EV Charging Primed for Consolidation

Last week's announcement of a marketing agreement between EV charging company Coulomb Technologies and energy services provider Siemens should come as no surprise. 
Siemens has been an investor in Coulomb, so a closer relationship was all but inevitable. Siemens gains access to Coulomb's ChargePoint networked charging stations technology, while Coulomb can leverage Siemens' smart grid infrastructure and applications.

The EV charging equipment market is currently dominated by relatively small niche players such as Coulomb, Better Place, AeroVironment and ClipperCreek. But larger entities including GE, Panasonic, Samsung and Sanyo have all announced intentions to enter the market. Larger software integrators such as IBM, ABB, Cisco, and SAP are all working on smart grid initiatives and could also form alliances with charging equipment companies. The next 12 to 18 months will see significant shakeout that will include partnerships with and acquisitions of the smaller players by companies with more experience in developing the smart grid and energy services. This is because utilities, which are conservative in adopting technology by nature, want to partner with large companies with the bandwidth to handle any integration issues. They don't want to deal with multiple charging equipment vendors, and will likely tie up with one smart grid integrator to handle integration of EV charging. Smart grid "middleware" companies such as GridPoint, Grid2Home and Silver Spring Networks are an alternative to direct charging equipment to utility communications, and they are hoping to be bridge the gap with software that connects the two.

Charging equipment, whether in a home garage or parking lot, cannot operate as an island and still be helpful to the grid. The energy demand of all EVs must be aggregated to minimize the load on the grid. Integration with other smart grid efforts will be the fastest and most cost effective means of managing EV charging. In many respects, EVs are oversized appliances that over time will participate in demand response and other grid ancillary services.

Today EV charging is being tested through mostly "one off" pilot programs using proprietary technology that is unlikely to scale in their current form. Many houses don't have smart meters, and they are serviced by utilities with small or no smart grid services. The Department of Energy's "EV Project" is sorting through many of the technical issues and will provide a significant step in the learning process. Standards will be developed over the next 2 to 3 years that will streamline the process, but we should expect bumps along the way.

The current EV charging leaders can't go it alone and expect to be easily accepted by utilities, and their success will greatly depend on the partnerships they establish.
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