on becoming a serious contender in the EV world. 

Coda is also hoping to build batteries packs in Ohio, but it has been waiting for a loan from the Department of Energy.  Approval for that loan would face intense political scrutiny as many of the clean tech companies that have received loans have been in Republican crosshairs since the Solyndra debacle.   

Most recently, on January 26, 2012 DOE loan recipient and lithium ion battery maker Ener1 filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the political blowback occurred almost immediately.  However, as pointed out, state and Federal and state financial support started during the Bush Administration, and was championed by Indiana’s Republican governor Mitch Daniels, who is featured in an Ener1 promotional video. 


Texas a Lone Star in EV Charging Infrastructure

— January 25, 2012

In the 19th century, Texas became well known for its longhorns and the Alamo. The 20th century saw the oil boom, the Cowboys, and an infamous Dallas afternoon in November, 1963. In the 21st century, the state is becoming defined by its surprisingly progressive stand on energy through its wind farms and embracing of electric vehicles.

NRG Energy and its EV Services division have been leading the drive to bring clean power and transportation to Texas. The company now controls 450 megawatts of wind power in the state, and has executed the most aggressive rollout of EV infrastructure in the country.

These two developments are closely linked, according to Arun Banskota, the president of NRG EV Services, with whom I spoke at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. NRG is investing $25 million in public EV charging equipment in Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Banskota said. That’s a hefty investment in a speculative market, especially for a publicly-traded company. Despite the area’s reputation as an oil town rich in land yachts, NRG is installing 50 “Freedom Stations” in Houston and 75 in DFW. Each of the charging stations has at least one DC fast charger and one Level 2 charging station, and they cost more than $100,000 per location.

The strategy appears to be working. According to Banskota, 80 percent of Nissan Leaf owners in the two regions have signed up for the EVGO program, a subscription service that enables charging at home or around town. NRG customers can specify only clean energy when they sign up.

Banskota said the company’s wind farms produce an abundance of power at night, when demand is low, which can result in spilling the excess power or negative pricing. Enter the EVs, which can charge at night and enable NRG to generate more revenue from its wind farms. Tying wind to EV charging in Texas mirrors similar endeavors in The Netherlands and Denmark, but is unique in the United States.

Texas is one of four states (along with Hawaii, California and Virginia) that currently do not regulate EV charging services, and NRG is likely to offer a similar service in one of the other states during 2012. NRG is looking to integrate EV charging into home energy management applications so that all of a home’s energy can be managed through a single application. The company also plans to introduce vehicle to grid (V2G) technology in several states. The company acquired V2G technology from the University of Delaware, but does not expect there to be much demand for using vehicles to provide power to the grid for three to five years.


Reviewing Our EV Predictions for 2011

— January 5, 2012

Plunging headlong into 2012, it’s a good time to pause and look back at our predictions for what Pike Research forecast would happen in the world of electric vehicles in 211.  Here’s a quick rundown of what Pike Research predicted for 2011 along with analysis of where we hit and missed:

1. The majority of people who drive a plug-in vehicle won’t own it.   

This prediction was on the money as GM and Nissan allocated a good percentage of their vehicles to dealers to make them available for test drives and to corporations for fleet use.  As predicted, car sharing programs are incorporating EVs into their fleets to enable many consumers to get their first taste of electric motoring, and we expect that trend to continue in 2012.

2. Automakers will get pushback from EV owners regarding the length of time it takes to fully charge a vehicle.

We haven’t heard as much negative feedback on charging times as we anticipated, partly due to the fact that most consumers are buying faster Level 2 charging equipment rather than plugging vehicles into a standard outlet.  However, Nissan decided that offering a 3.3-kilowatt onboard charger was a competitive disadvantage for the Leaf and therefore doubled the speed for the 2012 model.

3. Stop-start vehicles will arrive in the United States, albeit in small numbers

Sales of non-hybrid vehicles with stop-start technology were indeed minuscule in 2011.  During 2011 Ford and Volkswagen announced they were bringing stop-start to their North American lineups by 2012, and Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls announced it was investing more than half a billion dollars globally in stop-start battery manufacturing capacity.

4. Many EV charging stations will spend the majority of their time idle

We didn’t exactly go out on a limb with this prediction.  Despite the fact that public charging stations installations have lagged, in many cities there are more public chargers than EVs today.  We’ve heard many anecdotal stories of charging stations that are rarely if ever servicing vehicles and we can expect that to continue in 2012.

5. Fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) will be sold to fleets and consumers in small but growing numbers.

Automotive companies are continuing to slowly push forward towards commercialization of FCVs, but the quantities sold were very limited in 2011.  Based on the lack of availability of vehicles during the year, we sharply reduced our expected sales of FCV for 2011 to less than 700 globally – but that’s up from less than 200 the prior year.

6. Someone somewhere will have a bad EV experience and the media will overreact.

Fortunately for automakers the only negative EV experience that received significant media attention was at a NHTSA test facility.  The web and media did play up the event and some reports accused NHTSA of not responding quickly enough.  However, the coverage avoided overreaction.  Fisker also has an issue about potential fires due to coolant leakage within the battery pack, so we’ll see if the “EV batteries are a fire hazard” follow up stories continue.

7. The advanced battery category will heat up with M&A activity.

Way off.  There were no significant acquisitions or mergers during the year, and the biggest news was actually of an “anti-merger” – the dissolution of the Johnson Controls and Saft joint venture.  We expected some of the smaller companies to be acquired, but the independent battery startups managed to survive on their own despite sluggish EV sales.  Lithium-ion battery maker Boston Power received the most interest from investors as the company is shifting its focus, and its operations, to China.

8. Range anxiety” will prove to be more fiction than fact.

The accuracy of this prediction is hard to quantify, but the hypothesis that EVs would become stranded as drivers would not be able to cope with the shorter driving ranges appears to be false.  The media attention to range anxiety is slowly subsiding and should continue to fade from view in 2012.

9. The best-selling EVs won’t have four wheels.

This one was a gimme.  Global sales of electric bikes and motorcycles are continuing to grow rapidly, and are finally making inroads in the United States.  Two-wheeled electric vehicle sales far outpace all forms of hybrids and EVs, and with companies such as SRAM getting into the game, the gap will continue to widen.

10. The landscape for charging equipment will undergo a seismic shift as the category swiftly moves toward becoming a commodity market.

We were on target in predicting a seismic shift in EV charging equipment, but we picked the wrong one.  Prices didn’t fall as quickly as expected due to lower than expected sales of EVs and chargers.  But an emerging business model where third-party companies own and operate the charging equipment at no cost to the property owner has shaken up the industry.  These charging-as-a-service providers (350 Green, Car Charging Group, etc.) will help drive up volumes and drive down sales.

Overall, six of Pike Research’s 10 predictions mostly hit the mark, while four were off or missed entirely.  Undoubtedly we’ll do better than 60% for 2012.


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