Blockchain Boosts EV Charging
Perhaps the greatest impediment to electric vehicle (EV) acceptance is range fear, concern about being stuck somewhere short of your destination without the power to get there. Those with an EV and a private home invariably install a charging station in their garage or on their driveway; many EV owners who live in apartments can take advantage of their building’s charging stations. But those without easy access to a charger on a daily basis are unlikely to take the plunge to EV ownership, and even those who do have daily access, either at home or at work, are reluctant to venture beyond the range their car gets on a single charge. That could be changing as blockchain makes distributed charging stations practical.
Just as it is transforming distributed energy resources into a decentralized system of peer-to-peer energy trading, blockchain is set to transform charging stations, whether at private homes or public facilities, into a distributed, highly dynamic system. The vast majority of residential EV chargers spend most of their time, especially during the day, sitting idle. That presents an obvious opportunity for both the homeowner and the driver of an EV from elsewhere to form a transient partnership in which the driver charges his car while shopping or carrying out other business in the neighborhood. The driver can top off his battery while the home-owner can make some money from his otherwise idle charger.
The system works in a way similar to peer-to-peer power trading between owners of roof-top solar arrays and their neighbors and is based on blockchain systems to verify transactions without a central regulator or middleman. Last August, smart-charger eMotorWerks launched a beta test in California that allows drivers to pay each other for the use of their home EV chargers. Through a smart-phone app, a driver can tap into the network and see exactly where there is an open charger in the neighborhood. The homeowner sets the rate and, through blockchain, the driver is charged and the homeowner paid for the amount of electricity used. EMotorWerks will not take a cut of the transaction because it sees the program as a way to make its JuiceBox chargers more attractive and affordable.
The public acceptance of the sharing economy, as in Airbnb and Uber, has made the idea of strangers pulling into your driveway to charge their cars acceptable in a way that would never have prevailed just a decade ago. And while it might at first seem that someone who can afford an EV and charger would have little incentive to earn a little extra by essentially lending his charger to strangers, the charging rates, something around $3 to $5 per hour can add up. A typical EV owner in California spends about $1,000 per year in electricity, so renting out the charger during periods when it would otherwise sit idle can actually pretty much cover the owner’s annual fuel bill.
Other companies, such as eCharge are installing charging stations at hotels in the company’s native New Brunswick in Canada. Drivers who download the eCharge app can look for hotels that have an eCharge station. The app includes a “wallet” that pays for the charging, and the charging process itself can be activated from the app. Hourly rates, which include the cost of electricity are $1.50 or $3.00 per session for a level 2 station and $15 hourly at a fast, 400V station. The company plans to expand beyond Canada and is currently installing stations in Europe and plans a U.S. rollout in October, 2018.
A number of other companies, including WE and Slock-it, are developing blockchain-based systems for on-the-go charging, and it’s possible that the large, traditional gas station owners will enter the fray. But what about bypassing charging stations altogether? Inductive charging could take place at a red light or a pedestrian crossing, and completely change the picture. The transfer of energy and the cost of that energy would be very small, but every mile of range is important, and those miles could add up, especially in cities where there are frequent traffic lights. Again, the system would depend on blockchain to manage all of these minute transactions. But while induction charging appears attractive, various issues remain unresolved, most important among them the question of just what the limits for electromagnetic field strengths are to minimize any health risks. When these questions are solved, inductive charging could someday replace charging stations altogether.