To lure more drivers to EVs, we need fast charging everywhere

There is a big difference between using a fully electric car for daily commuting and making a long road trip with it. Most electric vehicles today have a range of 200–400 km (120–260 miles) on a full charge. Some luxury models, such as the $100,000 Tesla Model S, could give over 500 km of autonomy.

For daily users of a full electric car, if their commute is less than 100 km, it is not a big deal. They know they can make a round trip without charging and plug in their EVs during the night. In some cases, they also have a work-provided charger at their workplace.

Obviously, the problem starts with longer trips or for people that use their vehicles most of the day. With today’s infrastructure and technology, it is challenging to operate an electric car without stopping for charging every two to three hours and spending another hour at a fast-charging station.

Many households, especially in the U.S., are balancing the desire to own an EV by having another car for longer trips. They use their EV for daily commuting or shopping and keep their bigger, combustion-engine vehicle for traveling.

In some markets, makers of EVs are offering the use of a conventional vehicle for a certain period every year to customers buying an electric car. Ideally, especially if we want to transition to fully electric vehicles and reduce emissions, it shouldn’t be this way.

From swappable batteries to liquid hydrogen

A few years ago, several startups touted the idea of swappable batteries for EVs. The concept was simple: Drive to a service station with your electric car, someone will swap your depleted battery for a fully charged one, and you can continue your trip within minutes.

Unfortunately, this concept works only with small EVs such as a three-wheeler or a motorcycle. In many cities, companies offering electric motorcycle sharing use this method to keep their units charged: Instead of charging stations, they can provide a free-floating solution by sending vans swapping batteries around the service area.

However, the batteries required for a compact electric car are pretty large and heavy, and adding a swapping option could significantly increase their price and complicate production. Furthermore, this solution would require that some standards are defined for the swappable units across different manufacturers.

For some experts, the ideal solution would be liquid hydrogen cells to deliver power to EVs. It would have the advantage of a full-electric, clean powertrain with the convenience of the “gas station” model for refueling. While there have been significant investments and advances in this technology, it has primarily stayed in the experimental stage.

The biggest problems for hydrogen cells are production, transportation, and safety. Hydrogen is expensive to produce; it requires much more power to create it than the one it could deliver. Additionally, it would need to be transported to the service stations, and it would require extra care for storage and when it is connected to the electric car. That being said, there is a significant interest in liquid hydrogen for heavy vehicles in the transportation industry and on railways.

Ultra-fast wireless charging could be the next solution

When plugging a smartphone or laptop into a fast charger, usually by a USB Type-C cable, the device tells the charger how much power it can take at fast speeds. Currently, some models of smartphones can receive about 30 W per hour of power, therefore reducing the time for a full charge to less than one hour. When the battery reaches about 80% of its capacity, the charger starts to reduce its power output to lower levels so as to not to damage the unit.

While there are substantial differences between the batteries of an electric car and the ones in a smartphone, the way they are charged is quite similar. In fact, both types of batteries use DC power at different wattage levels.

Two technologies can make a difference in fast charging: the CHAdeMO connector and wireless charging pads. Both can deliver DC power to the vehicle, eliminating the need for bulky AC/DC inverters as the conversion takes place in the charging station.

While some people would still like the convenient and inexpensive solution of charging their cars at home using a standard power outlet, many EV owners would be happy to invest in a CHAdeMO charger, especially because it allows vehicle-to-house and vehicle-to-grid technologies.

What doesn’t make sense is to continue installing charging stations on the road that do not support fast DC charging. EV owners, especially those depending on independent charging infrastructure, need to know that their car could receive at least 2 kW per hour when arriving at a charging station.

Wireless charging soon could be the norm. Today, wireless charging is an option on some models from manufacturers such as Toyota and BMW. Tomorrow, it could be standard for delivering power to electric cars at charging stations and on the road.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory funded the “Wireless Charging for Electric Vehicles” project. At the time, they recognized that “wireless charging is seen as a key enabling technology to increase the adoption of electric vehicles.”

Their goal was, for 2015, to demonstrate the viability of wireless charging for light EVs based on the SAE J2954 standard. The latest revision, J2954_202010, supports home and public wireless charging. At the moment, it is intended for stationary applications (charging while the vehicle is not in motion). Future revisions would include dynamic applications, as road operators could decide to install some wireless charging areas under the surface, allowing EVs to charge on the go.

Plugless, a company that manufactures and sells electric wireless charging stations, provides upgrade kits for the Tesla Model S, BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, and Chevrolet Volt, with plans to add more vehicles soon.

Full EV adoption won’t happen until fast charging everywhere is a reality

Range anxiety is still a fact for EV owners. Until we have plenty of fast and ultra-fast charging stations everywhere, it will be a barrier to the adoption of fully electric vehicles.

Fortunately, we do have the technology to make it happen. We need the economy of scale and the investments from governments and private operators to deploy the infrastructure as soon as possible.

Also, as more EVs appear on our roads, the opportunity to provide a fast-charging service would attract private investors to this potentially very lucrative market.

To learn more about the future of EV charging, check out The future of EV charging is more intelligent and ubiquitous.


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