A technician from State Grid Shanghai Municipal Electric Power Co inspects the charging piles, or power ports, in a parking lot before they are put into operation.
Broader coverage to boost benefits of going electric
By the end of 2017, China had more than 440,000 charging piles, or power ports, for electric vehicles, meaning there are roughly four EVs for every pile in the country, according to a report by the China Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Promotion Alliance.
Last week, the alliance's report showed that in 2017, there were roughly 214,000 public charging piles. The number of private charging piles, which are installed when a car is purchased, totaled 232,000. Given that there are 1.72 million EVs on the country's roads, the ratio of China's EVs to charging piles is 3.8 to 1.
"I can easily find a charging pile in Beijing. However, it is still not very convenient when I drive to other cities or the suburbs, where there are fewer public charging piles," said Wang Xiaoying, a 28-year-old Beijing citizen who has owned an EV for two and a half years.
"I have a private charging pile at home, where I usually charge my car. It saves me a lot of time as I don't need to go to the gas station. I can also find charging facilities when I go to shopping malls or supermarkets. Some charging stations are even offered with a free parking space.
"Also, traveling by EV is less expensive, because for the same distance, charging costs about one sixth of what using fuel would cost. In winter, the cost might be a little higher, because of how the cold affects the battery," he added.
Because of the convenience and lower costs, many EV consumers, like Wang, said they enjoy driving in the city. However, they find it difficult to charge their cars outside urban areas, and as a result, most of them do not attempt long-distance road trips in their EVs.
"There is still much work to do to improve EV charging infrastructure construction in China," said Li Li, energy research director at ICIS China, a consultancy that specializes in the energy market.
She said: "Although consumers usually charge their EVs at home, sometimes there is an emergency and they need to charge their cars somewhere else. The layout of a city's public charging piles determines the convenience of driving an EV. The denser the distribution is, the more convenient it will be.
"At present, in major cities, such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Taiyuan, drivers can easily access charging facilities, while in other cities, there is still much room for improvement."
Large pile operators in China are springing into action to tackle the issue.
State Grid Corp of China, the country's main power supplier, has vowed to install 120,000 public charging piles by 2020, further expanding and upgrading the country's EV infrastructure network.
According to the State Grid, the infrastructure network will cover the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Shandong province and the Yangtze River Delta, as well as major cities in other regions, enabling smoother intercity travel for EVs in China.
According to Jiang Bing, chairman of the State Grid EV Service Co, the State Grid's intelligent-vehicle online platform is connected to 19 pile operators, including China Southern Power Grid Co, Qingdao Teld New Energy Co Ltd, China Potevio Co Ltd, Wanbang Charge Facility Co Ltd-Star Charge and Shenzhen Clou Electronics Co Ltd.
At present, up to 170,000 charging facilities are connected to the online platform, serving more than 800,000 users, Jiang said.
"We aim to link 3 million charging piles to the platform by 2020," he added.
Meanwhile, the public is also getting more and more involved. Thanks to the government's favorable policies, EV consumers are becoming increasingly motivated to install private charging piles when buying a car. The report from the China Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Promotion Alliance showed that from July 2016 to December 2017, the installation ratio of private charging piles in China increased from 77 percent to 88 percent.
"With the government's effective guidance, as well as the joint efforts of companies and the public, I am confident that EV charging infrastructure construction in China will improve over the next 20 years," said Li.