Millions of electric cars are to hit the market next year as every self-respecting carmaker submits its lineup of plug-in vehicles for the environmentally conscious. Sales forecasts for these electric gems vary but tend to be generally optimistic, so carmakers’ hopes run high.
There is just one small problem with this perfect picture: range anxiety.
Very much like storage for renewable energy, range in electric vehicles has become the top priority and with it, charging times. In fact, it is quite possible that charging times will overtake range in terms of importance soon. If you can charge your EV in five minutes, it becomes less of a worry whether its range is 200 or 250 miles, all driven in the city.
No wonder then that the charging systems field is currently bustling with activity, producing game-changing inventions in electric vehicle charging such as wireless charging, superfast chargers, and advancing vehicle-to-grid technology, which has the added benefit of moving electricity both ways. Here are our top 3 innovations for EV charging:
#1 Wireless charging
This is one of the more fascinating concepts in what Car Magazine’s Curtis Moldrich has called an arms race for carmakers. Similar to wireless phone charging, wireless charging can work for cars in parking lots or even on highways.
Here, speed of charging is not of the essence. According to Qualcomm, which has developed tech dubbed Halo, wireless charging can change the picture entirely. Why sit at a charger for even five minutes if you can drive on a highway that charges your car as you drive? Who even needs a charger if your car can charge just sitting in the parking lot with a dish-sized pad underneath to receive the juice?
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Wireless charging for EVs works on the same principle as wireless charging for smartphones: magnetic induction. It involves two pads—one on the car and one on the floor of the garage or parking lot—that need to be aligned so charging will begin. It can be done at speeds of 3.3 kW, 6.6 kW, or 20 kW. Now, this may not be particularly fast, but speed is not the point. Convenience is. You leave the car in the garage and it charges overnight with no need to monitor the process.
Wireless charging sounds pretty cool, but it will be a while until it becomes standard practice thanks to competing technology and the race for faster and faster charging times.
#2 The 3-Minute Charge
So far the fastest in this field seems to be the three-minute charging tech developed by Porsche and BMW. This is the time their charger takes to supply an EV with enough juice for 62 miles. It works with a capacity of 450 kW, which is three times the capacity of Tesla’s Supercharger, but there is one small problem. Current EVs cannot take this kind of power, so the tech was tested on specially developed vehicles. These recharged to 80 percent in 15 minutes.
One would think it’s a little inconvenient to have chargers that cannot work with the EVs that need recharging, but once the charging tech is there, future EVs will be developed in such a way as to be able to take the power of the charger. Affordability, of course, is a whole other topic.
#3 Vehicle-to-Grid Tech
While we wait for EVs capable of taking a charge at 450 kW, other companies are working on vehicle-to-grid technology. Imagine millions of EVs that charge from the grid when there is excess output and release back unused juice to the grid at peak hours. Also, many believe that car batteries can be used as household battery packs, collecting and storing power from renewable installations.
The road ahead is long and winding, but a growing number of businesses are taking it. The key seems to be managed charging, or smart charging. This prevents an overload on the grid in case too many people are charging their EVs at the same time, which tends to happen during peak electricity demand periods. Smart charging systems simply stop charging vehicles when peak demand is reached to avoid the overload. But that’s grid-to-vehicle. What about the other way around?
One company has developed what it calls the first bidirectional charger for the home. Wallbox’s Quasar, according to the company, can feed energy from an electric car to the home or to the grid. It can also work as a charger for the car. The idea certainly makes sense, reducing energy waste considerably and alleviating the load on the grid once there are enough EVs to use it.
Speaking of grid load, there are companies focusing on load distribution in EV chargers specifically. After all, fast is good, but fast and reliable is better. Just a few days ago, an EV charger exploded in New Zealand and while the initial investigation found the charger was faulty, load is a force to be reckoned with.
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SolarEdge is one of the companies aiming to make EV charging more reliable through managing the load on the system and allowing for multiple chargers to work on a single circuit without overloading it. The best part of SolarEdge’s systems is that they are flexible. “We will do a round-robin type of charging scheme, or divide the power between all cars or first-come, first-serve or different types of solutions so you won’t over-consume, but you will still deliver power to all cars,” founder Lior Handelsman told Clean Technica.
The EV industry is moving ahead in leaps and bounds, it seems. In fact, it is moving so fast it may need to take a breather. While range anxiety is a real problem and fast charging times are the solution, safety concerns should not be underestimated, either, especially now that many EV sales forecasts suggest that some carmakers are way ahead of themselves with their EV plans.
"The industry is cutting corners in the race to get energy density, faster charging and longer cycle life," an analyst from IDTechEx said at a recent industry event. "The fires will continue," Peter Harrop said ominously.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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However, the real challenge facing a wider penetration of EVs into the global transport system is the realization that oil is irreplaceable now or ever.
Whilst EVs are benefiting from evolving technologies, internal combustion engines (ICEs) are equally benefiting from the evolving motor technology. As a result, ICEs are not only getting more environmentally-friendlier but they are also able to outperform EVs in terms of range, price, reliability and efficiency.
Therefore, no one should get fooled by the rush of car makers towards investing in EVs. This is being forced on them by government regulations and also by wanting to burnish their environmental credentials rather than by business sense.
Yet, EVs will eventually take a share of the global transport market that will enable them to slightly decelerate the global demand for oil but they will never ever be able to replace oil throughout the 21st century and far beyond.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London