Transportation | October 09, 2008 |
EVs to Power New Business Models
Just as the solar industry has spawned many new business (specialty finance companies, power aggregators, installers) so will electrified vehicles (PHEV and BEV) create supporting niche industries. According to utility, automotive, and related industries executives attending the RMI Smart Garage charrette, these companies will be needed to assume risk that automakers and utilities aren't willing to take as a service layer in between the two. These new services include:
Free public charging stations -- to ramp up demand for plug-in and all-electric vehicles, a visible number of no-cost public stations are needed. Big box stores such as Wal-Mart or Costco may be willing to install chargers to draw customers, who would have to shop for several hours as their vehicles recharge. State governments may also fund such projects under the guise of meeting carbon emission reduction goals. Other potential industries that could give away power to draw customers -- golf courses and movie theaters.
Battery servicing and reclamation -- during several sessions, it was proposed that new companies (or perhaps utilities themselves) are needed to finance the upfront cost of vehicle batteries and to extract the lifetime value of the battery that will go beyond the car. J.B. Straubel of Tesla Motors says testing that he's seen indicates that battery durability quickly "falls off a slope" after 4 years. Utilities or third-party companies will buy banks of used lithium ion batteries to create relatively inexpensive storage arrays. Some batteries will need to be taken out of cars early to provide maximum value to utilities, while future batteries may outlast the cars. Another potential service is battery swapping, where service companies provide fresh batteries faster (10-15 minutes) than they can be recharged, but Straubel doubts that it will happen. Auto dealerships may get into the battery swapping business to offset revenue lost from charges for mechanic services.
Electric cars as a service -- Better Place equates driving EVs to owning a cell phone. The company will buy the cars and then rent them by mile, and set up a network of charging stations where batteries can be swapped out. This sounds like a large capital investment. (The cellular analogy keeps coming up, often in regards to the wireless infrastructure challenges.)
Electricity bargain hunting -- customers who live in a utilitiy district that has higher rates may purchase electricity outside of their zone (much like people who drive to tax-free states to shop). They could then resell that power back at higher rates to the highest bidding utility. However, the cost of selling back power to utilities from a car is only a few hundred dollars, according to several people I spoke to. While it may feel good, this may not be enough to create a sub-industry.
Charging station locators -- information services companies find locations with available charging stations, and send the information to iPhones.
New "cheap" oil -- petroleum is an old business, but Middle Eastern states could temporarily drastically cut the price of oil if electrified vehicles start to gain popularity. Much of the enthusiasm for solar and then EVs died when oil prices fell quickly, so automanufacturers and utilities need to guard against another price collapse.
The arrival of PHEVs and return of EVs will also force regulatory and tax changes. For example, gasoline taxes that pay for road upkeep will have to be replaced, so taxes may have to be added to filling up at the socket that is kept separate from other electricity consumption. Currently in some states, if a parking garage charges for power by the kWh, they would be considered illegally operating as utilities. They can get around this by "renting" the parking space per hour and not charging directly for the power, but these laws must be changed.