Why is it important to standardize charging stations across the country?

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A driver planning to make the drive from Bangalore to Goa can look forward to an eleven-hour trip across some of the most beautiful parts of the country, long stretches with nary a town in sight. The fastest route would take her along NH-48,  soaked in the beauty of the Western Ghats. During this 585 km drive, you can see endless numbers of petrol and diesel fuel stations. But if you were driving an electric vehicle (EV), you will quickly notice that there are hardly any charging stations along this route. 

The same holds true across the country. Gas stations outnumber public electric vehicle charging stations. There are just 150 EV charging stations across India. It’s no wonder people get so nervous about driving an electric car.

Why do we need more charging stations?

How far can you travel with your EV?

Numerous studies have shown that customers steer clear of EVs because they worry about the lack of charging stations. Studies also show that consumers are more likely to buy an electric car when they see stations around town. While fears about range anxiety are largely unfounded–even the cheapest EVs sport enough range to serve nearly all of a driver’s needs–the paucity of charging stations is a real concern on longer trips, and it is deterring consumers from going all-electric.

It’s not just consumers who want to see more chargers but also the makers. Charging stations are a boon to automobile makers, who want to sell electric cars, as well as to power utilities, which want to sell more electricity. Some utilities and automakers are investing huge sums into setting up charging stations. But by and large, automakers and power companies are not putting a lot of money towards charging infrastructure.

Power utilities have a big interest in EVs. In spite of continued economic growth, demand for electricity has stayed flat over the last decade, as businesses slash energy use and consumers switch to more power-thrifty appliances–LED light bulbs, flat-screen TVs, high-efficiency washers and dryers. EVs could drive up the demand for electricity, throwing a lifeline to power utilities. And yet, there are no advancements in building charging stations.

Even if EV sales take off and charging stations proliferate, barriers will remain. Making EVs more viable means installing not just more chargers, but more fast chargers that allow drivers to take long journeys. The difference between a fast charger and a slow charger is the difference between a family stopping for coffee while they refuel their car and a family stopping overnight.

There is also the fact that the technology is not standardized. Different cars use different plugs. So, while charging stations dot the country, not every station meets every driver’s needs. Until manufacturers arrive at an industry- standard or policymakers mandate that standard charging stations are going to need to have two or three different types of plugs, and people will need to be able to charge at different speeds because their car might not have a supercharger. We believe that policymakers have a key role to play in building out charging stations. They have to actually put in place laws and incentives that encourage the development of the necessary infrastructure.

Why is there a crucial need for standardization?

Fast-paced charging stations with standardized plugs is the need of the hour.

Throughout the world, different charging protocols, plug designs, and billing systems have been developed and introduced. In fact, even within many countries, various networks with proprietary identification and billing systems have emerged that do not (yet) allow EV drivers to roam between these networks. The variety and incompatibility among these networks makes that EV drivers can’t use their EVs to their full potential and that cross-border trips are virtually impossible. Besides the practical value of interoperability to EV drivers throughout India, one could also argue that standardization would be beneficial to equipment manufacturers and charging network operators as it would provide much-needed clarity and bring about positive scale effects. Furthermore, standardization could also take away some of the uncertainties among potential EV-drivers and, in a broader rhetorical sense, position the EV as a viable option today instead of presenting it as an underdeveloped future option.

Most countries (much like India) are still struggling to define their national standard, especially for the identification and billing system, to enable their EV drivers to charge throughout the country. Harmonization of the connecting hardware is however only a first step towards true interoperability of Indian charging networks and much needs to be done to ensure that EV drivers can actually charge their cars anywhere in the country. This could be the ideal point in time to push for international standardization, but from this report and the interviews that were conducted, it tentatively follows that the individual countries have prioritized their own standardization efforts over the international ones. In other words, those countries that have not realized domestic interoperability seem eager to do this in the short term. As a possible consequence, some of these national networks will create a barrier, resulting from a local lock-in.

For an emerging EV manufacturer, much like ours, non-standardized systems are the bane. We urge you to join us in implementing the motion towards subsequent change. The simplest way to do so is to advocate for more charging stations that are standardized and simple to use. Visit www.kabiramobility.com for more information.

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