There are several different forces now at work when it comes to the charging of electric vehicles (EVs). Governments across the western world are pushing the transition from petrol and diesel engines to electrically based alternatives, but still face a significant challenge in providing enough charging infrastructure.
Part of that transition will rely on gaining the confidence of the drivers themselves. They are looking for access to fast and convenient charging that takes a similar amount of time to refuelling a conventional combustion engine vehicle, instead of being stuck waiting around for several hours.
The established oil companies are also preparing themselves for the transition. BP, for example, expects there to be over 12 million EVs on the UK’s roads by 2040 (up from around 135 000 in 2017). Consequently, it has bought the UK’s largest EV charging company - Chargemaster - which has over 6500 charging points in its nationwide Polar network. These include 150 kW rapid chargers that can give an electric car enough charge for 150 km of range in just 10 minutes.
As well as operating a network of chargers, Chargemaster also designs, builds, sells and maintains the charging units. Until this stage BP only had 70 charging points on its 1 200 forecourts in the UK, but the Chargemaster deal will clearly boost the availability of equipment significantly. Back in January BP also invested $5 million in FreeWire Technologies, which manufactures mobile rapid charging systems for EVs.
Not wanting to be left behind, Shell bought charger company New Motion earlier this year. This has a total of 30 000 charging points across Europe, and has teamed up with pan-European network Ionity. Elsewhere in Europe, Dutch charger developer Fastned has also opened its first 350 kW fast charging station in Germany (which takes power from wind and solar sources to charge EVs), as part of a rollout of 1 000 sites all over the continent. This initial fast charging station, which is located along the A3 highway (that spans from Dortmund to Munich), has several 350 kW chargers, each taking 20 minutes to charge for a 100 km range.
“In the next few years, German car manufacturers such as Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes will introduce fully electric models that can charge at high power. This is a great challenge and opportunity for the automotive industry and charging companies,” Bart Lubbers, co-founder of Fastned, announced.
But, a small number of fast charging points won’t be enough. A report by Emu Analytics predicts that an additional 83 500 charging points will be required to meet the projected demand in the UK alone. To date there are a mere 16 500 UK charging points in 5 700 locations, so there needs to be a dramatic six-fold increase to attend to the 1 million EVs that it is thought will be in operation by 2020.
The UK government has allocated £440 million to develop charging infrastructure and is also insisting that all new homes built include an EV charging point. However, there is a considerable gap - for the 43% of UK households who have to park on the street. The intention is for this to be supplemented by infrastructure rollout by energy supplier Ubitricity - which is connecting up lampposts to provide roadside charging points in urban/suburban areas.
Urban Electric Networks - a spinout of Imperial College, London - has gone a step further and developed a charger that rises up from the pavement. The UEone units charge at power levels up to 5,8 kW and retract underground when not in use, minimising the impact on the street and ensuring that pedestrians aren’t unduly affected. It is standard height when raised, but the innovative retractable design by Duku means the installation depth is just 405 mm, reducing the deployment cost and making it suitable for more than 90% of residential streets.
The grid demand management capability means that whole streets can be electrified at a time and uses the same SmartCable technology as the Ubitricity lamp posts to simplify the connection. Each of the charging posts is triggered and controlled via an app.
“The most convenient, affordable and climate-friendly way to charge an EV from the grid is at home at night, yet up to 85% of households in some urban residential areas cannot do so because they park on-street, acting as a barrier to EV adoption,” stated Olivier Freeling-Wilkinson, co-founder of Urban Electric. “By installing an over-supply of pop-up charge points in a street from day one we will give certainty of access to a home-based charge point in residential parking zones, so that local authorities can enable the 11,6 million UK households currently excluded from driving zero emission to make the switch." A trial that has just been embarked upon in Oxford will see 100 of these chargers installed before the end of this year.
As with almost any technological advance, there are several competing standards in the mix. Tesla uses a different connector from the more commonly accepted combined charging system (CCS), which itself uses two different types of connector (Type 1 and Type 2) - depending on whether it is in the US or Europe - and has Combo 1 and Combo 2 connectors with two extra high-power DC contacts for fast charging. Different standards are being employed in Japan (CHAdeMO) and China (GB/T), limiting the opportunities for economies of scale.
There are also systems being pioneered for automatic charging of vehicles. A robot-controlled 350 kW fast charging system developed in Austria (by a team at the Technical University of Graz) uses cameras, plus machine learning to identify the position of the charging connectors. The team has worked closely with BMW and local automotive systems company MAGNA Steyr Engineering to create the self-aligning connector design.
“For the first time we have found a way to automatically recharge several vehicles, one after another, using a robotic charging station, without the need to adapt the vehicles," explained project leader, Bernhard Walzel. "The robot recognises the charging socket by means of sophisticated camera technology and can charge several e-cars in sequence after they drive into the charging station. This means the system still works even when a vehicle is not parked in an exact position.”
Looking to the future, American firm Delta has started work on the development of a 400 kW extreme fast charger (XFC) that it is expected will give EVs a 250 km range with less than 10 minutes of charging. This three-year, $7 million project, which has been funded by the US Department of Energy and will include contributions from multinational car maker General Motors, plans to produce charging equipment that is a quarter the size of the DC fast chargers currently on the market - with a prototype due in the 2020 timeframe.