Electric Vehicle Evolution: Market Challenges, Opportunities and Emerging Solutions

Lyle Ellerbee

Tesla (TSLA) delivered its first electric vehicle (EV) in 2008, just one year after Apple (AAPL) introduced its first smartphone. Today, smartphones are ubiquitous worldwide, but EVs remain only a small fraction of the cars on the road. Why? The reasons are multi-faceted, including significant economic, technological and utility grid challenges.

Despite these challenges, EVs finally appear poised for accelerated growth and widespread adoption. Tesla’s market capitalization is leading the way in the auto industry, spurring other manufacturers to enter the space and innovate. Collectively, automakers will deliver 130 new models of EVs in the U.S. by 2024. That growth was on full display during the 2022 Super Bowl, where six out of seven of the automaker ads featured electric vehicles.

Beyond Tesla’s brand recognition in the fast-growing sector, newcomers in the EV space, Lucid (LCID) and Rivian (RIVN), are also providing a significant push. Lucid won 2022 Motor Trend Car of the Year when it debuted the Air Dream edition with an impressive range of 520 miles to address motorist range anxiety, which remains a major issue for EV owners. Meanwhile, Rivian had the biggest IPO offering in the U.S. since Facebook, going public at $78 per share and raising $12 billion.

As the private sector continues to invest heavily in EVs, there are now strong signals of support coming from the public sector as well. The Biden administration’s infrastructure bill set aside $7.5B to support the construction of a network of 500,000 fast-charging stations nationwide, an expansion of the electric vehicle charging grid that is sorely needed to improve the EV motorist’s experience.  

But what does “fast-charging” actually mean in a sector where technological innovation has continuously pushed the boundaries of what is possible? Recently, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg received a letter from 15 EV automakers asking him to prioritize using public funds for the construction of 350 kW fast-charging EV stations across the U.S. interstate system. These automakers know that to accelerate the mass adoption of EVs in the U.S., consumers must have the same spontaneity, convenience, and reliability that gas-powered vehicle owners enjoy today.

Some companies are developing technologies and solutions to these EV charging challenges that will meet consumer expectations around electric vehicle charging times. These innovations are also aimed at minimizing grid impact and integrating EV charging stations with renewable energy like solar and wind power. 

John Strisower, founder and CEO of Kilows, an EV extreme fast charging company, joined me to talk about the state of electric vehicles and the EV charging industry, the challenges associated with building out a national charging network, and what his company is working on now.

Q: What is the biggest challenge when it comes to EV charging right now?

One of the biggest challenges I see in the EV industry is the ever-increasing demand on the utility grid, which is something that will only increase as we build out the EV charging infrastructure further as more people start driving EVs. 

The grid was designed to deliver a stable amount of power at specific points. It was never designed to burst charge huge amounts of energy to a specific point, like when charging an EV. The amount of power we’re putting into an EV battery is massively greater than an entire American household is using at any one time. It’s clear if we’re trying to put 100 kilowatt-hours into a battery in 10 to 15 minutes, we’re looking at 400 kWs or so of charging power to accomplish that. It’s many times higher than the amount of power available in the home.

The grid will not support extreme fast EV charging with any significant number of plugs. Any company that wants to play at the high end of fast charging speeds needs to have energy storage or battery charging like we are deploying. Fast-charging companies are all going to have to do it the way we are doing it because, long term, the grid can’t support the way others are doing it now.

Q: What is Kilows and how does it work? 

Kilows is on a mission to accelerate EV adoption by building the first economically feasible extreme fast-charging network for EVs. We are committed to minimizing negative impacts to the grid caused by energy demand from EV charging while providing the most reliable, rapid-to-deploy, seamless and time-saving EV charging experience in the market.

Our EV charging systems are enabled by battery-based energy storage to deliver the fastest and most reliable EV charging customer experience. Kilows chargers are connected to our proprietary energy storage systems, minimizing our impact on the grid while providing our customers with the fastest charge available across all Kilows charging plugs. 

Q: Why use a battery energy storage system? 

Using energy storage allows Kilows to achieve market-leading extreme fast charging, charging speed consistency, and reliability across all charge plugs while minimizing the impact on local utilities and the grid. EV chargers that connect directly to the grid suffer slower charge times when multiple EVs are connected to the same grid connection, a problem that will only grow as EV adoption increases. Kilows’s use of battery energy systems can ensure reliable and extreme fast charging across all Kilows charge plugs — that’s because the energy needed to charge multiple EVs has been stored in our battery energy storage system and doesn’t need to be drawn directly from the grid.  

Q: Where does the energy needed to power this battery storage system come from?

Kilows currently uses off-peak grid power for charging its battery energy systems. Our charging systems are designed to use on-site renewable sources of energy like solar or wind power wherever available, as well. 

By tapping into off-peak grid power, Kilows has the advantage of utilizing more economical electricity prices while minimizing the burden EV charging places on grid infrastructure. Our battery energy system can even enhance the grid by making available any unused energy stored in our battery systems — rather than stress the grid, Kilows’s model supports it. 

Kilows vision is to increasingly use on-site renewable energy to power our EV charging systems. As investments in renewable energy sources are made by private companies and public utilities, we’re positioned to easily tap into those renewable energy resources. Over time, charging EVs using Kilows battery energy systems connected to renewable energy sources will amplify the positive impact we have on the planet.

Q: How will charging at a Kilows charging station work?

Charging at Kilows is designed to be a fast and seamless experience. Each Kilows container features four Plug & Charge connections, enabling EV motorists to simply pull up and plug in. Unlike other charging stations, these containers feature overhangs to protect against inclement weather and offer extreme fast-charging capabilities that get motorists back on the road quickly.

Anyone can charge at Kilows by paying with a credit card or smartphone app. Kilows will offer a membership service as well for the most efficient charging experience. Members will have access to perks like discounted pricing and the ability to reserve a plug across the entire Kilows network, so they’re guaranteed to have a place to charge when they pull up.

All the major automakers making investments and transitioning toward providing EVs will need to ensure their customers have access to EV charging networks. Many are already building EV charging partnerships but are searching for a better EV charging solution. At Kilows we are already in discussions about providing access to our seamless, extreme fast-charging network to their EV customers. 

In fact, any Plug & Charge compatible EV will be able to utilize any Kilows charging station. With the industry-standard Plug & Charge application, the connect, charge, and payment experience is simple and user-friendly.

Q: How fast are Kilows chargers?

Kilows will enter the extreme fast-charging market at 360 kW. It can charge an EV as fast as the particular model can accept the charge.  Kilows is anticipating EV capacity to accept faster charge speeds to grow over the next several years, so we have designed our charging systems to be ready for 1.5 MWh (1,500 kWh) charging. 

Q: What is the current challenge facing Kilows as a company?

Well, much like the broader EV industry, the key challenge is to actually construct a charging apparatus that will support all the new EVs on the road. We’re already seeing record sales and now, with announcements that affordable EVs will be hitting the scene in the next few years, we’re expecting a boom in the number of motorists who drive an EV.

To that end, we’re working on rolling out 5,000 Kilows charging stations in the next five years along the U.S. interstate and selecting key destinations. This would give EV motorists nationwide coverage and establish 20,000 Kilows charging ports since each station includes four plugs. That’d be a great start for us. We’ve already identified some of the prime locations and are seeking additional location partners as to where Kilows charging stations would best serve EV drivers. So now, we’re rolling up our sleeves and doing the work needed to select the right partners, locations, build and deploy the first round of our Kilows stations.

Q: Where do you see the EV charging industry going next?

A: Let’s start with where the EV charging space is at this moment. 

Right now, there are generally two types of charging plugs: Level 2 and Level 3. Level 2 plugs are 240-volt AC charging plugs connected to a circuit in a home or business. They’re also destination chargers like at hotels. It’s the same type of circuit used for an electric range, dryer, or hot water heater you would find in your home. Level 2 is the same type of charger EV owners might have installed in their garage, so they can get five to 10 hours of charging time and have a full battery in the morning. 

Level 2 is not feasible for anything except overnight charging. It’s practically worthless for interstate driving. 

Level 3 is direct current (DC) fast charging, which ranges from 50 kilowatts up to a max of 350 kilowatts in the market, so there’s a wide range of charge speeds on Level 3. Ours is at the very high end of Level 3, starting at 360 kW capability. We offer charging power that is north of anything else on the market today, and we intend to go much further over time, up to 1.5 MW charging.

So, that’s where I see the industry going. We need to push the boundaries of charging speeds up to 1.5 MW to get to the charging times motorists expect. I see some clear use cases for this very fast charging, especially along interstates and at popular destinations like ballparks, amusement parks, and regional airports. People who need to charge over long distances need fast charging, so we need charging solutions that can meet those needs.

We’ve designed our charging system to support up to 1.5 MW charging as soon as EV battery technology catches up. That’s what is used for Class 8 trucks, and our goal is to be compatible not only for personal EVs but for any type of transportation, including electrified shipping fleets. As the EV industry expands, you’re going to see many different kinds of transport coming online — we want to be able to serve all of them. 

**Kilows is a client of Quantum Media Group, LLC

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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