Electric Vehicle - Fast Charging and the art of taking a quick break

One interesting solution to the range anxiety experienced with an electric vehicle is called fast charging. But what is it, except that it is similar to normal charging, but at a higher pace? How does it work and what is the impact of it on a day to day basis?  

Why would you want to fast charge in the first place? Fast charging was developed with the aim of quickly being able to recharge your battery and continue your driving as quickly as possible, essentially making the electric driving experience more like driving in a conventional car and refueling at the gas station. Currently the average battery capacity could last between one and two hours of driving, after which it is advisable to have a rest and stretch your legs anyway. So why not utilize this periodic brake to recharge your vehicle, besides yourself?

 

File:CHAdeMO logo.png

CHAdeMO, the Japanese standard in fast charging - Link

 

The promise of fast charging, is that it can refill your battery from 0 to 80% of the battery capacity within half an hour. This involves higher powers than associated with conventional charging, it is therefore also in the Level 3 category. For information on the various charging levels, refer to my earlier post on it. There are many standards associated with fast charging, among which the most well known is referred to as CHAdeMO, from Japanese origin.

 

Car and battery manufacturers are a bit hesitant with regards to fast charging; in general the higher the powers used to charge a battery with, the more damage that can be done to the battery. With all the uncertainties associated with battery life and the depreciation value of the battery, manufacturers tend to advise not to use fast charging as your only solution to charge your electric vehicle. Until extensive testing on this subject is completed and their findings are published, this remains a topic for debate.

 

Who's who?

There are a few companies globally that offer fast charging solutions, the most well known being Epyon, Nissan and Siemens. Epyon is of Dutch origin, but was recently acquired by ABB from Sweden. The average output of a fast charging station is around 50kW. A rather high power output, but this is what enables the charging times of less than half an hour. For an example, refer to the datasheets from Epyon found here.

 

EpyonTerra charge Epyon Supporting Open Charge Point Protocol for Back Office Integration for EV Fast Chargers

Fast chargers as they are offered by Epyon - Link

 

As fast charging stations are quite a costly investment, they are not as widespread as many EV enthusiasts and drivers have hoped for. However, they are slowly populating the local roads, especially at the locations where people tend to have natural stops for a brief moment, or along routes where people need to fast charge in order to be able to make a longer trip in a reasonable timeframe. Think of petrol stations, stops along highways and shopping malls and restaurants. Though personally, I think those restaurants are probably fast food chains, given the timeframe needed to complete a charge.

 

As said, the cost to install is quite steep, currently a fast charging solution can be bought for about €25.000. So if electricity sells for very cheap (here in the Netherlands around €0.21 per kWh), how do these stations make a profit? Currently discussions focus on a flat fee per charge, around €8-15 euros. Let’s assume a fully discharged Nissan Leaf, which has a battery of 24 kWh. If we can charge it from 0-80%, we need to charge 19.2 kWh. That amount of power would cost just a little over €4.00 (19.2 x €0.21). A decent profit per kWh, especially considering if the electricity can probably be bought cheaper in larger volumes. However, you would still need to sell many kWh to have the return on your €25.000. The true added benefit of fast charging (or any type of stationary charging for that matter) is the extra services the provider of the charging can sell to the EV driver. Imagine having driven your EV along the highway. After an hour or two, you would like to stretch your legs and perhaps get a cup of coffee, or a snack perhaps. It is what most people do at petrol stations and using the fast charger to ‘pull’ customers to the shop, the extra services sold will pay for the charger, way before a break even is made on the electricity alone.

 

As with any electric vehicle application, there are many parties involved around the electric vehicle and fast charging. First and foremost, the driver of an EV, the client to the charging provider. Secondly, the utility provider and the energy company (in the Netherlands separated by the company that maintains the grid/network and the company producing/selling the electricity). Then there are a few providers, for example the leasing company, perhaps a separate company for your charging subscription, which can also be the utility company that sells you electricity at your house. And in some cases, especially with fast charging, there are the owners of the location who offer the service, be it a commercial location or government controlled. Each has their own unique desires and wants from this economic and technical equation, which makes it a rather interesting case to look at.

 

Last but not least, when will drivers use fast charging? Every time when your battery is (nearly) empty? Not very likely, not only because the car manufacturer might void the battery warranty if you do so, but also since it is not really a necessity. The added premium for a fast charge will ensure drivers will only use it when they really need it (for example on their longer trips across the country. One thing I’m interested in to find out; how much will actually be charged? Almost everybody will have at least some charge left in their battery when they arive at a fast charging station, similar to people arriving at a gas station: you are bound to have some kWh/petrol left upon arrival. Will this be taken into consideration for the fee? If it is a fixed, flat fee not, but that is what the rules seem to move towards at the moment. Fast charging will primarily be used by those who need to drive for longer distances than the single charge will allow. For all other charging, people will use the other charging methods (level 1 and level 2). Also refer to the case which I hear being told often on Hong Kong.

 

Fast charging, what is next?

To wrap this up, fast charging is very similar to normal or conventional charging. You plug in and charge the battery. The powers associated with it are higher, but the waiting time is also reduced. It will be most beneficial to those who drive longer distances than a single charge of their battery will allow, enabling for a quick charge and top up of the battery and continue their way. Essentially it will be a lot more like the conventional process of refueling your ICE vehicle.

 

The obvious benefits are the reduced time to wait for your battery to be charged again and the ability to drive longer distances without much hassle. A downside of this technology would be the increase in power usage, or spikes in the energy consumption. Drawing 50kW even if only for half an hour can be quite a significant increase in some areas, though the promise of the smart grid and other technologies aim to solve this. Still, something to be aware of.

 

I think fast charging holds a lot of potential for current electric vehicle drivers. The need for fast charging might reduce when batteries get a higher energy density and vehicles can achieve longer ranges on a single charge. On the other hand, if fast charging becomes an acceptable standard for EV drivers and more available along the roads, bigger batteries might not be really needed anymore.

Electric Vehicle - More Range Anxiety

In my previous post I detailed on Range Anxiety, this post will detail on the other aspects that are related to Range Anxiey in an electric vehicle.  

The other part of the equation regarding range anxiety is the range people think they need to drive. When you take a look at the statistics, a lot of people here in the Netherlands for example, only drive about 40km per day. That is a trip to/from work, every day of the week. This is a range that can be perfectly handled by an electric vehicle, as it can do four times as much than this average range. Take into account that you probably will charge when you are either at home or at work and there really is no problem at all. However, here in the Netherlands a vast group of people uses the car for their holiday trips, once or two times per year there is a really long trip they do with their vehicle (over 1000km). Because the electric vehicle can not do such a trip in one go (neither can the driver by the way, people tend to take a coffee break every two hours), they claim that the electric vehicle is not for them. In this case they prefer to have the car that can do all of their trips they will ever make and not take a car that will do what they need most, at the best.

 

Compare this to people who take a vacation and go by plane. For that they also ‘rent’ a chair in an airplane instead of buying the airplane. In this case it has become fairly obvious that buying a plane is not worth your money. Similar holds for buying a power drill, if you only have to put up a picture on the wall about once every year, you will probably not go for the most expensive power drill around that could drill the equivalent of the Canal tunnel from France to the United Kingdom.

 

It is a matter of raising awareness to show people that an electric vehicle is ideal for the majority of their trips and a much more efficient means of transport. For those few trips we currently ‘abuse’ the internal combustion engine vehicle to do so, there will be alternatives. Be it a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Hybrid vehicle, trains of airplanes.

 

It is also worth noting that the current range of the vehicles will increase, as will the speed at which we can charge up our vehicle. If both areas provide enough improvement, range anxiety will also decrease.

 

There have been a number of attempts to see what is the maximum range you can travel with an electric vehicle. Sometimes they focus on the maximum distance on a single charge, also called ‘Hypermiling’. The others simply charge up after the battery is depleted and push on again.

Nissan Leaf

One such an attempt was by U.S. Army veteran Jerry Asher, he managed to drive 772 km (480 miles) in a period of 7 days. A distance that is traveled by a conventional car in around 10 hours. Not exactly a speedy trip, but that was not the goal of Jerry Asher.

For the people of Epyon, providers of fast charging solutions, speed is a selling point. They wanted to know how far they could travel using a Nissan Leaf, in 24 hours, using fast chargers to recharge the Leaf. They managed to rake in a whopping 1254 km (779 miles), also be sure to check out their video detailing this fast charged trip!

Electric Vehicle – Charging Levels

When you recharge your electric vehicle, it takes some of your precious time. If you slow charge, it takes a lot of time, of you quick charge, it takes significantly less. How much time do you have to spare to charge your vehicle? If you are asleep or at work, you can allow your car to be recharged for hours on end. But if you are just visiting, or just passing through?

 

You have roughly three types of charging defined; Level 1 till 3. Level 1 is what most people will use at home and takes the longest. Level 3 charging is the quickest and is geared towards charging your vehicle if you have longer trips to make.

A Level 3 charger from Epyon

 

Level 1 charging is when you are charging your vehicle at the conventional wall outlet, in the Netherlands that is the common 220 Volt outlet. At the current state of technology this takes approximately 8 hours to charge the average vehicle with level 1 charging. Now obviously, 8 hours can be a long time if you have to wait for it, especially if you are eager to drive home again and waiting for the battery indicator to signal you’re full.

 

Level 2 charging is similar, but at roughly the double power rate. Here in the Netherlands, such connections are not too common, but when you have for example other high power appliances in your house (when you use electricity to cook with for example) you often have such a connection available. Level 2 charging uses this higher rate of power to lower the time that is required to fill up a battery again. Often you’ll see that it takes ‘just’ four hours to charge up fully again (taking an average electric vehicle, like the Nissan Leaf).

 

Level 3 charging is often referred to as quick or fast charging. This uses a significant larger power than Level 2 charging and it allows you to charge your battery in the period of half an hour. This is not the type of charging you will be doing a lot and you will most likely not need such a charging unit at home.

 

So in general, at home people will be using Level 1 or 2 chargers, same as for at wok or other locations where you are likely to park for longer periods. In places where you park while on a longer trip, for example restaurants or gas stations along the highway, Level 3 chargers are more likely to pop up.

 

Another, last, but important note on these levels; as the technology stands today, all batteries prefer to be charged at slow charging speeds, i.e. Level 1. The slower, the better. If you quickly charge a battery, the chemical reactions in the battery pack are forced so quickly and can result in irreversible damages in the battery.

 

Charging – Is charging going through the roof?

 

When it comes to charging your electric vehicle, there has been some attention going out to inductive charging. For example, there is a bus in my hometown Utrecht that uses inductive charging at one point in the route. It is a really nice system, the bus does its route and at the Central Station stop it parks for a bit longer and charges its batteries via this system. It seems to work pretty good and having read numerous articles on the system, I’m sure it is also perfectly safe for people (both in the bus or when walking over it when the bus is gone).

 

Another method which is aimed at charging a bus is something that caught my eye at the last DDW in Eindhoven. At the Design on Wheels Show (of the Dutch Design Week) there was a small section with projects from schools and universities and one case was on charging a bus, from the top. The systems that were shown varied in how the device actually worked, the mechanism remains the same. At the bus stop a device is moved over the bus (lowered, or pivoted) which connects (wirelessly?) and charges the bus. To my surprise I found a company from Spain, Opbrid, that actually has one of these in production (or is planning to have them in production). An even bigger surprise was to find that they had teamed up with two Dutch companies for their total bus solutions; Epyon for fast charging, E-Traction for the buses.

 

The system of Opbrid is all based on conventional technology, the charging mechanism can be fitted on a conventional bus stop and the pantographs on top of the bus are similar to those used on trains. At the bus stop, the charging mechanism is moved over the bus, the pantographs move up and connect and the bus can fast charge for some 10 minutes. The batteries used (nLTO) allow for fast charging for many cycles on end.

 

The advantages compared to other technologies are:

  • Smaller battery compared to full battery powered bus
  • Less need of the diesel generator (or fuel cell, etc.) compared to other hybrids
  • No need for special tracks or power lines (trams, trolleybuses)

 

The mentioned range of 10-15km on full electric is enough for most European bus routes, especially in urban areas. After a round trip the bus would charge up for about 10 minutes, allowing the driver a small break after which he can go for another lap once the bus is recharged. The driving range depends on the actual route and wether or not heating/airco is on for example. To compensate for this a small diesel generator is added on the bus, just in case.

 

I’d say this looks like a very promising move for public transport to go into. The pros of electric buses are clear, if it will be induction or overhead charging remains to be seen.

 

Induction charging has a bit of extra loss (90% is what most inductive charging companies aim for) than direct contact charging, but induction charging is also something that can be used for other vehicles and other places. Try to imagine a large pantograph on top of a Leaf and it might just roll over. The pantograph method of Opbrid is a lot easier to install (no need to dig up the road and bury the inductive charger at the bus stop).

 

Do check out the video on the website, also with nice contributions from Epyon and E-Traction.

The Opbrid site: http://www.opbrid.com/

Charging – Quick Chargers in the Netherlands

 

Last week there was big news from The New Motion, announcing that they will setup ten fast chargers for electric vehicles in the Netherlands. This will inspire other companies and interested parties to also setup a fast charging network in the Netherlands and accelerate the introduction and acceptance of going electric.

When fast charging first popped up in the news it was quickly diminished as not good for your battery and it would create grid instability with high fluctuating peak loads, etc. However, a lot of car manufacturers have adopted the fast charge, so they too must think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

 

One of the companies that has achieved great results with fast charging is Epyon, a Dutch company which has gained a world wide reputation for their fast charging solutions. Together with The New Motion and the funding of DOEN, they will facilitate the first step in the Dutch fast charging network.

 

The locations of the fast charging stations is not clear yet, but they will be located near places where you can spend up to 30 minutes enjoying a drink of a snack while your car charges again. Think of restaurants, gas stations or large shopping malls. Stretch your legs for a bit, enjoy the coffee and your car gets charged while you wait. This will really open up a lot of opportunities for the electric vehicle market in the Netherlands. The stations will be placed around February 2011, which is around the same date the Nissan Leaf will be introduced in the Netherlands. 

If you want to learn more from these plans, please refer to the sites listed below:

The New Motion

Epyon

DOEN