I had an EV for 10 days
And it was a nightmare
In September 2018, we got an electric vehicle (EV) on rent for a few months in India. We had to make a 40 km roundtrip every day.
And we thought we could just come back and plug it in every night which would be sufficient for the next day’s trip.
Unfortunately, that EV’s charger did not work in our house.
Everything seemed to comply but till date, no one knows why it didn’t work.
And we did not have any public charging points nearby.
So we had to, unfortunately, switch to a gasoline vehicle.
India is not one of the leading nations in EV adoption but the lack of charging infrastructure for EVs is a global problem.
It is one of the major obstacles that EVs have to overcome to achieve mass adoption.
And here’s how 3 startups across the world are solving it⬇️
Not for everyone…Most EV users drive for less than 100 miles a day. An overnight charging is sufficient for that usage. But think about fleet owners- trucks moving around the city or cabs doing multiple trips or Ubers/Lyfts covering several 100 miles in a day. If they are electric, they would definitely run out of charge during the day. Overnight charging won’t be sufficient for them. And stopping during the day to charge essentially means downtime (leading to lost business).
Let’s think about it differently…To solve these mid-day charging woes for fleet owners(and promote the switch to EVs), US-based Ample is working on a battery swapping technology for EVs. Similar to the concept of filling up gasoline, you can get the battery in your EV swapped within 10 minutes through a few clicks.
The EV driver takes the vehicle to the Ample station where a robotic arm slides under the vehicle and replaces the discharged battery modules.
The modular structure of Ample’s battery makes it possible to replace only the discharged modules and not the entire battery.
Discharged modules are then taken to the charging station and are slowly charged overnight- lower electricity costs at night make it economical and slow charging increases the battery life.
Tidbits…Ample cannot swap out just any factory-installed battery packs. So it needs to have partnerships with automakers to put its modular batteries in their EVs. These vehicles can also be charged like any other EV- fast DC charging or overnight charging (2 common types of EV charging). Interestingly, a majority of battery swapping startups(except a few in China) have failed in the past. So it would be interesting to track the progress of Ample, which has been backed by some of the biggest VCs.
Range anxiety is an ailment…Thanks to oil prices and low incentives provided for EV purchase, the EV switch in the US is slower than in China and Europe. Setting up EV infrastructure is even slower as it faces challenges like grid limitations, construction, and permits. Amidst all this, EV owners’ biggest worry is that they'll be stranded if their charge runs out. No one wants to wait in line to charge their cars or have it as a planned activity in a day. For mass adoption, recharging your EV should be as simple as filling up gasoline.
On-demand delivery of EV charging…Founder Joshua Aviv had seen this problem firsthand in 2013 when he had his first EV. And he thought that rather than relying on charging stations, charging should be brought to EVs. And that’s how SparkCharge was born, where a portable EV charging station is taken to wherever the user is. Their mobile charging unit, Roadie (image below), is a portable, powerful, modular structure that can bring EV charging to the car.
Customers have to subscribe to their subscription plan. Through their app, they can enter the location of the vehicle and can request their preferred time slot.
The concierge team arrives with Roadie and charges the EV for 50/100 miles- as selected by the customer.
It can provide 1 mile of charge in 60 seconds, at a rate that's 14 times faster than a typical home-based unit.
We need the right partners…Someone still needs to take the charging unit to the cars. SparkCharge has been smart about it and has partnered with companies like Allstate Roadside, a roadside assistance service provider, HONK Technologies, the digital platform connecting drivers and towing professionals, and vehicle services startup, Spiffy.
8000 miles away… India faces the same challenge but the scale is different. It will need close to 400k charging stations by 2026 for 2 million EVs. A few years ago, Maxson Lewis and Darryl Dias wanted to build something in the EV infrastructure space but then they realized that EVs won’t solve the pollution problem in India if the charging infrastructure was still running on coal-powered stations. So they decided to focus on their existing solar business, which later got incubated by Shell and backed by Microsoft.
But EV charging was still on their minds…A year after that, they revisited the EV infrastructure idea and came up with ChargeGrid, a robust EV charging infrastructure across the country. Their solar-powered grid-connected charging station is entirely free of fossil fuel. They allow other EV charging operators across India to be part of the ChargeGrid network app and provide end-to-end hardware, software, installation, operations & maintenance of EV charging solutions.
The DC fast charging station can charge the vehicle in 30 minutes giving a range of around 140 kilometres.
EV users (2, 3 and 4-wheelers) can detect chargers within 500 metres of their location.
All their hardware parts and software are developed locally within the country.
Innovations Galore…Their latest innovation is the streetlamp electric vehicle charger called ChargeGrid Flare. It’s a charger with an inbuilt energy-saving LED lamp that offers charging from a street lamp. In urban areas where lack of space is a problem, this could be a game-changer. In the next few months, they plan to launch the world’s smallest EV charger.
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