Tuesday 23 Jul 2024
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on July 24, 2023 - July 30, 2023

The local start-up ecosystem is experiencing a notable increase in companies dedicated to developing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, capitalising on the nation’s growing embrace of EVs.

Acknowledging the pressing requirement for a robust charging infrastructure to facilitate this transition is Powered by RISE, a home-grown solutions provider specialising in EV charging stations.

The company was founded in 2019 by Kray Chong who was inspired by statistics revealing that the scarcity of charging stations ranked as the second most significant deterrent for Malaysian consumers considering EV purchases, with the exorbitant cost of the vehicles being the first.

Chong: In Malaysia, a common mistake most building management make is settling for a single EV charging operator on their premises

“At that time, electric cars were still rather expensive and only a handful of companies produced them. Tesla hadn’t come to Malaysia and we could only get our hands on the Nissan Leaf. During my research on the European and Asian EV markets, I discovered that charging stations play a vital role in ensuring the growth of EVs in any country. It’s a fact that today, if there were no petrol stations, nobody would buy a car that runs on petrol.

“Another reason is that the price of EVs is coming down. From the trend of manufacturing, production and distribution curves, we know that when EVs hit the mass market at the right price, the market will surely boom,” says Chong.

He laid the groundwork based on the hypothesis that once EVs start becoming affordable — in 2019, most EVs available locally were in the range of RM150,000 to RM200,000 — to the average Malaysian, the more sustainable mode of transport would become more attractive to the mass market.

The immense popularity of EVs in China, too, served as an inspiration, says Chong, who visited in 2018. The rapid growth of EVs in the country demonstrated the significant impact a robust charging infrastructure had on alleviating range anxiety and opened up a vista of possibilities for first-movers.

The start-up’s charging solution, dubbed ONE RISE, is considered one of the country’s first EV charging stations to be fully equipped with its own payment system. The stations are also equipped with electric bike charging ports.

“By offering comprehensive solutions that encompass in-house apps, a dedicated payment system and a robust platform, our development of EV charging stations presents an innovative approach that combines convenience, a seamless user experience, accessibility, flexibility and enhanced security,” says Chong.

Users charging their EVs using ONE RISE have the choice of paying for the power used via credit card, bank transfer, e-wallet and even cryptocurrency — which is a first for Malaysia and Asia — he says.

It is not just the convenient modes of payment that make ONE RISE an attractive solution, but also the safety measures put in place to ensure that the payment process is secure and user privacy is protected.

The charging rates range from RM1 to RM1.30 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) and users are billed based on the actual kilowatts consumed and the charging duration.

“We also built an automated rebate system to simplify the user experience. For example, if the user pays RM10 for 10kWh of power, but after one hour, the user decides to unplug the charging gun and leave, they will only be charged for 5kWh of power, which is half of what they paid for and we will automatically rebate the remaining RM5 to their digital wallet.

The company has also developed a charging solution that integrates artificial intelligence (AI) camera technology, which the start-up has patented, to enhance the safety, security and operational efficiency of its charging infrastructure. The solution enables a range of functionalities such as number plate detection, monitoring EV hogging and detecting fire and flooding.

The ONE RISE charging station is priced at RM3,500 for a 22kW unit. The cost of wiring is RM1,000 to RM3,000, depending on the length of the cable needed to connect to the power source.

However, to reduce the financial burden on on-premise operators, the company builds charging infrastructure without any upfront capital expenditure. 

Chong observed that in Malaysia, a common mistake most building managements make is settling for a single EV charging operator on their premises, laments Chong. He points out that in Shanghai, sometimes 10 EV charging companies occupy a shopping mall parking lot, making available over 100 charging points.

“If this becomes the norm, it will deter the adoption of EVs,” says Chong. “If only one company is allowed to provide charging services at a premises, they will have all the right to hike up prices and monopolise that area, which will consequently lower the market adoption for EV charging. Healthy competition will allow the market to grow, balance out the profit margin and ensure that every EV user will receive the best terms. The market is big enough for everyone.”

Chong adds that future app updates will include a feature that provides real-time information on charging station availability. “With this feature, EV users will be able to easily check the availability of charging stations in their vicinity before arriving at the location. This will help them plan their charging sessions more efficiently and reduce the inconvenience of waiting for an available charging spot.”

The app upgrade will also introduce an idle fee feature. “This feature is aimed at discouraging users from occupying charging stations for an extended period after their charging session is complete. By implementing an idle fee, users will be incentivised to free up the charging station once their EV is fully charged, allowing others to access the station promptly,” says Chong.

More needs to be done

Despite the notable progress made in the growth and development of the local EV sector, much more needs to be done quickly to make EVs more affordable, beef up the industry and scale up Malaysia’s green energy initiatives, says Chong.

“In China, if an EV charger company wishes to install a charger, all they have to do is file an application with the government with the required documentation and if they meet the requirements, the application is approved by the government and the building management. They can also easily apply for power supply from the energy grid. Likewise, the cost of getting the grid to provide electricity to the EV charger is almost free as the government provides subsidies and the grid energy provider does not charge any money except the monthly electricity consumption, which is also partly subsidised.

“In Malaysia, to get power from the grid, we need to pay the upfront cost. In some scenarios, even the wiring from the nearest grid substation to the charger is covered by the charger company. In the event the power consumption is huge, we need to pay for upgrades and, on rare occasions, we need to pay for the upgrade of the substation and other electrical equipment deemed necessary by the energy provider without any subsidies. This increases the overall cost of setting up a charger, presents an entry barrier and extends the return on investment.

“To be fair, even with ample subsidies, the system in China is not perfect, as some companies misuse government aid. But in the scheme of things, the assistance provided helped the rapid construction of charging infrastructure and made China the largest player in the world.”

Moreover, permit applications to set up charging stations in China are handled by a dedicated task force which speeds up the process. “Meanwhile, in our country, the application to get an EV charger permit remains a complex mission and the entry barrier as well as the requirements are confusing,” says Chong.

Given that negotiating power deals and subsidies, reworking regulatory frameworks and raising awareness are time-consuming and costly endeavours, Chong instead appeals to the government to at least introduce a special registration plate that will distinguish EVs from other cars on the road.

This request, however, is already being looked into. In May, Transport Minister Anthony Loke announced that the Road Transport Department (JPJ) had mooted special number plates for EVs, in addition to looking into a new road tax structure once the road tax exemption for EVs ends on Dec 31, 2025.

“It [green number plates] gives us [Powered by RISE] an edge as well as [the fact that] we have a patented technology using AI fitted at our EV charging station. If the government could implement the number plates, it would be very useful for us to identify and allow only EVs to be parked in the charger spots and make it easier for security and parking management to ensure that dedicated parking spaces are rightly used,” says Chong, who adds that the AI system is also available for purchase by other EV charging companies.

He reiterates that Malaysia needs to pick up the pace as its regional peers — Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand — are already gaining tremendous attention globally in terms of EV-related foreign direct investment and manufacturing deals.

“We need an aggressive approach when it comes to innovating every part of the EV sector. For instance, to produce even a simple charging station, we need many different manufacturing parties to collaborate, from printed circuit board makers, assemblers, microcomponent suppliers, panel fabricators and cable factories to plastic moulding companies.

“We can’t claim to be innovative and become a challenger and forceful player in the EV market if we continue to rely on other countries’ technology and products while neglecting local talent and innovation,” says Chong.

Since its launch in March, Powered by RISE already has 20 charging stations in operation and plans to build another 100 stations by the end of the year.

The end goal is to install 7,200 charging stations nationwide and 50,000 charging stations across Asean, says Chong.

“We wish to become the charging station provider focused on middle and low-income people. That’s why we have electric cars and electric bike charging stations. We strongly believe that for the market to grow, we need to look at mass market adoption,” he says.

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