Multinational energy management powerhouse Schneider Electric just made it tougher on others vying for electric vehicle charger market share by bringing its EVlink™ DC Quick Charger to an already overcrowded market.

It was hard to spot a booth not hawking chargers on the Los Angeles Convention Center floor on the opening day of EVS26, the annual battery electric vehicle (BEV) showcase symposium. Of the roughly 200 booths, some 25 are charger entries. Only the components/electronics category has more booths, and that covers a wide range of products.

Schneider Electric’s edge, said the company's EV Business Director for North America Mike Calise, is its $30 billion global energy business. “Seventy percent of the world’s electrons flow through our equipment,” Calise said, and Schneider is therefore “uniquely capable of deploying electric vehicle charging equipment in mass scale.”

The EVlink, designed for “big energy needs,” has a price tag of $20,000 to $50,000, Calise said, depending on the complexity of the installation. It provides an 80 percent charge of a typical fully electric vehicle in 30 minutes, Calise said, although that varies according to battery size and capability.

It is a market worth fighting for a share in, Calise said, noting that sales of BEVs went from 2,000 in 2010 to 20,000 in 2011, a ten-fold leap. And Pike Research, he added, predicts -- in anticipation of auto industry majors Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi and BMW bringing plug-in vehicles to showrooms this year -- there will be sales of 40,000 to 60,000 units, another doubling or tripling in volume, in 2012.  And it is estimated, Calise said, that there will eventually be about one and one-half chargers for every electric vehicle on the road.

Those rushing into the charger marketplace were buoyed by the $120 million settlement between the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and NRG Energy announced in March. That settlement will fund the building of a network of charging stations for BEVs the length and width of the state, as required by an executive order from California Governor Jerry Brown.

The first $100 million of the payment from NRG Energy to the state settles claims against NRG’s predecessor Dynegy for March 2001 long-term power contracts it failed to fulfill. It will pay for at least 200 public fast-charging stations and another 10,000 plug-in units at 1,000 locations across California at no cost to California's drivers or taxpayers. The infrastructure is expected to drive the state’s transition to BEVs.

Indicative of the marketplace at which Schneider is aiming the EVlink, the refrigerator-sized charger requires a 208-volt, 240-volt, or 480-volt connection.

The first two types of outlets are “fairly pervasive in most commercial locations,” Calise said, and would suit multi-unit living situations like apartment buildings and condominiums. This hits the part of the residential market outside single-family homes with garages, a customer sector currently of great concern to those seeking to expand the BEV customer base. Some 65 percent of charging, Calise said, is done at home.  

The bigger voltage connection is found in the “industrial locations” where there is typically a large workforce. The second most common site for BEV charging, Calise noted, is the workplace.

Schneider Electric already has a commercially available level-two charger that operates off a typical home dryer or air conditioner outlet and can charge a plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV)  like a Chevrolet Volt in about three hours or a fully electric vehicle like the Nissan LEAF in about seven hours. Consumers can purchase that unit at Home Depot stores or website, as well as on the Lowe’s website.

“What we’re doing is providing choices typical of customers’ appliance purchases,” Calise explained, “because in the end, this is very much like an appliance.”

The next steps for Schneider Electric, Calise said, include taking on “the opportunities around energy management” as BEVs become a bigger part of the transmission system load. Asked if that included handling vehicle-to-grid technology, Calise said he couldn’t comment right now but suggested there would be something on that subject to talk about in the foreseeable future.

Schneider Electric’s aim, Calise said, is to take the marketplace from “EV-ready,” a market composed of early adopters, through “EV willing,” where the market can provide for more buyers, to “EV able,” where “everybody is buying these at home [and] they don’t have to think about where they’re going to charge because charging is pervasive.”