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Tokyo's utility poles to serve as EV chargers

Tepco plans to roll out 100 initial units at half the cost

Tepco will roll out a new style of charging station for electric vehicles that employs Tokyo's ubiquitous utility poles. (Nikkei collage)

TOKYO -- Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings will utilize its utility poles to install electric vehicle charging stations in the Tokyo metropolitan area, an innovation that promises to cut the costs and space needed for the next-generation infrastructure.

Japan's biggest power supplier, commonly known as Tepco, aims initially to build 100 units. Installing a conventional charging station costs around 3 million yen ($27,600), but Tepco's utility pole chargers will require spending only half that amount.

A reliable network of charging stations is essential for electric vehicles to gain traction in the market. Currently only 8,000 fast-charging units exist nationwide, according to the Chademo Association, a Tokyo-based trade group. Tepco's low-cost approach is expected to accelerate expansion.

Fast charging requires thick cables to allow sending a rush of electricity in a short time. Existing systems typically involve laying such cables underground between utility poles and charging stations. But Tepco's method, which attaches chargers to the poles, does not require the cables to be buried. It also uses less space than conventional chargers.

Tepco later plans to install chargers at poles maintained by utilities outside the Tokyo area. The power provider also will offer consulting for businesses exploring where to install chargers for commercial EVs. For home delivery firms, for example, Tepco would help determine the most efficient charging locations for each operating area.

Elsewhere, Tepco intends to negotiate with landowners to install the stations, setting affordable charging fees. The power company looks to control costs by overseeing everything from charger installation to consulting.

Since Japan deregulated the power market in 2016, Tepco has lost customers in its Tokyo domain, and earnings in the retail electricity segment have suffered. For the year ended in March, the segment's pretax profit plunged 37% to 72.7 billion yen. The company sees the EV charging business as a fresh source of earnings.

In Europe, Germany's E.ON and Italy's Enel have set up chargers in response to European automakers' electric vehicle expansion strategies.

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