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The sale of electric vehicles (EVs) is showing steady growth, with no signs of slowing down. And with some estimates indicating that 1 in 7 cars sold globally is now electric, this growth is undeniable. But the road to widespread adoption has its speed bumps. Sure, EVs offer a cleaner, more sustainable alternative to traditional fossil fuel-powered cars. They’re a big win in the fight against climate change. But the reality is, we aren’t quite there yet. There are still many potholes on the road to widespread EV adoption.
One key problem is that the demand for charging infrastructure is increasing much faster than the capacity of power available for this charging. This mismatch between demand and supply heightens concerns about running out of charge while driving, causing what’s known as range anxiety.
EV range anxiety is the fear of being stranded without any battery charge or a nearby charging station. It’s a serious issue especially for those without easy access to charging stations or who often travel long distances. In fact, research from EY has found that range anxiety has now replaced upfront price as one of the main barriers to EV adoption among UK car buyers. And it’s not just in the UK. The AAA conducted a survey of American car owners which found that of those surveyed, 60% said that range anxiety is one of the main factors holding them back from purchasing an EV.
This range anxiety is largely due to the inescapable reality that the US and other parts of the European Union are grappling with a need for charging infrastructure to meet the growing demand. So much so that in the EU, they’ll need to increase from 375,000 charging stations to at least 3.4 million public charging points by 2030 to meet demand.
But where there’s a challenge, there’s also a powerful opportunity. And this is where EV charging providers can step in and make a real difference. But what does this really involve?
There are two main reasons behind range anxiety. First, to date, there simply aren’t enough public EV charging stations in many parts of the world. In the US, for example, a recent report by S&P Global Mobility found that to accommodate all the EVs on the road, the number of charging stations would need to quadruple by 2025 and increase eightfold by 2030. Even in the European Union, a leader in EV adoption, more investment in charging infrastructure will be needed to meet demand.
The lack of charging infrastructure means that EV drivers must carefully plan their routes to stay within the range of charging stations. Failing to do so can be a major inconvenience, especially if they run out of battery power in a remote location or at night.
The second factor contributing to range anxiety is the time it takes to charge an EV. Unlike traditional gasoline vehicles, which can be refueled in minutes, EVs can take several hours to charge. Of course, this depends on the battery size and the charging station’s speed.
Frequent references to these scenarios in the news are only inflating these fears. For example, there’s a case of a man and his sister who rented a Tesla to drive from Orlando, Florida, to Wichita, Kansas. They said they had to stop six times in one day to recharge. Initially, they could drive for just over two hours before recharging. But as the journey progressed, they had to stop every 90 minutes and charge for an hour. This charging inconvenience was not unique to them, as others reported similar issues. Then there’s the case of the EV that wouldn’t charge in the cold, leaving the driver stranded on Christmas Eve. And while these incidents may be isolated, they have contributed to heightening concerns about EV reliability.
EV charging can often be a long, drawn-out process. This is compounded by the fact that the industry has developed in many directions with entirely incompatible approaches and interfaces. Different EVs accept different amounts of power, and not all charging stations are compatible with every EV, meaning that things can quickly become overwhelming. In the US, for example, Tesla’s strategy was to intentionally install over 160,000 chargers which, for now, only work with Teslas. But the charging landscape is changing slowly. For example, Mercedes-Benz has plans to build a network of 2,500 high-powered chargers that will work with all EVs by 2027.
One doesn’t have to look too far to see how investing in EV infrastructure can reduce range anxiety and drive higher EV sales. Norway is the best example of this. The country has over 17,000 charging stations, meaning a driver wouldn’t have to drive more than 30 miles without a charging point. This translates to about 20% of all cars on Norwegian roads being EVs as opposed to the US, where it’s estimated that still, to date, less than 1% of cars are electric.
How does EV charging actually work? And is it really as complicated as it’s made out to be? There are three EV charging levels: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. The higher the level, the faster the charging and the more power reaches the EV. The levels matter because not all EVs can accept the same power. Interestingly, the car determines the amount of power it can receive. This means that if an EV is plugged into a charging point that provides more power than it can handle, it simply won’t charge.
Level 1 Charging
Level 1 charging is the slowest, most economical, and most basic type of charging. It involves plugging the EV into a standard 120-volt household outlet using the charging cable that comes with the vehicle. Typically, Level 1 provides an average of 3-5 miles of range per hour of charging, meaning a full charge requires several hours of charging. Level 1 charging is typically used for overnight charging situations and isn’t recommended as a public charging option.
Level 2 Charging
Then there’s Level 2 charging. These chargers use a 250-volt outlet (similar to air conditioners and clothes dryers) and are often used for everyday charging. They can be found at homes, workplaces, and some public locations. Typically Level 2 charging points are what EV owners will install at home as they tend to charge ten times faster than Level 1 charging. If you charge a vehicle from a Level 2 source overnight, it will be fully charged even if plugged in when the battery is almost empty. These chargers charge at a rate of between 12 and 80 miles of range per hour, depending on the output of the charger and the EV’s maximum charge rate.
Level 3 Charging
The fastest type of charging is Level 3 charging. This is also known as DC Fast Charging or Supercharging. These chargers aren’t found in residential settings because they require far more power supply than the capacity required for Level 1 and Level 2 charging. Few residential areas have the high-voltage power supply necessary for Level 3 charging. Fast DC chargers recharge EVs at a rate of 3 to 20 miles of range per minute. These chargers can charge a battery to about 80% in a half hour, depending on battery size. Of course, as EV charging technology advances, charging duration is decreasing. For example, today: Tesla Superchargers can charge up to 200 miles in 15 minutes.
Level 3 charging requires a special DC charging port, and not all EVs are equipped with this type of port. Additionally, even some EVs that have a DC charging port may not be compatible with all Level 3 chargers due to differences in charging protocols. The BMW i3, for example, uses a CCS charging port for Level 3 charging, but some older models may not be compatible with all CCS chargers due to differences in charging protocols.
Another important aspect determining which EV charging to use is the EV connector or plug used to plug the EV into the charging station. In the US, all EVs except Tesla use the same connector for Level 1 and Level 2 charging. However, there are three standard connector types for Level 3 charging that are currently in use.
Tesla uses a proprietary connector. Nissan and Mitsubishi utilize the CHAdeMO standard. All other manufacturers use the Combined Charging System (CCS), which provides a universal charging solution that could be used by all EV manufacturers. CCS, similar to CHAdeMO, is a type of direct current (DC) charging connector. However, unlike CHAdeMO, it does not require an additional connector and takes up less space on the vehicle. A variety of vehicles, such as the BMW i3, Kia e-Niro, VW e-Golf, and Jaguar I-Pace, use CCS connectors. Incompatible connectivity can be inconvenient for EV drivers, who may be unable to use certain charging stations.
Recent estimates from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center indicate that currently, there are about 7,000 Level 3 charging stations across the US. And when you compare this with the country’s estimated 145,000 fueling stations, it’s clear there’s still a lot of work to be done to even the playing field.
The bottom line is that before EV ownership becomes a practical and inviting option for all, we will need Level 3 charging stations to become as ubiquitous as gas stations. But it’s not as simple as simply building more high-speed charging stations. First, we need the technology to help our grid support this infrastructure.
EV charging providers go to great lengths to enhance the dependability and efficiency of their charging networks. And it makes sense – dependable and efficient charging infrastructure is the name of the game. Having efficient and effective charging infrastructure will reduce range anxiety and drive demand for growth of EV sales, which will consequently create more demand and grow the business for these very EV charging stations.
Some of the measures EV charging providers are taking to enhance their services are adhering to regular maintenance schedules and implementing monitoring systems. These practices ensure that charging stations are functioning optimally. Monitoring systems allow maintenance crews to quickly detect faults or issues, minimizing downtime and ensuring EV owners have a seamless charging experience.
Then there’s the issue of integrating stations into charging networks. To be prepared for the EV revolution, a lot of work is being done to expand charging networks to enable convenient and uniform billing and related services for EV drivers. Charging infrastructure is being reinforced by adding more charging stations at popular locations like shopping malls, public parking areas, and major highways. Additionally, charging providers are working to make stations accessible to more types and brands of EVs. Tesla, for example, recently opened a handful of its US-based fast charging stations to non-Tesla EVs. This move marks a significant departure from Tesla’s previous stance of keeping its proprietary charging network exclusive to Tesla vehicles.
But it’s not just Tesla. More and more EV charging providers and automakers are working together to standardize charging equipment and protocols. For example, ChargePoint and Mercedes-Benz recently announced a partnership to bring fast charging hubs to EV drivers in the US. The plan is to deploy these charging hubs at strategic locations such as highway rest areas and retail centers. While all these initiatives are a step in the right direction, they may not be enough to get us where we need to go. After all, it’s going to take a lot more than regular maintenance and standardization to overcome the hurdles to widespread EV adoption.
Ultra-fast EV charging is no pipe dream. It’s where we’re headed. And interestingly, there’s research from Deloitte that backs this up. One of the findings from this research was that ultra-rapid chargers (operating at 100kW+) are the fastest-growing charger type, having increased by 65 percent in 2020. Not only are we seeing more ultra-rapid charging hubs, but a broader variety of providers, from BP Pulse and Shell Recharge to IONITY and InstaVolt, have started offering ultra-rapid hubs. This is noteworthy because ultra-rapid charging was initially offered exclusively by Tesla.
The future of EV charging is exciting and full of potential. One emerging trend is using advanced software to address the availability of EV charging infrastructure and its impact on the power grid. PredictEV, Volta Charging’s network planning software, is a good example of this. It utilizes machine learning technology to accurately forecast current and future EV charging needs. Thanks to its advanced predictive capabilities, the software can enable precise network expansion. In fact, states across the US have begun to leverage PredictEV to identify the most optimal and equitable charging locations for EVs.
Another noteworthy development driving EVs forward is using renewable energy sources to power EV charging. Solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable sources, when combined with energy storage, ensure EV charging stations will always have emission-free power for charging. That’s where projects like Electrify America’s Solar Glow 1 come in. This project ensures drivers who recharge at one of Electrify America’s charging stations will enjoy 100% renewable energy on-demand.
These initiatives are a welcome and crucial change and a clear indication that range anxiety will become less of an issue as technology advances. With the combination of advanced software, renewable energy sources, and other innovative solutions, the future of EV charging is looking brighter.
There are lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future of EVs. DOE Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm recently made the point that: “We’re tackling range anxiety and vehicle charging deserts by making sure that charging stations are easily and equally accessible, allowing every American can get coast to coast in an electric vehicle.” Such sentiments are echoed by initiatives like the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program (NEVI), which will allocate $5 billion to states to create a nationwide network of DC fast chargers. NEVI is expected to have a transformative impact on EV charging infrastructure.
Things are definitely looking up, but the sobering reality is that when it comes to the EV revolution, we still have a long way to go. The boss of the UK’s motorway services provider recently made the point that EV charging will soon require at least 12 times more energy than what’s used today. Then there’s research from MIT that highlights measures to reduce EV strain on the grid. This includes placing charging stations in strategic locations and setting up systems to ensure car charging at delayed times.
We need to overcome these grid capacity issues to leverage the huge value of the EV revolution. And to do that, we must find a way to charge the growing number of EVs hitting our roads without exhausting the existing grid. The good news is that we don’t have to look too far for the solutions we need to sidestep this challenge. We actually already have grid-independent backup and off-grid power technology to handle this. Take GenCell’s EVOX™ solution as an example. This generates its own power when the grid is strained and other power sources are unavailable. EVOX provides 27/4 clean energy ensuring there’s always reliable charging for multiple EVs. And perhaps most significantly, it can charge an EV to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes.
It’s an exciting time for the EV market because, despite the many challenges, it’s a sector ripe with opportunities and incentives for those interested in realizing these opportunities. As demand for EVs and technology continue to advance, public EV charging infrastructure will become more reliable. By taking advantage of the technological innovations available today, range anxiety will become less of an issue, enabling faster expansion of the EV revolution and consequently reducing GHG emissions across our planet.