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by Julia Pyper
March 04, 2019

There’s no denying that China is beginning to own the global electric vehicle market. Chinese EV sales are growing exponentially, as we covered in the previous Electric Avenue column.

So it’s no surprise that the availability of EV charging infrastructure is also rapidly increasing. 

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, China reached 300,000 public EV chargers in the second half of 2018, representing more than 50 percent of the global public EV charger market.

In January 2019, the Chinese Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Promotion Agency (EVCIPA) reported the number of public chargers had climbed to around 330,000 stations (which compares to 67,500 public chargers in the U.S. at the end of 2018). The organization also reported a total of 480,000 home chargers, for a combined total of 808,000 EV chargers tallied across the country.

A recent report by Columbia University Center for Global Energy Policy, "Electric Vehicle Charging in China and the United States," notes that the total number of chargers could actually be higher, though. According to EVCIPA and other sources, most EVs sold for personal use in China come with a home charging unit. Given that more than 1 million personal EVs were sold in China last year alone, the home EV charger number could be much higher than 480,000.  

But there are issues with home charging beyond having a charging unit. While most home EV charging in China takes place with chargers distributed by carmakers at the time of purchase, it is not unusual to see informal “fly-line” charging in some Chinese cities where extension cords passed from a house to cars parked at the curb. So it’s hard to know where charging is coming from, and, increasingly, how to prevent it from affecting the power grid.

“Fly-line charging to the curb reflects a shortage of private parking and lack of access to charging even when private parking is available,” the Columbia report states. “Such practices, if left uncontrolled, could create distribution grid reliability issues, as many older Chinese urban neighborhoods have insufficient distribution capacity for heavy volumes of EV charging.”

This research paints a disjointed picture of China’s EV charging market — where infrastructure is being deployed at a breakneck pace and yet there isn’t nearly enough to keep up with demand. The remainder of this column will look at various dynamics of China’s rapidly evolving EV charging market, including business models and relevant policy support, key stakeholders and future growth projections.