China’s new energy vehicles, which have ranked first in global sales for eight consecutive years, have made the charging pile market bigger. However, due to the large number of players, it has become a fully competitive and involved market.
Even so, in the face of strong charging demand, a new round of staking has begun. But this time, those entering the scene are petrochemical giants who are shouldering the heavy responsibility of energy transformation.
On September 19, Shell’s Shenzhen Airport Charging Station, the world’s largest electric vehicle charging station, was put into operation. The international oil giant is making all its efforts to invest in charging stations. Currently, 800 charging stations and a charging network composed of 25,000 terminals have been built in China, which is just the beginning.
Not only foreign capital is active, domestic petrochemical companies are also investing heavily in building websites. For example, PetroChina recently spent 1.5 billion to acquire 100% of the equity of Putian New Energy, a charging pile company. It bluntly stated that “we must seize the window period for the development of the new energy industry in the next three years” and make strides towards the charging pile market.
According to data from the China Charging Alliance, as of July this year, the total number of charging infrastructure in the country was 6.928 million units, a year-on-year increase of 74.1%. Under the rapid growth, the ratio of piles to vehicles is 1:2.6, indicating that the charging pile market as a new infrastructure is far from the Not saturated.
Behind the “elephant’s turn”, many people are also curious about how they will launch an offensive now that the market structure has been locked in? And how will the charging business, which is ridiculed by the outside world as “making only two cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity”, get rid of its profit dilemma?
Currently, the top domestic charging pile operators can be roughly classified into three camps: one is private capital service providers represented by Telaidian and Xingxing Charging; the other is represented by State Grid, China Southern Power Grid, and Putian New Energy. The national team; the third is the OEM that directly provides charging services to users.
According to the current domestic charging market share ranking, more than 90% of users and orders are in the hands of third-party operators, that is, private capital service providers. With the first-mover advantage and capital boost, the three leading companies – Telecall, Xingxing Charging and Yunkuai Charge – have more than 300,000 charging facilities, accounting for more than 17% of the total. In contrast, the “national team” only accounts for about 5% of the total charging facilities.
Although charging stations and gas stations are downstream infrastructure in the automobile industry chain and will theoretically be strongly dominated by the “national team”, in fact they are relatively cautious in investing in charging piles.
“Everyone knows that profitability can only be achieved after scaling up, but if you want to achieve such charging network coverage, you have to invest and burn money.” An investor from an industry fund said frankly that the capital investment is large, the utilization rate is not high, and the return cycle is long. , is the current status of the charging pile market. They had invested in three charging stations around 2020, but it was too late to enter the track at that time, and the competitive landscape was basically locked.
The fierce rivals they face are Te Laidian, Star Charging and Cloud Quick Charge.
Traditional companies not only have long decision-making cycles, but are also often more conservative about new things. The reason why the status of these three companies is difficult to shake is that they entered the new energy market at almost the same time as Wei Xiaoli and were among the first charging pile companies in the country.
The first-mover advantage allows private charging pile operators to reap the first wave of dividends, especially the priority in site selection. “The location conditions of charging stations are a very important advantage. It directly determines the traffic flow and charging pile utilization rate.” An off-grid charging service provider said that under the condition of stable traffic, some charging stations with better operations he came into contact with Station, you can get your money back in one to two years.
However, the rapid profitability of some charging stations does not represent the overall business situation. Most charging stations have been unable to make a profit due to low utilization rates. Tong Zongqi, deputy secretary-general of the China Charging Alliance, said that the current average social utilization rate of charging piles in China is less than 10%, that is, less than 2.4 hours of 24 hours a day are used, and the utilization rate of high-speed charging piles is less than 1 %.
A new energy analyst from a leading securities firm also pointed out that profitability is a major problem for charging operators. Even leading charging pile operators such as Te Laidian and Xingxing Charging have been losing money. Although leading companies in the industry have first-mover advantages and significant scale advantages, strong hardware and capital-intensive investment make it difficult for many companies to wait until their profit rates return to positive levels. It is equivalent to a profitable charging station, and the money earned is used to make up for the money hole of the new station.
Industry insiders have calculated an account. Taking 10 120kW charging piles (1200kVa) as an example, the purchase cost of charging piles + 10kV wiring fees + debugging fees + box-type transformer boxes requires at least 500,000 yuan. 1,000 charging stations are Starting from 500 million yuan, this does not include ring network expansion and infrastructure costs.
In the past two years, some operating vehicles have gone to centralized stations for charging. In order to provide better supporting services, operators have increased construction costs such as dining areas and rest areas, which has further increased the initial investment cost of a single charging station.
Even companies in the leading position have not tasted the sweetness. As a typical late-cycle market, charging piles require capital-intensive investment and a return period of at least 3-5 years. A new energy analyst from a securities firm told Huxiu: “In the early stage, each company implemented large-scale hardware deployment with the goal of staking out land to obtain licenses. In order to seize high-quality point resources, they did not hesitate to engage in price wars, leading the industry to enter a stage of fierce competition. If there is any future When products are replaced, it will be more difficult for charging stations to recover their costs.”
In 2015, there were only 1,069 charging stations in China, which increased to 36,000 in 2019. In 2023, this number will grow to 111,000. Industry insiders believe that as high-quality spots in first-tier cities are taken up, the charging pile market will gradually shift from extensive enclosure in the past to orderly expansion based on refined operations, thereby improving operational efficiency and benefits.
Electricity prices have increased
In recent times, the most criticized issue among electric vehicle owners is the visible increase in charging prices.
Since July, electric car owners in Beijing and Shanghai have clearly felt that charging fees are almost as expensive as gas prices. Even the doubling of electricity prices has made many people think that charging pile companies intend to cut car owners’ leeks and make a fortune just like shared power banks.
Is money really made by charging pile operators? The answer is of course not.
Generally speaking, the charging fee includes electricity fee and service fee. The electricity bill is collected by the operator and then handed over to the grid exactly. In other words, service fees are the real income of operators. As for how high the electricity price will rise, it has nothing to do with the charging pile operator. The service fee varies from 0.3 yuan to 0.7 yuan per kilowatt-hour on average depending on the location in different cities. This is the benchmark price agreed upon by leading players such as Telecall and Star Charge in the early days.
What makes people confused is that since we can only earn a small profit from service fees, why do we need to increase prices to hurt the feelings of car owners? In fact, the recent increase in charging prices is not a collusion among charging pile operators.
Tong Zongqi, deputy secretary-general of the China Charging Alliance, pointed out that in addition to electricity prices rising every summer after the peak electricity consumption, some areas have adjusted peak electricity prices, especially the original flat price period from 12 noon to 14:00, which has been adjusted to peak electricity prices. time period. “This happens to be the shift change time for many taxi and online ride-hailing drivers, or the lunch break and charging time.” For example, in Shanghai, the electricity price difference between peak peaks and flat valleys reached a maximum of 1.89 yuan per kilowatt hour. “This is the reason why in July Since then, everyone has generally felt that the main reason for the rise in electricity prices.”
Industry insiders told Huxiu that the peak electricity price itself is regulated by the state, and the price is set in advance by the National Development and Reform Commission. When specific seasons and times arise, various places must follow the rules of peak electricity prices.
“In order to reduce users’ price sensitivity, operators have actually made dynamic price adjustments.” said an industry insider. For example, during peak electricity prices and peak electricity price periods, operators will reduce the service fee to 0.3 yuan to 0.4 yuan per kilowatt hour; when the off-peak electricity price is reached, the service fee will be adjusted to 0.6 yuan to 0.8 yuan, thereby narrowing the range of electricity price fluctuations. .
Electric vehicle public charging pile
Of course, since domestic charging pile operators are generally in a state of loss, some areas have indeed raised service fees. According to statistics from the China Charging Alliance, the average charging service fee across the country is about 40 cents per kilowatt hour. Compared with the fierce low-price competition in the past, the rise in service fees is actually a relatively normal price range.
It is worth noting that not long ago, the domestic charging aggregation platform Kuaidian made a surprise attack with a “zero service fee” approach. Although this move pleased users, it caused an uproar in the industry, not only causing Te Laidian and Xingxing Charging to announce their withdrawal from Kuaidian The platform was even jointly suppressed and boycotted by 35 charging companies in Chengdu.
Kuaidian is open to VIP members across the country, and the service fee is directly reduced to 0 yuan (early morning of August 16)
“In fact, reducing service fees to grab traffic and gain customers has happened before, but after all, companies now value cash flow more, so companies stick to the bottom line of the industry and behave more restrained.” The above-mentioned industry insiders said that once Breaking through this bottom line and using extremely low prices to seize the market will be difficult to be tolerated and accepted by the market.
Reshaping the pattern
Now, as new players break into the charging track, they are likely to use another business logic and development model to start the second half of the competition in the industry.
From a capital perspective, the charging pile market has recently shown a major trend, which is from being dominated by social capital in the past to large-scale infrastructure investment, with state-owned capital and industrial capital waiting for opportunities to enter.
These companies have chosen the current “stuck position” just in time for the charging stations that were built three or four years ago and need to be renovated or replaced. This creates conditions for the second round of investment in the charging market.
Competition in the charging market is certainly fierce, but as the penetration rate of new energy vehicles increases, the charging pile operation market has gradually reached a profit turning point, and the charging pile market has entered a period of consolidation.
Among them, PetroChina has deployed the charging pile industry many times this year. The Putian New Energy it acquired has 24,000 public charging piles, ranking 15th among charging operating companies in the country. The completion of this transaction means that after PetroChina acquires Putian New Energy, it can use the larger scale of charging piles to jump to the forefront of the industry, which is the fastest way to counterattack.
However, the 24,000 public charging piles from Putian cannot satisfy PetroChina’s “appetite”. According to Sinopec’s plan, the construction target of 5,000 charging and swapping stations will be completed by 2025. By the end of 2022, Sinopec has more than 2,200 charging and swapping stations.
Dongzhimen, Beijing, electric vehicle charging pile signage at Putian Charging Station
In order to achieve this goal, as early as June, PetroChina put out a “big order” for the bidding and procurement of charging equipment, with an amount of up to 500 million yuan, and large-scale self-built charging equipment is in progress.
For PetroChina, the charging pile business is of extraordinary significance. It represents a major breakthrough in the transformation of traditional oil giants into clean energy giants. Large international energy companies such as Shell and BP have also expanded their charging station business through acquisitions and cooperation in the past year or two, and have tied themselves more closely with their Chinese partners.
Many industry insiders believe that when giants with large financial resources enter the charging pile market, it means that the industry is about to usher in a new round of reshuffle. By then, those operators with relatively strong operating capabilities and financial strength can reunite all operators that were extremely fragmented in the past.
Shell’s first 360kW Nanjing supercharging station
It should be noted that charging stations are essentially infrastructure like gas stations. “If the national team does not enter the game, in the long run, the industry will develop towards the power bank model. But as the “three barrels of oil” conquer the city, charging station operations will sooner or later evolve into the gas station model, and the industry structure will completely change. ” said the above-mentioned industry analysts.
The so-called “power bank model” is similar to the Internet’s “thousand-team war”. Basically, in the first half, each company builds hardware on a large scale and then competes in the process of staking the land. What everyone earns is the peak-valley electricity price difference and leasing. The price finally finds its position under the dynamic equilibrium of the market.
The “gas station model” will be uniformly managed by central enterprises. Although the degree of marketization is not high, it can avoid vicious competition caused by price wars. At the same time, it can give the business long-term unprofitable growth space. The strategic significance is far greater than the economic benefits.