Scaling electric-vehicle infrastructure to meet demand

| Interview

Andreas Lips arrived in California ahead of the M30 Mobility Summit on the back of an electric Harley-Davidson motorcycle: “It’s a fantastic experience. It’s quiet, it doesn’t vibrate. It’s certainly different, but the driving performance is superior,” he said. “And it’s a lot of fun as well!”

The choice of electric transport was suitable given Lips’s day job as president and CEO of Shell Recharge Solutions in North America and Asia–Pacific. In that role, he spends a lot of time thinking about the future of mobility and how to manage the inevitable growth in demand for electric charging.

Lips believes three themes will shape the charging industry as it continues to evolve: open standards, interoperability, and energy management. McKinsey’s Russell Hensley sat down with him at the summit to discuss how these will play out. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

Russell Hensley: Can you tell me what you do and why you do it?

Andreas Lips: Shell Recharge Solutions designs, builds, and operates electric-vehicle [EV] charging networks for B2B companies. At the heart of all that is our charge-point management software, which ensures that charging networks are reliable and convenient for our customers. And why do I do it? Well, I’m an outdoor enthusiast and a father of two kids. And by now, we all know that the environment is precious and that we must reduce carbon emissions. Electric mobility is a clear path to zero-emissions transportation, and that gets me out of bed every day.

Russell Hensley: Just building on that, why is Shell Recharge Solutions so important to the future of mobility?

Andreas Lips: We believe that as EV penetration rises, so will the need for convenient and reliable charging infrastructure. It may be on the go, at home, at work, or increasingly, in the fleet environment. Businesses want convenience, the lowest possible total cost of ownership, and the reliability that will enable them to focus on their core activities.

Russell Hensley: What needs to be done to meet that demand?

Andreas Lips: First, of course, we need more vehicles on the road, both in the consumer and B2B space. Increasingly, auto OEMs are fulfilling that demand, so the charging infrastructure has to come as well.

When we talk to our customers, the number-one thing they want is for the charger to work every time. Especially in the B2B environment, it is absolutely fundamental, because businesses want to focus on their core activities. Amazon wants to make sure that the package arrives exactly on the day promised. That’s where we come into play. For example, our SKY Care program guarantees an uptime for our networks.

Russell Hensley: What are some of the opportunities to expand the availability of electric-vehicle charging?

Andreas Lips: I see three that excite me: open standards, interoperability, and energy management. On open standards, there are different elements that make reliable charging a reality. You have the vehicle, with its own software program. Then you have the charger itself, the charging hardware, and the charging software. And all these must work in sync to make sure the charging works every time. That’s why proper open standards are absolutely fundamental.

The other thing is interoperability and roaming, similar to the world of telecommunications, where you can use your mobile phone almost anywhere in the world. That is something we need in the mobility space, where a driver can go to any charging network and charge their vehicle.

Russell Hensley: So how is the consumer need for electric charging changing?

Andreas Lips: I believe the biggest change is convenience. As we know today, the car is actually a totally underutilized asset: it stands still quite a lot. Charging convenience means that you charge the vehicle when the car is parked. It could be at your home, if you have the luxury of your own driveway, in parking garages, or when you’re on your way to shopping, the gym, or the cinema.

I expect that charging will happen where it’s most convenient for the consumer and businesses. In the fleet environment, for example, charging will happen when trucks are being loaded or unloaded. And that drive for convenience will drive the future of e-mobility.

I expect that charging will happen where it’s most convenient for the consumer and businesses. And that drive for convenience will drive the future of e-mobility.

The other big factor is fast charging on the go, which will drive convenience as well. The reason is that consumers expect a similar experience to traditional fueling. In other words, they need charging in ten or 15 minutes. At Shell Recharge Solutions, we are putting a lot of effort into that.

Russell Hensley: Can you talk about a new development in mobility that you find exciting?

Andreas Lips: I think the exciting thing at the moment is energy management. With EV penetration in the single digits, energy management is not as critical. But if you imagine a world in which 20, 40, or 80 percent of vehicles are electric, you start to see the need for energy management. You want clean energy, but you have to distribute through the grid. In many countries, the grid is not ready for electric-vehicle charging at scale.

Software can play a critical role to make sure that you balance the grid, avoid demand charges, and reduce the need to overengineer the grid itself. We are investing a significant amount into energy management systems. So that is certainly an area that excites me at the moment.

Russell Hensley: We are here at the inaugural M30 Mobility Summit. What are your thoughts about the summit?

Andreas Lips: It’s interoperability here as well. I believe partnerships and working together are the keys. It is partnerships with governments, partnerships with other businesses, and even with companies that might be competitors in some areas. If you can collaborate, you will succeed in tackling the challenges we are facing today.

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