If market forecasts are to be believed—and reality has been consistently outpacing forecasts in recent years—electric vehicles (EVs) are the future of automotive mobility. That’s the resounding conclusion of a pair of reports released earlier this year from the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) and the London- and New York-based Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
In May, IEA released its latest EV forecast, predicting 125 million EVs on the world’s roadways by 2030. In 2017 alone, the world’s EV fleet grew an astounding 54 percent, IEA noted. The same month, BNEF released its Electric Vehicle Market Outlook 2018, which forecasts 30 million new electric vehicle sales per year by 2030. By 2040, BNEF predicts EVs will account for more than half of new vehicle sales and one-third of the global automotive fleet.
But where will all those EVs charge? And how will EVSE owner/operators and EV drivers alike find one another and transact?
The obvious answer—at least in part—is that they’ll charge overnight at home and during the day at work, as many EV drivers already do today. But undoubtedly the growing global network of charging stations (i.e., charge points) will play a huge role, too.
That global charging station network is already big and forecasted to get even bigger. For example, as of late August the free app PlugShare includes more than 234,000 charging station locations in its database worldwide, across 19(!) different network operators. Research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie expects charging infrastructure to attract $18.6 billion in investment in North America alone, with 40 million charging points globally by 2030.
Charging station market fragmentation risks stifling EV adoption
Yet even as EV automakers and EVSE hardware manufacturers alike have wrestled with standardization and interoperability of the charging ports themselves, another potential bump in the road looms ahead for the market: fragmentation.
“EV charging stations today commonly work on a network or membership model. The consumer becomes a member of a charging network and may charge his or her EV only within that network,” explains EWF’s Ian Kelly. “As a consumer, though, I want the flexibility to charge at any station. As a charging station owner/operator, I want to simplify settlement and see higher utilization of my infrastructure.”
Imagine drivers of internal combustion engine autos filling up their tanks only at a certain brand of gas (i.e., petrol) station to which they chose to become a member. Likewise, imagine a petrol station owner/operator only allowing certain car drivers to fill up their tanks and turning away the rest of that potential business. It’s laughable. But that’s a scenario EV drivers and EVSE owner/operators face today.
And while market fragmentation presents one possible hurdle, so does the issue of private-sector intermediaries. When independent charging station owner/operators join the platform of a network operator, that network operator takes a cut. “For this reason, peer-to-peer EV charging is appealing, since it removes third parties from the payment flow,” says EWF’s Thore Hildebrandt.
Could blockchain-based EV charging offer a solution?
On both of these fronts—overcoming market fragmentation and hastening market disintermediation—blockchain has a likely role to play. In fact, that’s the focus of the Share&Charge Foundation, which is to be launched in September 2018.
The Share&Charge Foundation is a new, independent spinoff of the Share&Charge service from Essen, Germany-based MotionWerk, a leading blockchain developer in the mobility sector. MotionWerk, in turn, is itself a spinoff of the innogy Innovaton Hub. And innogy, among many initiatives, is one of the market leaders for electric mobility in Europe.
The imminent launch of the Share&Charge Foundation puts some needed distance between it and innogy. Dietrich Sümmermann, CEO and co-founder of MotionWerk, explains: “It was great in the beginning to have this strong partner with innogy. But the more we got traction with Share&Charge, the more we were approached by innogy’s competitors who said, ‘We like what you do, but we cannot work with you with innogy as a shareholder.” Fully spinning off Share&Charge as an independent foundation would allow it to operate free of any real or perceived bias or conflicts of interest as an open-source, blockchain-based EV market standard.
The newly forming Foundation is ready to get to work applying its learnings from previous Share&Charge pilots exploring blockchain-based EV charging, including:
– North America’s first peer-to-peer EV charging network in California (USA) using blockchain payments,
– An “open UK charging network” integrating three EV charging network operators in the United Kingdom, and
– The Oslo2Rome tour that explored a cross-border, pan-European EV charging network based on blockchain technology.
The Foundation and its blockchain solution fulfill an important role in the ecosystem. “Unlike private-sector platforms run by specific EV charging network operators, Share&Charge is not only interoperable across various technologies and networks but also truly independent,” continues Sümmermann. “It is a decentralized network anybody can join by deploying the Share&Charge code, which is governed by the Foundation. The nature of this kind of blockchain solution avoids a centralized platform and all the problems arising with it.”
Leveraging the Energy Web blockchain and Affiliate ecosystem
As Share&Charge embraces its next phase of life as a foundation, it is looking to both the Energy Web blockchain and the EWF Affiliate ecosystem as parts of it future. “We intentionally decided to fully focus on electric mobility and let others build the best underlying blockchain infrastructure. That’s where the Energy Web blockchain comes into play,” says Sümmermann. “Meanwhile, we’re onboarding EWF Affiliates onto the Share&Charge platform and also collaborating on joint projects to leverage one another’s expertise.”
There’s still plenty of work ahead for everyone involved. “Bringing blockchain into the real world is still a challenge,” Sümmermann explains. That includes for EV charging. For example, “How do we enable customers to start charging right away without waiting for block validation? Already five seconds is quite a long time waiting for a response from your app,” Sümmerman continues. (Bitcoin’s average block time is ~10 minutes, public Ethereum ~15 seconds, and EWF’s Tobalaba test network ~5 seconds currently.)
While the Share&Charge Foundation and EWF teams tackle such pragmatic technical challenges, many eyes in electric mobility and the broader energy blockchain community will be on their next steps. If and, more likely, when blockchain cracks the code for universal access to EV charging stations, it could mean open roads ahead for electric vehicles as the world makes the switch from combustion engines to clean, renewably-powered e-mobility.
Interested to get involved? The Share&Charge Foundation invites EWF Affiliates and other companies in the electric mobility and blockchain spaces to participate in pilot projects in the upcoming months. To learn more, please contact [email protected].
Peter Bronski ([email protected]) is director of marketing and communications for Energy Web Foundation. He is also founder and CEO of Inflection Point Agency, through which he consults on cleantech marketing and comms for organizations such as Coronal Energy, Rocky Mountain Institute, WattTime, and others.