Rocking down to Electric Avenue? Good luck charging your car

By Nick Carey and Tina Bellon

LONDON (Reuters) -European and U.S. cities planning to phase out combustion engines over the next 15 years first need to plug a charging gap for millions of residents who park their cars on the street.

For while electric vehicle (EVs) sales are soaring in Europe and the United States, a lag in installing charging infrastructure is causing a roadblock.

Often cash-strapped local authorities have other priorities than a curbside network of charging points which would allow owners to ensure their EVs are always topped up.

And while that leaves a potential gap for the private sector, it is one that few EV charging startups, who have been early adopters in other locations, are focused on.

“It’s really difficult to tackle on-street residential charging, so there’s really not many companies that have,” Hugh Mackenzie, chief operating officer at Trojan Energy, said.

Trojan has developed a charger, which is being tested on residential streets in two London boroughs, where EV owners insert a short pole into sockets sunk into the pavement and then plug in their car.

Tim Win, an Uber driver who charges his Nissan Leaf every day, is using the system in Brent, north London.

“After I’ve been driving all day I just want to come home and plug in,” said Win, 39, who previously used a nearby EV fast charger to charge up in 20 minutes but sometimes had to wait in line for nearly an hour.

A “cabbie” using one of London’s new electric black taxis told Reuters he often has to drive between charging points, losing valuable custom as he does, only to find they are either already in use or malfunctioning.


Like the roll out of fiber optic cable for ultra-fast broadband, urban on-street charging using solutions which include lamp post chargers or even wireless, will cost billions.

Solutions like Trojan’s are expensive because they require grid connections. And because there are not yet enough EV owners to ensure a quick return, they are 75% subsidized by Britain’s government.

Trojan’s chargers cost around 7,000 pounds ($9,520) to make and install, but Mackenzie says that if that can be cut to 4,500 pounds it will work for private investors.

But it still requires local authority buy-in.

“The biggest factor in whether curbside charging is successful is whether you have an interested and engaged municipality,” said Travis Allan, vice president for public affairs at Quebec City-based FLO, which has installed at least 7,000 curbside chargers in Canadian and U.S. cities.

Yet even engaged local authorities like Brent, which is trying lamp post chargers and other solutions, simply lack cash.

Tim Martin, Brent council’s transportation planning manager, says lamp post chargers cost around 2,000 pounds and rapid chargers around 15,000 pounds, so subsidies are the only option.

“The prospect of being able to fund them ourselves out of our own budgets is practically zero,” Martin said.

Based on car registrations and parking permits, charging startup estimates there are between 5 million and 10 million cars in London, of which around 76% park on the street.

Government figures show the total is around 40% for Britain’s 33 million cars, while around 40% of Americans do not live in single-family homes with garages.

And while the rise of car sharing services may reduce the need for on-street charging, it is unclear by how much. Chief Executive Richard Stobart estimates Britain will need half a million on-street chargers by 2030, when around half of the country’s cars should be electric. runs a network of around 1,000 on-street lamp post chargers in Britain that cost around 1,800 pounds to make and install.

While government subsidies exist, Stobart said, local authorities often lack the resources.

“So they just dither and it takes forever,” he added.

Ubitricity, a Royal Dutch Shell business, is the British market leader, with just 4,000 chargers using lamp posts, which if they are close enough to the curb and use LED lamps, have enough power to mostly charge an EV overnight.

Lex Hartman, ubitricity’s CEO, estimates that in densely-populated areas, around 60% of Europe’s car owners will need public charging.

“You will need chargers at home, at work, at the supermarket, you will need fast charging, but mainly you need charging everywhere,” Hartman said.

“If the infrastructure isn’t there then people will hesitate to buy an electric car unless they are forced to,” he added.

Europe has more than 90 million lamp posts, millions of which can be used for charging, said Hartman, whose ubitricity also runs a lamp post charger network in Berlin.

The European Commission knows urban chargers “will be essential to convincing more and more consumers to go electric,” and has formed an expert group to advise cities on how to deploy them, a spokesperson said.


Some cities face a huge challenge.

New York state has set a goal for all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks to be zero-emission by 2035.

But New York City currently has just 1,580 charging plugs for around one million cars that rely on street parking.

“Owning an EV in a large city like New York is a really painful experience,” said Paul Suhey, co-founder of electric moped sharing startup Revel, which has launched the city’s first fast-charging hub.

An April study commissioned by New York estimated electrifying its transportation would cost some $500 billion.

In Los Angeles, which has the most chargers of any U.S. city, Blink Charging last year bought city-run EV car sharing network BlueLA, which has 100 vehicles and 200 charging stations.

Blink CEO Michael Farkas said local authorities want charging infrastructure in as many places as possible to encourage people to buy EVs, but companies cannot afford to shoulder the investments until ownership rises.

“You can’t just have a field of dreams, you’ll go broke unless the government wants to pay for it,” Farkas said.

Even in Norway, where state support put it at the forefront of the electric shift, rolling out on-street charging is tough.

Oslo subsidizes larger public chargers and rapid chargers, investments that pay off within three to six years, Sture Portvik, who heads up its charging infrastructure efforts, said.

But making charging accessible for the 30% of car owners who lack designated parking in a city where bans on fossil-fuel cars will start in the next few years is a major challenge.

“It’s extremely important that everybody, regardless of their economic background, gets to be a part of the green shift,” Portvik said. “And they will have to because in a few years they will have to sell their diesel car.”

($1 = 0.7354 pounds)

(Additional reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels; Editing by Alexander Smith)

EV rollout will require huge investments in strained U.S. power grids

By Nichola Groom and Tina Bellon

(Reuters) – During several days of brutal cold in Texas, the city of Austin saw its fleet of 12 new electric buses rendered inoperative by a statewide power outage. That problem will be magnified next year, when officials plan to start purchasing electric-powered vehicles exclusively.

The city’s transit agency has budgeted $650 million over 20 years for electric buses and a charging facility for 187 such vehicles. But officials are still trying to solve the dilemma of power interruptions like the Texas freeze.

“Redundancy and resiliency when it comes to power is something we have long understood will be an issue,” said Capitol Metro spokeswoman Jenna Maxfield.

Austin’s predicament highlights the challenges facing governments, utilities and auto manufacturers as they respond to climate change. More electric cars will require both charging infrastructure and much greater electric-grid capacity. Utilities and power generators will have to invest billions of dollars creating that additional capacity while also facing the challenge of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.

Extreme weather events add additional layers of difficulty.

“Reliability keeps you awake,” California Energy Commission member Siva Gunda said in an interview.

Rolling blackouts during a California heat wave last year prompted the state to direct its utilities to procure emergency generating capacity for this summer and to reform its planning for reserve power.

The state plans an aggressive phase-out of sales of gas- and diesel-powered cars and trucks by 2035 – which, if achieved, would require vast increases in electric grid capacity.

The power and transport sectors combined make up more than half of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Their simultaneous greening is considered critical for the United States – the world’s second-largest emitter behind China – to meet its obligations under an international accord to address global warming.

The goal is to power electric cars with renewable energy rather than the coal and natural gas that currently dominate the U.S. power supply. To realize that vision, electricity from intermittent sources like wind and solar will need to be stored, probably through battery technology, so that cars can charge overnight or at other times when supply outstrips demand.


A model utility with two to three million customers would need to invest between $1,700 and $5,800 in grid upgrades per EV through 2030, according to Boston Consulting Group. Assuming 40 million EVs on the road, that investment could reach $200 billion.

So far, investor-owned companies have plans approved for just $2.6 billion in charging programs and projects, according to trade group Edison Electric Institute.

“The electrification of the transportation sector will catch most utilities a little bit off guard,” said Ben Kroposki, director of the Power Systems Engineering Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The organization estimates that, by 2050, the electrification of transportation and other sectors will require a doubling of U.S. generation capacity.

If not managed carefully, the needed investments could saddle consumers with higher energy bills, according to a report last month by California’s utility regulator. Another challenge: lower-income customers often can’t afford to make the upfront investment in electric cars, home batteries and rooftop solar systems that could save them money in the long term.


Utilities are embracing EV sales growth as both a promising new source of revenue and an opportunity to use excess wind and solar power generated at very windy or sunny times when supply exceeds demand.

Investments in both the grid and charging infrastructure that are recovered from ratepayers could add between $3 billion and $10 billion in cumulative cash flow to the average utility through 2030, according to Boston Consulting Group. The forecast also includes potential revenues from new products outside of utilities’ regulated businesses, such as customer fleet routing or charging station maintenance.

The revenue opportunity is still nascent, however, with EVs making up less than 2% of all vehicles registered in the United States. And utilities must invest in infrastructure now for consumers to feel secure in their purchase of an EV, said Emily Fisher, general counsel of utility trade group Edison Electric Institute.

“There is definitely a chicken-and-egg situation with charging infrastructure,” she said.


Major U.S. automakers General Motors and Ford have announced large investments in EV development to keep pace with electric-car pioneer Tesla Inc and to prepare for the prospect of tougher emissions regulations. EV share could grow to 15% by 2030, according to U.S. Department of Energy forecasts.

The electricity to power all those cars is expected to come primarily from renewable energy sources and natural gas, according to NREL. Even if natural gas generation increases to support electrified transportation, overall emissions are projected to decline, the organization said.

Large new investments may pose difficulties for utilities already experiencing weather-related problems. In Texas, many of the companies that would be making those investments face a financial crisis stemming from last month’s cold snap. Utilities and power marketers face billions of dollars in blackout-related charges, and several have filed for bankruptcy.


Daimler Trucks, the world’s biggest maker of heavy-duty haulers, plans to sell electric vehicles in Europe, North America and Japan by next year. But the company is grappling with how to charge what will one day become hundreds of thousands of battery-powered trucks, said Daimler Trucks chairman Martin Daum.

The need for massive investments in grid infrastructure and charging stations “cannot be underestimated,” Daum said.

Ford Chief Executive Jim Farley last week called on U.S. government leaders to support EV sales with favorable regulation and subsidies for the production of batteries and charging infrastructure.

But Robert Barrosa, senior director at Volkswagen AG’s Electrify America, which is building out fast-charging stations throughout the nation, said the gradual pace of EV adoption will allow utilities to adapt.

“We’re not in a doom-and-gloom situation,” Barrosa said. “We’re not going to 80% battery electric sales overnight…it will be a natural transition.”

Barrosa said U.S. energy consumption decreases over the last 20 years, due to efficiency gains in appliances and the transportation sector, mean that the U.S. power system has enough established capacity to support EV growth without the immediate need for big investments.