As part of the process of moving towards a carbon-neutral world, governments are looking at electrification strategies. The EU Electrification Strategy, for example, is focused on creating policies and incentives that will encourage the use of electricity instead of fossil fuels to power a range of industries – including, of course, transportation. EU leadership believes that shifting to electrical power is key to cutting emissions to meet the 2030 climate target plan goals and the 2050 carbon neutrality goal.
A considerable part of the electrification process will be a massive shift from fuel-powered cars to electric vehicles (EVs). “Range anxiety” refers to a driver’s fear that their car battery will run out and that they won’t find a place to recharge it before reaching their destination. This is one of the most significant barriers to EV adoption.
The cure for this range anxiety lies in the availability of ultra-fast chargers – an option that all charge-point operators should be exploring and getting ready to implement.
The Need for Power
Ultra-fast charging can cure EV range anxiety once and for all by allowing EVs to recharge in about 15 minutes. The challenge lies in the demand all these ultra-fast chargers will place on the electric grid. One ultra-fast charger requires about 150kW to charge an EV – multiply this by thousands, and you can understand the problem. Additionally, the power needed by such chargers is unavailable in many locations, especially outside of major urban areas.
Charge point operators (CPOs) will want to offer more than one charger so that multiple vehicles can charge at once, putting even more demand on the grid. While upgrading the electric grid is one possible solution, it takes years and is very expensive. Not all governments and countries will be willing or able to commit the time and financial resources for grid upgrades to be a viable solution.
The Benefits of Providing Ultra-Fast Charging
CPOs, commercial real estate, and property owners – i.e., airports, hotels, shopping centers, parking, convenience stores, etc. – can benefit significantly by installing ultra-fast charging ports in their locations. In addition to providing existing customers with an upgraded service by allowing them to charge their EVs much faster, there is also an opportunity for new and increased revenue streams.
A convenience store, for example, might entice new customers to come in and purchase something while charging, drawing them away from the gas stations where they used to fuel-up. Similarly, a parking garage that offers ultra-fast EV charging will be more appealing to EV drivers.
All-in-one Solution for Ultra-Fast Charging
CPOs and other property owners that want to begin offering ultra-fast charging do have to contend with the existing grid capacity challenges. To address this problem, power boosters can be used to bridge the gap between underdeveloped grids and ultra-fast chargers. Power boosters are on-site solutions that boost the power of chargers relative to what the original grid can deliver. Power boosters augment the grid when EVs use ultra-fast chargers, replenishing their energy from the grid using idle charging times.
Some vendors offer “all-in-one” products that combine an ultra-fast charger, embedded Lithium-ion battery, advertising screen, and a payment system. The batteries can be swapped from time to time when their capacity has degraded.
The upside of this system for CPOs and property owners is the relative ease of installation of the compact, self-contained, and integrated unit. Additionally, given that the embedded battery pack typically has a capacity of 100-200kWh (when new), these integrated systems provide sufficient energy for ultra-fast charging.
There are, however, three main issues that give pause to some operators: the use of chemical batteries, vendor lock-in, and an inflexible setup.
Use of Chemical Batteries
As many studies, including a recent report from the US Department of Energy, have pointed out, battery capacity degrades over time. The exact number of charge/discharge cycles before a battery reaches the end of its useful life depends on many parameters, including the rate at which energy is extracted from it, the depth of discharge, the ambient temperature, and more. In some cases, batteries can reach their useful life after 1,000-2,000 cycles, which might translate to a couple of years in a relatively busy location.
At the end of their life, batteries need to be removed and disposed of safely. New batteries need to be purchased and installed. Both the purchase of new batteries and the safe disposal of old ones add significant ongoing costs to the total cost of ownership. But, even beyond the cost, environmentally-conscious operators worry about the detrimental impact of these batteries and the toxic chemicals they contain.
Purchasing an integrated solution leads to significant vendor lock-ins. Operators are forced to use the solution provided by that single vendor – whether it is the advertising network, the type and features of the charger, the payment system, and more.
Operators must be comfortable not only with the up-front costs but also with future maintenance and battery replacement costs. If an operator owns or plans to use charging stations from additional vendors, all-in-one solutions might not be a practical solution.
This is similar to decisions that IT managers make regarding computer storage: is it better to equip each station with large-capacity SSD storage, or is it better to share resources and provide access to secure, reliable, and large networked storage? Similarly, in a multi-charger configuration, is it wise to provide local energy storage to each charger, or would highly reliable central energy storage be better?
After all, it isn’t easy to anticipate which chargers will be used more than others. As EVs appear in larger numbers, what if the aggregate energy capacity needs to be upgraded? Upgrading a central unit is much easier than replacing every individual charging station. And finally, what if local energy storage is a strategy to expedite the installation of charging stations while the grid is upgraded? In this case, having a centralized energy storage unit that can be relocated to a different location is preferable to the embedded chemical battery modules that might become obsolete.
Kinetic Power Boosters
There is another power booster option that addresses the issues raised by the all-in-one solutions. A flywheel-based power booster uses kinetic energy to store power. It has practically unlimited charge/discharge cycles, does not use chemical batteries, and can easily be moved to different locations when needed.
Using a kinetic power booster enables ultra-fast charging. It allows operators to easily offer multiple cars to charge quickly all at once, providing them with increased revenue while providing a valuable service to customers—a win-win for all involved.