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You could be forgiven for thinking that replacing gasoline with sunshine and air seems far-fetched, not to mention scientifically impossible. That, though, is what EV charging stations must do if the electric car revolution is going to meet its targets and have a significant impact on lowering the global carbon footprint.Currently, cars and trucks produce almost 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and similarly almost a quarter of the emissions across Europe. These must be eliminated to reach the U.S. federal net zero emissions target by 2050 and the EU’s ambitious ‘Fit for 55’ CO2 reduction targets. According to a report by Mckinsey if half of all vehicles sold by 2030 in the U.S. alone were electric, then 1.2 million public EV chargers and 28 million private chargers would need to be sold by that year.’
The demand on the power grid will be immense, especially for fast charging (DCFC) technology. Recent studies estimate that the national grid could experience an extra 25% surge in peak net electricity demand to cater to the charging demand. If we transfer fossil fuel emissions from vehicle exhaust pipes to the smokestacks from fossil fuel-fired power plants, the benefits will be negligible. Plants will have to work overtime to produce the enormous amount of electricity needed to power these EV chargers, with the result being that we will not meet our emission targets.
Running EVs on electricity generated using fossil fuels such as gas and coal maintains and even increases carbon emission levels, in essence cancelling out the benefits of the transition to electric vehicles. A study from MIT’s Technology Energy Initiative found that the full benefits of an EV are only realized when renewable energy is used to generate the stored electricity.
The big challenge is providing sufficient power from green resources to meet the high and growing energy demand from EV chargers and distribute that power to every site where EV charging is needed.
Solar-powered commercial charging stations are being developed rapidly throughout the US without the need for heavy construction costs or permits. This makes them highly scalable.
Desmond Wheatly, CEO of Envision Solar, one company that manufactures solar-powered commercial charging stations, stated, “When we look at the complications of grid-tied EV charging, there is too much time and money involved. Beyond that, the grid has nowhere near enough capacity to meet its normal load and then supply millions of new electric cars. It would need 20% more capacity.”
The Envision model makes each charging station its own solar-powered parking spot. The apparatus can be dropped off at the site fully assembled and ready to charge. Making such charging stations more cost-effective is the fact that sponsorship (in the same way that soccer uniforms or stadiums are sponsored) can offset energy costs. These savings are handed down to the consumer, meaning recharging can cost little to nothing.
Unlike conventional DCFC charging stations that are tied to the grid and cost around $200,000 to construct, solar-powered charging stations are typically less costly. While a traditional grid-reliant system needs heavy construction involving trenching for cables, a modular, off-grid solar-powered charging station can generally be deployed more rapidly.
Paired Power, a California-based solar charging manufacturer, installs 5kW units bearing 10 bifacial solar panels each. Here too the charging unit can be sponsored to offset costs using branding and media. Although the charging station does not supply DCFC fast charging, it supplies Level 2 charging to deliver up to 75 miles of a typical EV’s daily range. It also supports the integration of up to 40 kWh of lithium iron phosphate batteries, capable of extending the EVs daily range to 230 miles. This may be a good solution for small-scale EV stations with longer charging time expectations.
The Papilo3 made by manufacturer 3ti at Surrey Research Park outside London UK, is a pop-up solar charging station with 12 charging points, made from a recycled shipping container. The company says the charging location generated 2.36 MWh of electricity in June thanks to a prolonged heatwave throughout the continent.
Solar power is ideally suited to car parks or locations where cars will sit for long periods, preferably in sunny weather. Although this can cause range extension issues, it’s hugely beneficial environmentally, allowing users to meet carbon neutrality targets.
Benefits are compounded when solar power is used in conjunction with wind. While solar power is great to use during the day, at night, it’s useless. That’s where a wind turbine is practical, allowing round-the-clock charging. It’s also far more powerful than solar panels; hence, a wind turbine is rated in megawatts while a solar charger is rated in kilowatts. Wind turbines have the power to charge several hundred cars at once. The advantage of a PV (solar) and wind hybrid system is that the variability in both can balance one another when sized properly, with minimal electricity wastage.
Due to most wind turbines’ size and installation requirements, installing them at individual parking spaces or even small car parks is not practical. Rather, they are useful for commercial charging stations or a company fleet where many cars must be charged at once.
One of the most innovative solar/wind charging combinations is made by New York-based Change Wind Corporation, which has developed the Wind Solar Tower. Claimed to be the first device to combine wind and solar on one site, the 82-foot tower uses little space and has a self-cleaning solar panel on top.
Whereas most conventional wind turbines need gale force winds of 26mph to do their job, this charger needs only a 5mph breeze. This solution is more efficient than conventional wind turbines due to its use of powerful permanent magnets located in a floating bearing levitation hub.
All of these positive benefits come at a price: Each tower will cost $484,000 to install before a tax credit, which reduces the cost to $376,660. Over a 30-year levelized cost of energy, electricity costs have been calculated to average 6.5 cents per kWh.
Microgrids are small-scale, self-sustaining hybrid power networks that are not continuously connected to centralized power plants. Instead, they generate green power from a mix of distributed energy resources (DERs) such as solar panels, fuel cells, and renewable natural gas (RNG) and battery storage devices. However, they can be quite complex because they typically employ sophisticated digital automation. Increasing internet technology (IoT – the Internet of Things) enables automated energy management to optimize microgrid performance using the cloud-based storage of real-time data.
There are currently 2,000 microgrids operating in the US and companies such as Scale Microgrid Solutions manufacture them specifically for EV charging. Scale has partnered with EV-charging provider InCharge Energy to build microgrids to power 30 new Volvo electric trucks. Indeed, incorporating a range of diversified green energy sources in microgrids in general and EV charging stations based on microgrids in particular reduces risks and increases reliability.
A reliable, resilient and green technology that has come back into fashion these days now that the world is working to produce green fuels is the failsafe, trusty fuel cell. GenCell has taken an unorthodox step forward by applying hydrogen fuels to fill the power gap for EV charging. Complementing battery energy storage, hydrogen fuel cells, which convert potential chemical energy into electrical energy and generate only heat and water as by-products, continuously generate electricity as long as they are supplied with hydrogen fuel and the reactant oxygen. The key advantages of fuel cells are their resiliency to weather and other external conditions, long lifetime and minimal maintenance and servicing requirements.
GenCell is leveraging its hydrogen and ammonia-to-power fuel cell technologies for the new GenCell EVOX™ green, grid-independent EV charging solution. The EVOX ensures that charging stations can run 24/7, regardless of the weather, guaranteeing EV charging station owners peace of mind by resolving drivers’ ‘range anxiety’. Already in implementation, the solution can be rapidly deployed to reduce lead time in contrast to the long delays involved in obtaining permits and power upgrades for grid-tied EV stations. EVOX is capable of fast, super, and turbo DC charging and suitable for multiple vehicle charging, which makes it relevant for many commercial charging use cases where sufficient power is a constraint.
All the renewable energy solutions mentioned thus far depend on Mother Nature’s cooperation to produce sun and wind. While it’s unlikely that these will fall into short supply, as we have seen in California and Australia, wildfires (and any number of other weather-related incidents from ongoing cloudy weather to hurricanes to typhoons to tropical storms – to name only a few) can negatively impact the effect of solar power. Also, most wind turbines rely on strong gusts to be effective. New energy storage technologies are emerging to overcome intermittency challenges in the transition to renewables. However, at present these challenges cause drivers “range anxiety”, a concern that threatens to slow the trend to swap ICE vehicles for EVs. Well-meaning EV charging station developers and asset managers are building grid-tied charging stations that – to work effectively – draw heavily on fossil fuels. If we want to achieve carbon neutrality, this trend must change.