Micro-mobility is not just hype anymore. It is growing into a realistic and major promise. This is what consultancy Roland Berger concludes in its recent study Mobilizing Micro-mobility. Now it's time for the cities and providers to create conditions and business models to live up to the promise of micro-mobility. The study has made some recommendations to do this. Roland Berger has high hopes that start-ups will play a big part in this transition. An example is TILER, a start-up that developed a wireless charging tile on which e-bikes (and later other light electric vehicles) can be charged. TILER and Roland Berger are collaboratively recognizing a subject that did not get a lot of attention in the study: charging infrastructure. The development and standardization of a charging infrastructure could be determining the scale of use for micro-mobility – sooner or later.
Micro-mobility can be described as the use of owned or shared (electric) vehicles, such as bikes and step scooters, for short and medium length distances, usually in an urban environment. Cycle paths, parking spots, connection to other means of (public) transport and policy that averts care and regulates micro-mobility, are important success factors that Roland Berger mentions in its study. However, e-bikes and step scooters do need to be charged, just as for example, e-scooters that are privately used or for food or package delivery.
For someone who owns such a light-electric vehicle (LEV) privately, this usually is not a problem. A connection on their own property will suffice. The same goes for an employer that offers their employees a shared e-bike. However, in the public space it gets a little bit more complicated. When a LEV is used to commute to public transport, it is desirable that it can be charged at bus- or tram stops, or at the station. Providers of shared e-bikes, e-steps or e-scooters either have to arrange a permanent pick-up and drop-off spot with charging facilities; pick-up the vehicles where they are left and charge them at a central place; or exchange batteries when a vehicle has a low battery.
LEVs that are used for delivery have to be practically always available, which seems to be best accomplished with a battery swap system. For all these different charging needs, multiple charging solutions are available that more-or-less fit different users, all with their own pros and cons.
Some of these solutions have high installation costs (e.g., docking stations and charging lockers), others are expensive to use (e.g., exchange and pick-up services). Pick-up works best for small vehicles like e-steps. Plugs and charging stations are universal, but still require cables and adapters and are vulnerable for weather and theft. Docking stations do not have that problem and can serve as secured pick up and drop-off spots (locked). Nonetheless, these stations often take up a lot of space, and are usually brand specific. When a share-service goes bankrupt or stops after one pilot, docking stations are left behind as expensive and useless street furniture in the public area, as seen before in Paris and Rotterdam. An increasing number of these stranded assets are seen on the streets. The same risk applies to kiosks in which users can change their batteries themselves, as they are also usually suitable for one battery.
Sufficient coverage of an urban area is expensive, how many kiosks do you need? When the coverage is too low, chances are high that users are switching to another solution and that the kiosks will turn into stranded assets. Charging lockers – with more plugs and often fire safe – are also costly and mainly suitable for delivery services, corporate fleets, and offices. Still, there are other or new solutions, such as mobile charging stations and services, charging cables that can be used as a lock as well, universal adapters (in development, but the plug problem remains) and TILER's charging tile.
With all these different needs, and the numerous varieties of vehicles, batteries and charging solutions that are developed separately and often in different directions. Is it even realistic to expect that micro-mobility is going to be a serious and scaled alternative for urban mobility? Or are we going into in a period with many pilots without any results, in which every city going its own way, capital is wasted, and start-ups are highly appreciated but faltering grow? Will that be the future until a standard appears – sooner or later?
The development of electric cars offers intriguing insights. Every car from every brand is fueled by diesel, gasoline, or LPG. When the electric cars popped up, charging infrastructure was a topic which naturally came to the table. Other than for LEVs, a charging standard was developed before the explosion of different brands and models: Tesla in the US, J1772 and CCS in Europe, and CHAdeMO in Asia. That accelerated the development of charging stations along the highway, charging points on parking lots in the city, and charging stations at home. Such a standard can limit the risks and enable large investments. The same is seen in other industries with different types of (wireless) charging, such as the mobile phone industry. How can we – sooner or later – come to a standard for LEVs, with already so many different vehicles and charging solutions and so many stakeholders (users, providers, suppliers, municipalities, public transport, corporates, etc.)?
TILER and Roland Berger are inviting you to join us to think about the different possibilities, bottlenecks, and solutions for charging LEVs. Are you interested? Please contact us and perhaps you could join us in one of our virtual podcasts or around-the-table sessions! We hope for your participation, and we are looking forward to an inspiring discussion.
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