Unicorn: Charging Stations as a Source of Income

By Unicorn
Unicorn discusses how charging stations can be a source of income and an accelerator for further business

Dozens of new charging points are being connected to the network every day. Drivers can use almost 16,000 public charging stations across the UK to charge their electric car, which is already more than there are conventional petrol stations. The total number of charging points has increased to almost 43,000. In the first half of this year alone, about seven thousand of them were newly added.

While a few years ago the operation of a charging station could be described almost as a public service fuelled by altruism; nowadays, the rapid expansion of electric cars has been gradually transforming it into a profitable business.

Many operators can benefit from offering a public charging option within their existing business. Eventually, it might become a separate source of their income.

Similarly to petrol stations, margins on gasoline and diesel are significantly lower than those on ancillary sales or other offered services. If a business owner, regardless the area of hospitality they run their business in, provides convenient charging for their customers, it could encourage them to spend more money on a site while waiting for a car to be charged. In addition, according to several studies, electric car owners usually tend to be wealthier. Thus, they may be the preferred target group for business owners from an economic point of view.

Get your business on the map

Charging stations will be needed. In a report from the last year, The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) claims that a planned ban on the sale of internal combustion engines in the UK will ultimately require 1.7 million public charging points by the end of the decade and a total of 2.8 million by 2035.

Charging stations can help entrepreneurs to get their business on the map and in that case, it is often worth offering charging for free. This mainly applies to slow charging stations where it takes several hours to charge the battery to its full capacity. According to the SMMT study, lower operating costs, and the desire to be more environmentally friendly are the main reasons for buying an electric car. More than a fifth of the charging points operating in the UK offers charging for free, however, this number has been gradually declining. Most of them are in Scotland thanks to the public programme called ChargePlace Scotland.

Full dependence on public charging can consequently become more expensive for owners of electric cars. If they do not have a free station within their reach, charging the battery of their electric car, even using a slow charging station, will cost at least twice the tariff for home charging. However, electric cars are still a more economical option than cars with internal combustion engines. According to an analysis by My Urban Car, the Tesla Model 3's 1000-mile charge from a network of ubitricity street lighting lamps costs £68. The network of ubitricity street lighting lamps is the largest network of public charging stations in the UK. At BP Polar, the same 1000-mile charge would cost £85. For comparison: a petrol or diesel fill up for a car with an internal combustion engine with an average consumption would cost £115 to £131 for the same distance.

The faster the charge, the higher the cost

Understandably, there are significant differences in consumer prices between individual charging station operators, and this also concerns the cost of building a charging station itself. According to the analysis by the American Rocky Mountain, a home charger costs from £290 to £500. Let’s not forget about additional costs regarding installation and connection. Older houses usually require a bigger budget due to necessary modifications of building wiring. 

According to the American Institute, a standard public charging point costs around £1,800 to £3,600; heavily depending on the condition and capacity of the network in the area. Naturally, adding more charging points reduces the average price. However, ultra-fast chargers, which can charge a car with a large battery within a few minutes, are significantly more expensive. Those with an output of 150 kilowatts cost up to $100,000 (£72,000). The cost of a transformer is an extra few thousand pounds. The price for using such ultra-fast charging sites is considerably higher because it reflects the initial investment as well as higher comfort for the electric cars’ owners. For example, according to My Urban Car, charging for a 1,000 miles distance in the Ionity network, which offers ultra-fast charging, with an output of 350 kilowatts costs £196.

Large networks of charging stations are usually not profitable on their own yet, but it is believed that with the increasing number of electric cars on the roads, they will soon return their worth. ‘I can't say that all charging stations make money,’ said Christian Girardeu, Director of Electrification at BP, in February this year. However, the oil giant wants to have 70,000 stations by 2030 and expects profits within another boom in e-mobility.

Challenges for software

Choosing the right software is essentially important for the companies that want to get involved in the electromobility business. For example, the ChargeUp software solution, created by the Czech company Unicorn, will help simplify the management of charging stations. It consists of two separate modules. Their interconnection ensures a seamless experience for operators and their customers.

‘Operators use a control system for the registration and remote management of charging stations. A separate application (ChargeUp ESP) is designed for drivers. Within the app, they can search for charging stations, select a charging tariff, start charging and pay for it. In addition, the application allows you to monitor a charging status remotely. And when the battery is fully charged, charging can be remotely stopped as well,’ says Ondřej Synek, Sales Director of the Unicorn Systems production stream.

It is up to the operators how they will receive payments for charging from their customers. There are a few payment models – from a loyalty flat rate with a subscription paid on a monthly or annual basis to pay-as-you-go payments. For example, it is common to charge based on the number of kilowatt-hours taken, or according to the time spent charging at the charging point. The second method motivates drivers not to park unnecessarily long in places with charging points. A combination of both methods would be beneficial to the customer and company.


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