China to Lead Electric Car Charging Boom by 2015

In the international race to build out infrastructure for electric vehicles, the U.S. government’s recent push for networks of charging stations and the work of Silicon Valley startups on their home turf represent no match for China. According to a new report released today by Pike Research, more than 5 million charge points will be installed worldwide by 2015 — bringing in nearly $6.5 billion in revenue — and nearly half of the equipment will be heading to China.

Largely that’s the result of a strong push by the Chinese government to achieve countrywide mass adoption of electric vehicles. As we’ve written before, there’s a strategic reason for Chinese automakers to go electric: Legacy car companies haven’t yet mastered the technology. By moving early and fast, China — which had the world’s highest vehicle sales last quarter — could dominate the growing EV market.

Many auto companies, policy makers — and, of course, infrastructure startups like Better Place and Coulomb Technologies — say drivers need access to widespread charging networks in order for electric cars to get anywhere close to mainstream. According to Pike, China is on track to lead deployment of this infrastructure in the coming years.

The firm (whose managing director and founder, Clint Wheelock, provides analysis for GigaOM Pro) expects the U.S. to take the No. 2 spot for EV infrastructure, with more than a million charge point installations by 2015. Israel and Denmark (two countries where startup Better Place has deals) are also expected to be “hotbeds for EV charging infrastructure.”

Last month, we wrote about a comment from IBM VP for Energy & Utilities Allan Schurr at the Grid-Connected Mobility Conference that overnight charging at home “in fact is likely to be the rarity rather than the most common” for plug-in vehicles. He explained that there’s a large portion of drivers who won’t have the option of installing a charge point in their garage, and few automakers would opt to sell only to the small fraction of drivers who do have that option. As a result, Schurr said he expects more investment to go toward public and commercial charging infrastructure.

Pike analyst John Gartner said he expects that investment — a “strong funding push by governments” — to result in more than half of all charge points being in public stations by 2015. “Retailers will also install public access stations primarily as a marketing tool, and many companies will also offer workplace charging stations for their employees,” Gartner said in a release about the Pike report today.

Much work remains to be done for Pike’s forecast to prove on target. Public and workplace charge points involve so many different groups (utilities, billing system developers, city regulators, hardware companies, automakers) that coordinating them all represents a huge job — or, for the companies that, like IBM, want to help manage the coordination of this multibillion-dollar buildout, a potential opportunity.

EV Charging Station credit BYD Auto

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