Electricity costs are catching up with gas costs, but operating charging piles is still not a good business

Original link: https://www.latepost.com/news/dj_detail?id=1852

“New energy vehicles are more economical to drive.” This is a common phrase used by many car salespeople, but now, the situation has changed.

Since July this year, during the charging peak periods from 10:00 to 15:00 and from 18:00 to 21:00, the charging fees of public piles in busy areas of Beijing have exceeded 2 yuan/kWh, and the charging fees in Shanghai, Zhengzhou and other places during peak hours It has also reached a similar level, almost double that of this time last year.

After the price increase, it will cost 160 yuan to fill an 80-degree battery. If you run at high speed, the average cost per kilometer is close to 0.5 yuan, which is comparable to some fuel-efficient fuel vehicles.

Online car-hailing drivers have become accustomed to queuing late at night to catch up with the lowest electricity prices of the day. At present, the number of electric vehicles in China is only 16 million, which is only a small part of the 400 million motor vehicles. Charging costs are likely to rise as more cars on the road become electric.

Most players in the charging pile chain benefit from this process: those who collect land rent, supply electricity, and sell piles will all make more money. The charging pile operators who directly provide charging services for car owners, and the “charging Meituan” that connects one end to the charging pile and the other end to the car owner are not so easy to say.

Head charging pile operators such as Telecall and Xingxing Charging have mostly suffered losses in the past few years. Telephone finally made a profit in the first half of this year, but it is not clear how much of it came from building piles and selling piles, and how much came from charging services. Kuaidian, which reproduces the “Meituan model”, has always been the initiator of subsidies in the industry. Due to too many subsidies, the charging stations of Telephone and Star Charge have been “retired” in late August.

The expectation that supports the continuous investment and competition of various companies is that the operation of charging piles is indeed a big business with an infrastructure status. Based on the average charging cost before the price increase, i.e. 1 yuan/kWh, if most of the 400 million motor vehicles in China become electric vehicles—this is the general trend to achieve the dual carbon emission reduction goals—then one year’s charging The degree will exceed 700 billion degrees, the charging cost will reach nearly 800 billion yuan, and the market size will approach one trillion, which is equivalent to the refueling market.

But most of today’s price increases also come from electricity price increases. In Beijing, Shanghai and other places, about 1 yuan of the charging fee of 2 yuan/kWh during the peak period is the electricity fee. The charging electricity price will change according to the peak and trough of electricity consumption, but it is generally determined by the State Grid and China Southern Power Grid according to the local conditions. Charging pile operators can’t control it.

When the price increase spreads to a wider range and becomes a more sustainable and common trend, it may also restrain the sales of new energy vehicles to a certain extent and slow down the growth of charging demand.

Against the backdrop of rising prices, in the 100-billion-dollar charging pile market, the answers to who can make money, whether they can continue to make money, and how to make money are still unclear.


A public charging station for special calls.

Mismatch of supply and demand: Cars think there are too few piles, piles think there are not enough cars

The total number of charging piles in China is quite large, and the number of charging piles is ahead of the world. According to statistics from the China Charging Alliance, as of July this year, there were 6.93 million charging piles in China, of which nearly 70%, or more than 4.7 million, were private charging piles built with vehicles, and the remaining more than 2.2 million were public charging piles. The total vehicle-to-pile ratio is 1.9:1, ranking first in the world.


However, under the leading figures, on the one hand, it is still inconvenient to charge new energy vehicles: it is very difficult to install home charging piles in old communities, and many public piles are built in remote areas or neglected to maintain. There are often long queues during the period; on the other hand, companies in the industry generally do not make money.

Operators feel that there are too few new energy vehicles, while car owners feel that there are not enough public piles that are easy to use. Behind this is the mismatch of supply and demand in local time and space.

In terms of spatial distribution, places with more new energy vehicles and higher penetration rates have more public charging piles, but the distribution is out of proportion. Guangdong Province, which has the highest number of new energy vehicles in the country, has nearly 2 million new energy vehicles, accounting for 12% of the country’s new energy vehicles, and its public charging piles reached 383,000, accounting for 17% of the country, ranking second to fourth Sum; Henan and Fujian have the same number of public charging piles, but the number of new energy vehicles in the former is 2.4 times that of the latter.


Another short-term problem is the mismatch between supply and demand in time. Of the more than 2.2 million public charging piles in China, only about 29,000 are distributed along expressways, roughly in line with the overall usage trend. But when it comes to holidays, the demand for high-speed charging soars. During the Spring Festival and the National Day Golden Week, long charging queues in service areas have become a “routine program” in recent years. It is impossible for high-speed service areas to build large-scale piles for the peak demand of a few days a year. This part of the contradiction between supply and demand can only be alleviated after overcharging becomes popular in the future and the charging speed of bicycles is greatly improved.

In the past, various car companies have invested differently in self-built public charging piles. During popular and peak hours, most of the car companies’ own charging piles are only for their own cars, which has also brought about a partial imbalance between supply and demand.

Counting the swapping stations and charging stations, NIO has the largest self-owned energy supplement network in the Chinese market. It has built 1,800 swapping stations and 3,074 charging stations, with a total of 7,368 public charging piles. After Weilai, the brands that put more effort into building their own websites are Xiaopeng, Tesla, Jikrypton and Aian in order.


These brands mostly produce mid-to-high-end models worth more than 200,000 yuan. Except for Tesla, they only account for a small part of the cumulative sales of new energy vehicles in China. BYD, which sells the most cars, never built its own charging station before the beginning of this year. At this time, BYD has sold more than 3 million new energy vehicles, half of which are pure electric vehicles. According to the data released by Weilai, which has the most self-built charging stations, in February this year, among other brands that “scrambled for Weilai charging piles” during the Spring Festival, BYD accounted for the most, reaching 17.6%, followed by Tesla.

The mismatch between supply and demand also has a historical reason for the development of the industry: in order to give enterprises the motivation to build charging piles ahead of time, the Chinese government began to subsidize the construction of charging piles very early. In 2015, when the number of new energy vehicles in China was less than 600,000, the National Development and Reform Commission issued the “Guidelines for the Development of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure (2015-2020)”, proposing to build 12,000 centralized charging and swapping stations by 2020, and decentralized charging The target of 4.8 million piles is to meet the charging demand of 5 million electric vehicles nationwide.

Subsidy policies have been introduced accordingly in various places, and the early subsidies were mainly one-off construction subsidies. For example, around 2016, Beijing gave qualified public charging facilities a fixed asset subsidy no higher than 30% of the total project investment, and Shenzhen also had a similar policy.

Only subsidize construction, not operation, so many companies will build piles in areas with cheaper rents rather than areas with more concentrated charging demand. After many years, these piles often have low utilization rates and poor maintenance, becoming “zombie piles.”

According to a survey conducted by the China Charging Alliance on ten cities in 2021, the damage rate of public charging piles reached 20%, and 36% of charging parking spaces were occupied by fuel vehicles. According to a person from a charging pile operator in Guangzhou, according to their statistics, about one-third of public charging piles in Guangzhou are not working properly.

A large number of unusable piles, coupled with the uneven charging demand itself in time and space, make the actual utilization rate of public charging piles low. Tong Zongqi, deputy secretary-general of the China Charging Alliance, said that the current average social utilization rate of charging piles in Chinese cities is less than 10%, that is, less than 2.4 hours of 24 hours a day are used; the utilization rate of high-speed charging piles is less than 1%. This affects the profitability of the entire network.

Since the beginning of this year, in some areas with a higher penetration rate of electric vehicles, such as Beijing and Shanghai, charging fees have risen significantly, which is the adjustment of various companies to achieve profitability. Charging stations in these areas have passed the stage of subsidizing users. A practitioner said that the price increase is actually a return to normal prices: “It’s not that it’s expensive now, it’s that it was too cheap in the past.”

And in some areas that are still in the pioneering stage, the price war is still going on. A charging pile operator in Guangxi said that this summer, the local charging pile service fee has dropped from 0.3-0.4 yuan per kWh last year to a minimum of a few cents. Under the subsidy of the charging aggregation platform, there are even no service fees, Charging stations that only charge for electricity. In Sichuan, the subsidy war is so fierce that the Sichuan Automobile Industry Alliance recently issued an “Initiative to Resist Malicious Charging Competition”, pointing out that a third-party charging pile aggregation company has set charging fees too low.

Judging from the development trajectory of the eastern coastal areas where charging stations were built earlier, the rise in charging costs across the country is a major trend. But this does not mean that a good day for charging pile operators to make large-scale profits is coming.

Charging pile network operators, “workers” for electricity prices and rent?

Operating a charging pile network is a “slow business” with a large initial investment and a long payback cycle. It usually takes 4-5 years for a single station to pay back. If it is a large-scale service provider with many self-operated charging stations, the profit cycle will be extended longer. They must continue to invest in new areas, and at the same time bear the depreciation costs of a large number of old stations.


Under the general trend of price increases, whether charging pile operators who have been losing money for many years can turn profitable and maintain momentum depends on the cost of building and operating charging stations and changes in the charging fees they can receive.

The process of building a charging station includes: site selection, mainly considering charging demand, rent and power supply; filing with local development and reform commissions and power supply bureaus to obtain construction and construction permits; purchasing charging piles and other equipment, and construction by qualified special teams; It will be operated externally after the acceptance by relevant departments. If all goes well, it usually takes 2 months to build a charging station.

A charging station with 10-14 120 kW charging piles, that is, 20-28 parking spaces (one charging pile with two charging racks, can charge two cars at the same time), the current fixed investment cost is about 1 million yuan. The bulk of which is equipment procurement costs. A 7 kW home charging pile only costs 1,000-2,000 yuan, while a 120 kW public charging pile currently costs about 45,000 yuan. The two largest charging pile operators in China, Telly and Star Charge, both develop and produce charging piles by themselves, and the cost can be controlled at about 35,000 yuan, so 10 piles are 350,000-450,000 yuan. Each station also needs to be equipped with a box-type substation, the price of which is about 200,000 yuan.


Operating costs mainly consist of costs such as rent and equipment maintenance. According to the information of multiple practitioners, maintenance and other operation and maintenance costs generally only account for less than 10% of the total operating cost, and rent is the bulk, which varies greatly depending on the location. A practitioner said that in Beijing and other first-tier cities, the monthly rent for a single parking space is about 400-1,600 yuan. If calculated according to the upper limit, the annual rent for 20 parking spaces charging stations exceeds 380,000 yuan.

A large part of the money that car owners hand over to charging pile operators is electricity prices, which are uniformly determined by the grid company and vary slightly depending on the connection conditions and locations. Taking the current charging price in Beijing as an example, in the vicinity of Sanlitun, Chaoyang District, the charging fee of special call charging piles includes 0.3-1.2 yuan of electricity charges (respectively, the late-night valley electricity price and the peak electricity price during the peak period) and 0.8 yuan for service Fees (not changing with time), the most expensive charge is 2 yuan per kilowatt-hour; the charging pile of Star Charging, the electricity price is 0.6-1.2 yuan, and the service fee is 0.7 yuan.

Local governments still subsidize charging stations. Taking Beijing as an example, the government no longer subsidizes the construction of charging piles, but only subsidizes the degree of charging. The basic subsidy is 0.2 yuan per kilowatt-hour. In addition, charging stations will be rated at different levels according to factors such as operational efficiency and safety management. The highest level can be awarded annually. A subsidy of 106 yuan per kilowatt of power. Taking a charging station with 10 120 kW charging piles as an example, if it reaches the highest rating, the total subsidy it will receive in one year will exceed 200,000 yuan.

A practitioner calculated an account, assuming that there are 20 120 kW charging piles in a station, based on an average utilization rate of 5% and an average service fee of 0.35 yuan/kwh, the annual service fee income is 332,000 yuan, and then Considering the subsidy income, power loss, the cost of accessing the interconnection platform and the operation and maintenance cost, the return on investment period is 4.2-5 years.

In this chain involving charging pile equipment manufacturers, construction units, power grid companies and site lessors, charging pile operators are the central links connecting upstream and providing final services for car owners, and are the most important builders of the entire charging infrastructure. while operating pressure

The biggest ones are also them.


Site lessors will not rent land at a loss, and component and charging pile companies will not sell hardware at a loss. They are the direct beneficiaries of industry expansion and the increase in the number of stations built. Take Tonghe Technology, the second largest manufacturer of charging modules in China, as an example. In the first half of this year, its revenue from charging power sources reached 189 million yuan, a year-on-year increase of nearly 150%. The charging pile head manufacturer Shenghong shares, the net profit in the first half of this year increased by 166% year-on-year, and the charging pile business contributed 35.2% of the gross profit.

Mainly engaged in AC slow charging, that is, manufacturers of home charging piles also have a similar business model for selling hardware: either directly sell to individual car owners with their own brand, or provide supporting equipment to car companies, and give or sell home charging piles with new cars. Leading third-party charging pile companies in China include Zhida, Puode, and Bull, etc. Head charging pile operators such as Telecall and Xingxing Charging also have slow charging pile business, mainly for the construction of communities and unit compounds AC slow charging station.

State Grid and China Southern Power Grid, which collect electricity fees, have also expanded commercial electricity consumption and gained additional profits in the development of public charging networks. Since the electricity price accounts for about 50%-80% of the entire charging cost, the power loss during the charging process is also borne by the charging pile operators, and they cannot grasp the full initiative of pricing.

If the price of electricity rises too high, it will affect the charging demand of public piles and reduce the utilization rate; if the price increase becomes a long-term and widespread phenomenon, it will even suppress the sales of new energy vehicles. Charging pile operators who want to attract car owners with lower prices can only lower the part of the service fee they can get. This has led to the situation in new markets such as Guangxi where the service fee has reached a few cents per kilowatt-hour.

Even so, there are still many new players entering the charging pile operation market this year.

The short-term logic of car companies is to do a good job in services and supporting facilities, and they do not expect the charging piles themselves to make money. Both BYD and Ideal have started to build their own energy supplementary networks in recent years. The supercharger station built by the joint venture between BYD and Shell has been in operation since March this year. The ideal station will be released at the end of this year for pure electric models equipped with fast charging technology. Since the beginning of this year, 50 supercharging stations have been built, and 300 stations are planned to be completed by the end of the year.

Li Xiang said at the media sharing conference this spring that a 640 kW charging station requires an investment of 1 million yuan, 1,000 are 10 billion yuan, and amortized to 2 billion over 5 years, which does not constitute an investment for a company with an annual income of 100 billion yuan. pressure.

State-owned enterprises in the energy field are also building more charging piles. Sinopec, which started building charging and swapping stations in 2020, had built 2,000 charging and swapping stations by the end of last year. It plans to build 5,000 charging and swapping stations by 2025. This year, it announced a new tender for 400 million yuan for charging pile equipment; PetroChina announced in June this year A 500 million yuan tender for charging pile equipment was also released.

The increase in charging demand is a definite trend, but the imbalance between supply and demand in local time and space still exists. With the increase of competitors, this will test the charging pile operators’ grasp of the pace and area of ​​station construction.

The policy is still encouraging the construction of more charging piles. In June this year, the State Council issued the “Guiding Opinions on Further Building a High-Quality Charging Infrastructure System”, which continued to clarify the “moderately advanced” station building idea and encouraged “charging piles to go to the countryside”. The feeling of many operators is that the entry threshold for building charging stations is relatively loose. “As long as the site is suitable and the power conditions permit, anyone can invest in the construction.” A practitioner said.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s plan, by 2025 China’s vehicle-to-pile ratio will reach 2:1, which will correspond to more than 20 million public charging piles, more than double the current level. When more and more charging piles are built, but the growth of electric vehicle sales is gradually slowing down, extensive station construction is no longer feasible, and improving the utilization rate of charging piles has become a common issue for the entire industry.

Overcharge upgrade, refined operation, power generation to make money, the industry is looking for a new way out

The current development trend of the charging pile operation industry mainly includes technological upgrades and more refined operations.

A change that has attracted much attention is that various car companies have successively launched new 800V platforms, which will bring new demands for fast charging and super charging piles. It only takes about 15 minutes to charge a car with an 800V platform from 10% to 80%, which is 10-15 minutes faster than a 400V model. This can improve the user’s charging experience, shorten the unit charging time, improve the utilization rate of single piles, and ultimately bring higher service fee income.

However, several third-party charging pile operators said that supercharging piles are not yet the focus of investment by large charging pile operators, because there are too few models on the 800 V platform. Currently the cheapest 800V model is the Xpeng G6, with a starting price of 209,900 yuan, and a total of 11,000 units have been delivered in the two months since its launch. According to data from the Gasgoo Research Institute, the penetration rate of new energy passenger vehicles using 800V technology in China is only about 2% in 2022, and this figure is expected to increase to 12% by 2025, which is still not a very high proportion. Operating vehicles such as online car-hailing vehicles, which have the greatest demand for public charging piles, have low vehicle costs and will not be upgraded to high-voltage platforms in the short term.

At present, those who are willing to focus on building fast-charging and super-charging piles are mainly car companies seeking differentiated advantages. In August last year, after Xpeng launched its first 800V model, the G9, it built its first S4 supercharger station. The maximum power of a single pile is 480kW, and the number has expanded to 230 over the past year.

Charging pile operators are more concerned about improving the operational efficiency of existing charging stations. The core goal is to increase the utilization rate of single piles. The main methods are to improve the accuracy of site selection, equipment operation and maintenance efficiency, and more flexible allocation of charging power. .

In terms of site selection, some data service providers in the industry, such as Cloud Quick Charge, can now provide more site selection decision tools based on existing site operation data, and will also suggest when operators should launch discounts based on user data heat maps Activities; for stations with fixed locations, Kuaidi and Xindiantu connect charging stations and car owners’ platforms, which can help small and medium-sized charging station operators attract traffic, attract new customers, and increase exposure.

A Didi Xiaoju charging person said that when Xiaoju first started to build charging piles in 2018, the average utilization rate of charging piles in his area was only about 15%, which was already a relatively high level in the industry, but now the location is better. For stations, in winter when the charging demand is more frequent, the utilization rate can even reach 30%-40%, that is, a pile is used for nearly 10 hours a day.

In terms of operation and maintenance, charging pile manufacturers have introduced charging piles with longer warranty and fewer maintenance times through technological upgrades. The current new stations basically have self-inspection functions, and equipment can automatically report for repairs after failures. Smarter devices can also reduce the situation of not charging but occupying spaces by automatically locking parking spaces or monitoring whether parking is overtime. The special calls said that by modularizing the charging piles, they can already crowdsource some simple operation and maintenance tasks, such as replacing detachable parts, to the security guards at the station, or the takeaway riders and couriers around, reducing the need for full-time workers. Operation and maintenance personnel costs.

Another way to improve efficiency is to intelligently allocate power, that is, from “charging piles” to “charging piles”. This requires the corresponding technical upgrade of the charging pile, with a certain degree of power flexibility, so that under the limit of the total power of the station, the upper limit of power can be flexibly allocated among multiple charging guns in the same station, and higher power can be given to energy. Models that support high-voltage charging can improve the overall charging speed.

The more long-term trend that leading operators are exploring is deep integration with the power grid and participation in peak shaving and valley filling, that is, supporting the construction of solar power generation equipment and energy storage facilities at the station, storing electricity during the valley period of electricity prices, and In the short term, the previously generated electricity is sold to the grid, or charged to car owners at the peak electricity price, earning the difference between peak and valley electricity prices. If the money earned from power generation can cover the cost of charging, charging can theoretically be free. In its own office park in Laoshan, Qingdao, Rutedian has built a “light-charging-storage integrated station” that allows employees to charge for free, and its income mainly comes from the difference in peak and valley electricity prices.

However, in the short term, the cost of solar-storage-charging integrated stations is high, and most of the completed stations are demonstration projects. A photovoltaic practitioner made a calculation: a solar-storage-charge integrated station that can accommodate 5 charging piles, if it hardly buys electricity from the grid and relies entirely on photovoltaic power generation, it will generate 900 to 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a day, which requires about With a photovoltaic roof of 4,000 m² and 1,000-degree energy storage, the final cost of the station may exceed RMB 7 million, which is several times that of an ordinary charging station of the same size.


An integrated solar-storage-charge station in Yuquan, Tongliang, Chongqing

These attempts in development can theoretically improve the operating efficiency of charging stations, but none of them will be fast: refined operation is a slow effort; the improvement of single pile “turnover rate” brought by 800V is still in its infancy; integration with the grid, Earning the difference in peak and valley electricity prices is a more distant future.

For charging pile operators, the long-term certainty of the industry is that the number of new energy vehicles is increasing and the demand continues to expand; the uncertainty is that a large part of the charging fee is the electricity fee that operators cannot control, and the other part The source of profit, the subsidy, may also vary.

One view is that, at least in the next 10 years, policies will encourage more players to enter the charging pile operation market, and the existing top operators will continue to expand their scale to catch up with the rising sales of new energy vehicles; car companies will build more by themselves piles and provide differentiated services; other companies and individuals with land resources are also entering the market or joining large-scale charging networks; in addition to commercial vehicle charging and swapping, car owners’ personal home charging piles and private piles sharing, new real estate supporting charging Projects, etc., there will be more players in the market, not fewer.

Another opposing voice is that the energy sector in China is often dominated and regulated by the government. Some practitioners believe that the charging station industry will enter a wave of consolidation driven by state-owned enterprises in the next few years. “The final structure may be that state-owned enterprises take the majority, leaving some regional medium-sized operators in various places.” A practitioner said.

Title image source: pixabay.com by geralt.

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