GE Sees Billion-Dollar Market Potential in Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

July 23, 2010
The infrastructure that will be needed to juice up electric vehicles as they begin to roll onto U.S. streets in significant numbers over the next few years presents a huge potential market for electrical products

The infrastructure that will be needed to juice up electric vehicles as they begin to roll onto U.S. streets in significant numbers over the next few years presents a huge potential market for electrical products, a market that comes along just when many electrical distributors and contractors are hungry for new opportunities, said Chris Bowler, general manager of Industrial Solutions Marketing for GE Energy Industrial Solutions.

Bowler spoke in a phone conference following the introduction of GE’s new electric vehicle (EV) charging station, the WattStation, a futuristic-looking piece of equipment GE hopes will become ubiquitous worldwide over the next few years as part of a new market estimated at $1.5 billion in North America by 2015.

“Roughly by 2015, when we hit full-ramp on this thing, there will be somewhere under 1.6 million charging stations being installed every year, globally,” said Mike Mahan, senior product manager for GE Energy Industrial Solutions, citing a rough average from a variety of analyst reports. “In North America, it looks like the number will be around half-a-million to 600,000 charging stations installed every year. We announced an average selling price somewhere between $3,000 to $7,000, depending on the feature set, so if we stick with the low end, this will be close to a $5 billion (global) market by 2015. That doesn’t include pull-through equipment to that will be required to support these chargers. So this is a very big emerging market for the electrical industry.”

“The economy is not great at the moment,” Bowler added, “but when these types of opportunities come about, it’s a great opportunity to grow sales for both distributors and contractors.”

GE estimates that each dollar spent on charging stations will bring an additional 50 cents in sales of upstream distribution equipment such as panelboards, upgraded transformers, circuit breakers, switchgear and other electrical equipment to provide power to the units.

The company has been putting together direct deals to install WattStations in several cities, on university campuses and shopping centers as they rush to provide power to the expected influx of electric and plug-in-hybrid vehicles. GE is a technical advisor to Project Get Ready, a group of municipalities that want to push EV adoption, and has announced pilot programs with Purdue University and the University of California San Diego. Bowler said they’ve also had interest from major hotel chains and commercial centers.

Although the work with early adopters is being handled directly by the factory, Mahan said GE sees a huge opportunity for electrical distributors and contractors to take part in the build-out of EV charging infrastructure. “These will be installed by electrical contractors, and we all know contractors like to shop at electrical distribution, so that is a big part of our channel plans for the WattStation.” The company will hit the road with an “EV University” to offer technical training on the WattStation to electrical distributors and contractors.

The WattStation is a Level 2 charging system, which means it can fully recharge a “typical” vehicle’s dead 24 kWh battery in four to eight hours, compared with a Level 1 system that uses standard household current, which requires 12-18 hours for a full charge. But the expectation is that EV drivers will seldom have to charge a fully drained battery; instead the driver will top-off the battery while parked at various locations such as shopping centers, movie theaters and workplaces.

Among the WattStation’s features, there’s robust ground-fault protection and the system will be automatically de-energized until it’s fully connected. The state of charge is shown on the unit by an LED display, and optional e-commerce features will enable the owner to charge drivers with the swipe of a card or with the use of an RFID billing system. The unit has all kinds of communication ports including Ethernet, BACnet, Modbus and so on, to tie the system into building management systems. It’s also designed with the smart grid in mind, allowing utilities to apply time-of-use pricing and load-shedding programs, Mahan said.

GE hired a celebrated industrial designer, Yves Behar, to draw the WattStation’s lines, and the design has been well received in the environmental and automotive press. “The WattStation is, arguably, the best looking of the bunch — a result that is no accident. Designed by legendary industrial designer Yves Behar, the WattStation is meant to make you feel the exact polar opposite of what you might feel when you pull up to a gas station. It is also the only charger that currently has WiFi smart grid technology built in,” wrote Nick Chambers in a roundup of charging stations on the green technology blog Matter Network (

The WattStation will be available globally in 2011, GE said.

GE is hardly the only company gearing up to offer EV charging stations. Also this week, Leviton Manufacturing announced a partnership with Coulomb Technologies, the creator of an open-architecture EV charging network called ChargePoint. Siemens, Schneider Electric, Eaton Corp. and ABB are among the familiar electrical manufacturers positioning themselves through systems development and partnerships to take a stake in building out the infrastructure for EVs, and several new startups such as Better Place, AeroVironment and ECOtality have staked a claim to the market as well.