In the past five years, the amount of public PEV charging infrastructure in the US has skyrocketed to over 25,000 charging stations.
In June 2010, that number was fewer than 1,000. That’s when the PlugShare team first began mapping EV chargers, allowing its app users to share tips and tricks about their favorite places to charge.
As public infrastructure installations took off, PlugShare’s software evolved into a data-rich mixture of crowdsourced and curated streams of charging station information. Today, users of the charging station locator app see a comprehensive map of both networked and non-networked public stations with extra details like station costs, last mile navigation tips, and nearby amenities.
Behind the scenes, a key piece of PlugShare’s business model has been to work closely with automakers, utilities, and charging networks to provide them with the best possible data on charging infrastructure. PlugShare’s partners include heavy hitters like Ford, Nissan, Pacific Gas and Electric, NRG eVgo, and General Electric. They use the company’s data stream for a lot of different functions, such as populating in-vehicle navigation systems and mobile apps, infrastructure reporting and analytics, and benchmarking their installation velocity.
“How do different charging standards compete with one another across time and over market areas? In what states is infrastructure growing the fastest? Which networks are most popular in different areas? Those are the kinds of questions we can answer with PlugShare Data,” Akhil Jariwala of PlugShare’s business development team told Charged.
PlugShare Data provides licensed access to industry stakeholders interested in charging infrastructure analytics. Customers use a web portal to review and export EV infrastructure data on demand in the form of graphs, charts, maps, and tables.
To maintain its competitive advantage, the company continually strives to have the most comprehensive data available. New charging station information comes in from three sources: the charging networks, industry partners, and EV drivers. PlugShare works closely with the various charging networks, and in many cases, they have licensing agreements to share data. It also works closely with industry associations like CHAdeMO to help them parse and vet US charger data. In exchange, the association provides real-time access to the latest station counts abroad.
PlugShare also encourages users of its app to upload new charging stations to the database. Crowdsourcing has proven to be the most useful method to track non-networked chargers. The only alternative would be to communicate with every single electrician who installs a station – not a feasible option. “Drivers are excited to share travel resources wherever they go, and station operators want to attract new customers economically,” PlugShare CEO Brian Kariger told Charged. “Empowering the crowd to add stations on PlugShare is a natural fit for EV owners and installers alike.”
The company claims its data is superior to other sources in two ways: coverage and accuracy. The company employs a full time “data integrity team” to ensure that all incoming station data is accurate, consistent, and compliant to its standards. The in-house editorial team validates the location and station details every time a new site is added to the feed.
“Networked station data is a little easier, since we collaborate with the charger networks to audit data regularly. For the other half of stations out there that are non-networked, we invest a lot of time and effort into getting accurate station information,” Jariwala told Charged. “We examine Google Maps satellite and street view images, review user corrections, and even contact site hosts. To us, managing EV infrastructure data is like caring for a living, breathing animal. We think data integrity is paramount to the driver experience.”
A tour of the tools
To give us an idea of the scope of PlugShare Data, Jariwala gave us a demo.
In the US, PlugShare reports over 15,000 public and restricted-access charging sites, with around 25,000 stations, as of March 2015. Those are the stations that have their own hardware or sub-contained units. For example, if one of NRG eVgo’s California sites has a dual J1772 Level 2 station and a DC Fast Charger with both a CHAdeMO and SAE Combo Plug, that equals one site, two charging stations and four connectors.
To make it easier to gain insight from these figures, it’s important to structure the data in a way that allows for many levels of detail and granularity.
“The first question we get asked is, ‘Where is charging infrastructure located?’” Jariwala said. Obviously, the standard PlugShare map is available for free on the web and iOS and Android devices. While it’s a good user interface for drivers trying to locate a single charging station, it’s not the most efficient way to see a global census of where infrastructure is currently installed. PlugShare Data’s tools, on the other hand, provide visualizations that aggregate charging station locations by shared dimensions such as utility company territories, charging networks, connector types, points-of-interest, etc. “We have a lot of advanced filter capabilities,” said Jariwala.
If we look at the state of Oregon, for example, the dashboard quickly breaks down the numbers of sites, stations, and total connectors. With a few clicks we can slice and dice the data into reports like “station counts by county.” The system can then generate a heat map that highlights the highest-density areas at a glance, as shown in Figure 1. “We have advanced mapping capabilities that can extend to city level, zip code level and beyond,” said Jariwala.
PlugShare Data also keeps track of when stations were created. This allows the system to plot the expansion of infrastructure in many different ways. For example, we can monitor the progress of the different DC Fast Charging standards. Figure 2 shows that in the state of California there are 324 CHAdeMO connectors, 104 SAE Combo plugs, and 224 Tesla Superchargers, as of March 2015.
These growth charts are particularly good at revealing historical trends in the market. For example, there is a lot of discussion in the EV community about the SAE Combo and CHAdeMO standards and what the growth of these standards will look like.
A quick look at Figure 2 shows you that, while all the different charging standards are growing relatively quickly in California, the SAE Combo standard is about two years behind CHAdeMO, based on both current plug counts and trend lines.
“Another question that we hear a lot is, ‘Which networks have the best coverage in a particular area?’” said Jariwala. PlugShare Data is not only able to parse the different network counts by market designations such as CBSA, DMA, and utility zone, but it can also compare that to non-network station growth in the same territory. Figure 3 breaks down DC fast charger growth trends by network in Pacific Gas and Electric’s service territory in California. Here we can see that while the rate of fast charging rollout by the Blink network has slowed in the territory over time, eVgo and Supercharger growth has actually ramped up.
This ability to illustrate station counts across networks is a valuable tool for any stakeholder that’s evaluating a market’s competitive landscape or investment opportunities by geography.
Another useful data set that’s tracked by PlugShare is the point-of-interest (POI) type where a station is installed. Charging locations are assigned a POI type such as Dealership, Parking Garage/Lot, School/University, Shopping Center, Hotel/Lodging, etc. Comparisons can be created for the most common POIs in different areas. Figure 4 shows the most common POIs for the top metropolitan markets in the state of California. In the Bay Area, the plurality of charging locations are at workplaces, while in San Diego, schools/universities and shopping centers are the most tagged host type.
Another division of PlugShare, which is focused on market research, is PlugInsights. It operates a research panel comprised of more than 11,000 PEV drivers, the largest of its kind in the world. “Our mission is to amplify the voice of the PEV driver to the automotive OEMs, investment firms, utilities, regulators, and the rest of the plug-in community,” explained PlugInsights Managing Director Norman Hajjar. “We work on a custom basis with clients, helping them design tomorrow’s vehicles, policies, services and more.”
Because the PlugInsights panel is so large, it allows clients to get answers to extremely detailed, highly specific questions regarding driver desires, behaviors, attitudes, and demographics. “We can take it as deep as a client wants,” said Hajjar, “right down to specific models, technologies, geography, behavior segments, you name it. It’s like a Hubble telescope for PEV marketers and engineers, giving them a look at things that were invisible until now.”
“Between the PlugInsights and PlugShare Data tools, we’re really feeling confident that we can answer any questions that might come up about market research in the EV space,” said Jariwala.
The company’s goal is to be the leader in PEV research and analytics, and it’s well on its way. In this young industry, there are still many unanswered questions about what the future of infrastructure rollout and vehicle deployment will look like. With a rapidly changing market, using powerful and accurate tools to analyze trends is the only way industry players can hope to predict what comes next.
This article originally appeared in Charged Issue 18 – March/April 2015.