High Speed Chargers Bring EV’s One Step Closer to Mainstream
(3BL Media/Justmeans) - In the year 1906, Ray Stannard Baker wrote the following passage about automobiles in the book The Boyâs Book of Inventions: Stories of the Wonders of Modern Science.
âThe electric vehicle which has had its most successful development in this country has its well-defined advantages and disadvantages. It is simpler in construction and more easily managed than any other vehicle: one manufacturer calls it âfool proof.â It is wholly without odor or vibrations and practically noiseless. It will make any permissible rate of speed and climb any ordinary hill. On the other hand, it is immensely heavy, owing to the use of storage batteries; it can run only a limited distance without rechargingâ¦â
He goes on to say, âIndeed, all the manufacturers of electric vehicles speak with the confidence of the day when the whole of the United States will be as thoroughly sprinkled with electric charging stations as it is today with bicycle road-houses.â
A hundred years ago we were at a crossroads similar to the one we find ourselves at today, with electric vehicles vying against gasoline-powered cars. Back then, the choice was made, influenced by a good deal of lobbying and maneuvering by the oil industry. The fact that gasoline powered cars were also cheaper and didnât have the range issues of electrics also helped to tip the scales.
So, the question is, how much have things changed? Electric cars are still more expensive and still confront the range limitation challenge that seems to be inherent in trying to store adequate energy in electrical rather than chemical form.
What has changed is the realization that widespread usage of fossil fuels has put our planet and everything living on it at risk of a destabilized climate that threatens every aspect of our life-support system.
With so much of our day to day life built around a gas powered car that can be quickly and (of late) inexpensively filled up at any of the thousands of gas stations that cover the landscape, the challenge of switching over to a completely different energy is huge.
Yes, EV prices are coming down (see Chevy Bolt) and charging stations are popping up everywhere. According to DOE, there are currently 8,983 charging stations and 22,387 charging outlets in the US. Whether thatâs as many as there were bicycle roadhouses back 1906 is not clear, but unless people are convinced that itâs enough to assuage their ârange anxiety,â they will hesitate to buy an EV. Roughly 120,000 electric vehicles were sold in the US last year, bringing the total up to around 280,000.
There are a couple of other dimensions to this question. One is that, unlike gasoline, people do have access to electricity at home, which is where much of the vehicle charging, at least for local trips will take place. Thatâs why there neednât necessarily be as many charging stations as there are gas stations. The other dimension is the fact that not all charging stations are created equal.Â What varies is the amount of time required for a charge, though what is true in all cases is the fact that it will take longer to charge your car with electrons than it did to fill it with gasoline.
Most people will come to recognize that it will be worth the wait in order to maintain a livable climate, but that doesnât mean it will be an easy adjustment.
Is there another way to do this? In a word, yes. Some areas, like Denmark, for example, are experimenting with the idea of a charged battery as a service. This is how that works. Instead of owning the battery as part of your car, the battery is a shared resource. When your charge is getting low, you pull into a station, where they lift out your battery and replace it with a fully charged one. This doesnât take any longer than filling up a gas tanks, but itâs a different ownership model that is more in line with the sharing economy. Not all EVs are configured for this but several Nissan models are designed to work with a robotic battery switching station designed by Shai Agassi of Better Place. That same approach, by the way, was used by New York taxi companies in the early 20th century when electric cabs made a brief appearance. The other option would be to go to hydrogen fuel cell, which is being vigorously pursued by Toyota.
That concept might be a little slow to catch on here in the US, which is why companies like Tesla, and now BMW and VW are investing in the installation of a vast network of high-speed charging stations. One hundred new stations will be installed along the busy coastal corridors like I-95 that runs between Washington and Boston.
The charging networks are not necessary for those using their EVs for local commuting. They can charge up at home, perhaps with a second car in the garage for longer trips. But for those people who will only own one car and want it to do everything they are used to doing, theyâll want those charging stations when they take to the road.
The question of charging speed adds an additional wrinkle. Tesla, for example, has proprietary electronics both in their superchargers and their cars which allow for a charging speed that can provide as much as 340 miles of range per hour of charge. So, if youâre in a hurry and youâre not far from home, 15 minutes will get you 85 miles.
By Â contrast, plugging the Tesla into a Â typical household outlet, will only get you 3-4 miles of range per hour of charge. That means an overnight charge, while enough for commuting around town, wonât be enough to extend that road trip by very much. Perhaps it will be enough to get you to the nearest Supercharger. An optional 240V wall connector can raise that to 58 miles of charge per hour, enough to get you a full charge overnight. Only Tesla cars can use Tesla chargers.
There is a standard connector that all EVâs have, called a J1772, which can connect to any and all models of public chargers. But the charging time will depend of the level of the charger. A Level 1 charger, will essentially get you the same charging efficiency as a regular outlet at home, up to 5 miles per hour. A Level 2 charger will provide about 19 miles per charging hour, provided that the car has the appropriate electronics to accept this amount of current. Likewise, a Level 3 charger, which requires a 480 Volt connection, will provide about 120 miles of charge in an hour.
While Level 2 chargers have become fairly standardized and you can get one for your home, the Level 3 standard is still in dispute. Contenders include the CHAdeMO plug, which is used by most Japanese EVs Including the Nissan Leaf, and the newer J1772 Combo, which, as the name implies, adds additional functionality to the existing J1772 plug. This type of connector is currently being used by the Chevy Spark EV and the BMW i3. To further complicate things, there is also Express DC fast charging offered by Chargepoint, which uses the standard J1772 connector.
The new network announced by the two Wâs, is being developed in conjunction with Chargepoint, the largest provider of EV chargers in the US, with over 20,300 stations already in place. According to information provided by Chargepoint, âmany vehicles can charge up to 80% in as little as 20 minutes. â
âThis is the last piece of the puzzle to let people make an electric car be their primary vehicle,â said Pasquale Romano, chief executive of ChargePoint. âOtherwise, youâre telling drivers they canât travel, and that just doesnât work.â
Images courtesy of Chargepoint