17 Aug 2016
China Commits to National Electric Vehicle Charging Network by 2020
Bumper year for The Beijing Electric Vehicle Charging Station Technology and Equipment International Exhibition as central government commits to imminent national roll-out of charging stations and adopts industry-wide connectivity standard.
With the State Grid Corporation of China announcing plans for a national network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, this really was the year The Beijing Electric Vehicle Charging Station Technology and Equipment International Exhibition came into its own. With more than 100,000 charging stations along 11 major routes set to be installed by 2020, for many exhibitors it was clear that a huge windfall was in the offing.
According to the plan, the State Grid will build 10,000 public fast-charging stations, 120,000 charging piles along expressways across the country. The network will extend to Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, all of the cities in Yangtze River Delta (YRD) regions and all of the major cities in all other regions. In total, the installations will service 202 cities and 36,000 km of expressway.
Unsurprisingly, then, a number of industry commentators have hailed 2016-2017 as the critical year for the growth of companies servicing the sector. According to Pang Lei, Chairman Tellus Power, the specialist EV subsidiary of Hong Kong-headquartered Tusai Holdings, over last few years his company has drawn up its own development plan for the mainland.
This initiative envisages building charging facilities radiating out from Beijing, Shanghai and Xian. These would extend across the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the YRD and the western regions, as well as to a number of other cities. In total, Pang believes 710 super charging stations and 28,800 charging piles will need be installed across the country, representing an investment of some RMB3.55 billion (US$536 million).
As of the beginning of January this year, the Electric Vehicle Charging Interface and Communication Protocol came into effect. This introduced comprehensive and systematic regulation of the charging interface and the required communications protocols. In line with this, electric vehicle charging interfaces across the mainland will now be standardised.
In the past, it was believed that new energy vehicle manufacturers would decide the specifications of charging piles. As a result, a number of well-known electric carmakers, including BYD and Tesla, viewed the establishment of a charging piles network as a crucial part of their development plans.
It was believed that whoever took the lead in the distribution of charging piles would emerge as the dominant force in new energy vehicle industry. The government's move to standardise the charging interface, however, has changed the whole landscape of the industry.
Although the new national standard for the charging pile industry has proved a huge boost for the sector, true success is still reliant on the development of appropriate new energy vehicles. Thankfully, last year proved something of a boom year for such vehicles across the mainland. According to figures from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, 340,471 new energy vehicles were manufactured in 2015, with 331,092 sold to mainland buyers – year-on-year increases of 230% and 240% respectively.
Despite the rapid growth in manufacturing and sales, it is worth remembering that the 2015 purchase of new energy vehicles still only amounted to 1.3% of all car sales that year. This, however, did see sales surpass the 1% mark for the first time, a rapid increase on the 2013 figure when the share was less than 0.1%.
Last year, the National Development and Reform Commission published its Guidelines on the Development of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (2015-2020). This envisages that, by 2020, China will need to have 12,000 centralised charging stations and 4.8 million charging piles in order to be able to service some five million electric vehicles across the country.
With the acceptable ratio of charging interfaces to new energy vehicles seen as at around 1:1, the supply of charging piles in China currently looks certain to fall far short of demand. In order to remedy this, work on constructing new piles is expected to spike over the next couple of years. By the end of this year, it is expected that the mainland charging facilities market will be worth RMB40 billion, breaking the RMB100 billion barrier by 2020.
The new generation of charging piles do not only supply power, they can also analyse data and offer a number of add-on services. As the future new energy vehicles are seen as internet-based smart cars, smart charging piles will also need to be introduced. With this in mind, it was no surprise that smart charging piles were centre-stage at the Beijing Electric Vehicle Charging Station Exhibition, with almost every stand featuring intelligent technology.
Overall, smart charging piles have a number of advantages. Up till now, new energy car drivers using public charging piles had to pay via a prepaid smart card. Different operators, however, used their own proprietary cards, obliging EV owners to have four or five different smart cards in order to access every individual charging network.
With the upgrade to smart technology, all car owners have to do to make payment is use their smartphones to scan the QR code on the screen of the public charging pile, which is compatible with the WeChat and Alipay payment platforms. The charging duration and fee are displayed on both the charging pile screen and the payment platform.
Aside from payment compatibility and connectivity, smart charging piles have a number of other functions. They can, for instance, provide users with information relating to the weather, air quality, appropriate clothing and Wi-Fi connectivity. By collecting information on users' preferences and habits, smart charging piles can also help with route and traffic advice.
Such piles also come equipped with a smart radar, allowing them to detect when a charging bay is occupied by a conventional vehicle. The system then informs management staff of the illicitly-parked vehicle and ensure it is soon again accessible any EV driver in need of a charge.
One of the key reasons that smart charging piles offer multiple services is in order to make their installation more viable in the short-term. With comparatively few EVs currently on the road, the added-functions of intelligent piles opens them up to use by drivers of conventional vehicles and pedestrians, increasing the likely return in the short-term.
In terms of how the EV revolution will, transform the everyday driving experience, one exhibiter - Zhang Xu, the Project Manager of Qingdao Huashuo Gaoke New Energy Technology Co, had a clear view as to how the system will work.
He said: "As you get ready to leave for work in the morning, your EV will be fully-charged thanks to the charging pile in your basement car park. Before you set off, the smart pile will give you information on the optimum route, the weather conditions, the traffic flow and any possible problems with roadworks. You get even get the latest news and do your shopping via the smart charging pile.
"Once you reach work, you can top-up your vehicle at a public charging pile, making payment via your mobile phone and the pile's Wi-Fi connection. On trips away from the major cities into the more rural areas, street lamps may have charging piles fitted. In the more remote regions – areas not attached to the national power grid – there maybe photovoltaic charging piles, which will also offer a communication link."
The Beijing Electric Vehicle Charging Station Technology and Equipment International Exhibition took place in early July.
Ren Yuan, Special Correspondent, Beijing