Navigant Research Blog

Companies Aim to Fast Track Ultrafast EV Charging

— January 31, 2017

The fast charging of EVs at power levels surpassing 350 kW is quickly moving from concept to reality. In 2016, momentum accelerated for developing solutions that can charge a battery electric vehicle (BEV) to 80% capacity in 5 to 10 minutes, and 2017 will see the first solutions available. Many automakers are excited about the potential for closing the gap between electric and gasoline refueling, though there is currently no definitive standard or available light duty vehicle charging at 350 kW or higher.

At January’s Consumer Electronics Show, EV charging company ChargePoint unveiled the ChargePoint Express Plus, a modular charging system that can be upgraded to higher power levels over time, up to a maximum of 400 kW. Power to multiple charging stations are provided by ChargePoint-designed Power Cubes, which offer up to 500 kW of direct current (DC) output and can be coupled with other Cubes to accommodate more charging stations at a single location. According to the company, power can be distributed to up to four charging stations from a single Power Cube, and power output is dynamically distributed to the vehicles being charged.

ChargePoint Express charging stations will be constructed of multiple Power Modules that deliver up to 31.25 kW of power each, a unique approach for future-proofing charging stations. ChargePoint says the systems will be available in July 2017.

ChargePoint Express Plus

(Source: ChargePoint)

Last November, several automakers announced plans to co-develop a fast charging network in Europe that will provide 350 kW charging. Just a few weeks later, Energy company Enel joined with Verbund, Renault, Volkswagen, Nissan, and BMW in announcing EVA+, a fast charging network connecting Italy and Austria that will enable BEVs to be charged in 20 minutes. Never one to be upstaged, Elon Musk tweeted in December that Tesla Motors would be adding capabilities to the SuperCharger network to surpass 350 kW of power delivery for its proprietary network.

With the knowledge that BEVs are being developed with much faster charging capabilities, companies considering adding DC fast charging stations are now challenged on how to future-proof their investments. The tradeoff is between keeping the not inconsequential cost of offering DC fast charging under control today while preventing the sites from having to undergo costly increases in power delivery from the utility and having to replace the existing equipment in future years.

Companies investing in 350 kW fast charging stations today are hard pressed to get payback in electricity sales within 3-5 years, so to ask them to make ready a location with distribution equipment and capacity for up to 1 GW of EV charging is a tall order. Site hosts anticipating the ultrafast future of charging will also need to work with utilities to identify locations where they will not be disrupting the distribution grid.

 

Examining EVs and Their Impact on the Retail Refueling Industry

— November 7, 2016

EV RefuelingI recently presented at NACS Show, the annual conference for the national association representing the convenience and fuel retailing industry. And by fueling, I of course mean liquid fuels. The more than 20,000 attendees of the conference included the operators of retail gas stations that help fuel the vehicle market, as well as the petroleum companies that supply them.

I spoke about the future of fuels in the United States, mostly related to electric vehicles (EVs). The primary message of my presentation was that EVs will be a significantly growing segment of the US passenger car market, but that petroleum will still be king in terms of total fuel consumed in the country through at least 2025.

While retailers operate because of our need to fill our tanks with gas or diesel, that is not what drives profit—that task falls to convenience store sales. Attendees emerged from the conference expo laden with samples from exhibitors showing the huge array of snacks, beverages, and other goods sold to drivers stopping for gas.

A New Model Needed

This model doesn’t work for most of EV charging. EVs fundamentally disrupt the fueling landscape since they shift the fueling dynamic away from centralized retail locations. Not only will most drivers just charge at home, but any away-from-home charging will only occur at places where the driver has already planned to go for an extended time. Basically, EV drivers refuel wherever they park for 2 or more hours. This means never—or in the case of plug-in hybrids, rarely—having to drive somewhere like a gas station to fuel. Once consumers are used to this new dynamic, it’s going to be a feature, not a bug, for potential EV buyers.

High-power fast charging networks are the one application where the retail fuel industry’s insights are highly relevant. Long-distance driving will require stopping for at least 10 minutes (or potentially 20-25) to recharge. Right now, fuel retailers are not focused on this as a market, as it’s much too small. But this is where their business model is most likely to be adopted, as fast charging stations will need to provide services to occupy drivers during their 10-25 minute wait. Food service seems the most likely option. And it doesn’t need to be the grab-and-go style of service found in most convenience stores—instead, it could be more akin to a coffee bar or café.

Although the fast charging network is still in its early genesis in the United States, it’s an inevitability. Automakers are committed to creating such a network, which can be created with as few as 722 sites, as Navigant Research found in its DC Charging Map for the United States report. While OEMs may well fund this network initially, that seems unlikely to be a permanent solution. These stations will need a viable long-term business model such as the one today’s fuel retailers have worked out. They could be valuable partners for this effort.

 

Fast EV Charging Ready to Accelerate

— August 3, 2016

EV RefuelingBattery electric vehicles (BEVs) are getting better with each model announced by automakers, with greater driving ranges, better styling, and more features, all at lower costs. The 2016 sales figures indicate that American buyers increasingly prefer going all-electric rather than plug-in hybrid with a gasoline backup.

By 2018, we’ll have a handful of relatively affordable 200+ mile BEVs available from a variety of automakers, which will require not only more commercial charging locations, but also faster chargers to cut down the time needed to fully recharge the bigger batteries that these vehicles utilize.

Navigant Research’s recently published DC Charging Map for the United States report projects that adding a network of 408 fast chargers could enable drivers to get around and between the top 100 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas. Plug-in hybrids, with much smaller battery packs, aren’t expected to support these higher charging levels.

DC Charging Stations for Long-Distance BEV Demand, Top 100 Metropolitan Statistical Areas

DC Charging Map

 (Sources: Navigant Research, Esri, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Federal Highway Administration)

These higher power stations (greater than 100 kW, compared to most non-Tesla charging stations that max out at 50 kW) would help encourage greater EV adoption by giving drivers the freedom to roam across their state or the entire country knowing that a charging station is within reach.

The federal government is doubling down on its bet on EVs through a slew of initiatives announced in July that support EV charging with the hope of increasing EV sales. The White House, in conjunction with the U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation and other agencies, announced the availability of up to $4.5 billion in loan guarantees for companies to invest in EV charging infrastructure. Government agencies will also be working together to get more EVs into their fleets through combined purchases.

Speeding Up the Charge

In looking to get charge times closer to 10 minutes for BEVs, the U.S. Department of Energy will fund research into the feasibility of 350 kW charging and is inviting the private sector to assist. In theory, being able to recharge a BEV at near the time it takes to fill an SUV with gas would remove one barrier for time-conscious consumers. However, the high power has implications for safety (higher voltage and amperage), heat generation (potential to melt connectors), the lifecycle of the receiving batteries, and the site host.

Many utilities levy demand charges for peak power delivered over a specified threshold during the month that can cost up to thousands of dollars in recurring fees. Utilities are beginning to address the cost issue by developing new rate structures that consider fast charging, or by considering operating fast charging equipment themselves.

Seattle City Light will install and operate 20 fast charging stations to get a better understanding of the impacts of EVs on its grid. Also in Washington state, utility Avista will install seven direct current (DC) fast chargers with energy services company Greenlots as part of a larger project to evaluate EVs in demand response and smart charging programs.

And if 350 kW EV charging isn’t fast enough, electric buses in Geneva, Switzerland will soon be charging at a whopping 600 kW. ABB will be using stationary batteries to help limit the impact of fast charging 12 buses. In the world of EV charging, “fast” is rapidly becoming a relative term.

 

Surge of Growth for Southern California EV Charging

— February 4, 2016

Machine parkingThe Southern California electric vehicle (EV) charging market is about to get a surge of growth, as the first utility-led charging deployment programs have been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) each received the go-ahead for their proposals to deploy thousands of EV charging stations within their service territories.

This marks a major transition in the EV charging market in California, as utilities had previously been forced to sit on the sidelines while the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market launched and EV charging demand grew. This meant that utilities could not directly participate in a market that could provide a significant new revenue stream over the long term. The CPUC’s December 2014 decision to allow utility ownership of EV chargers has opened a new avenue for funding charging deployments via a stakeholder with (relatively) deep pockets and a stake in the growth of electricity as a transportation fuel.

California did have something of an EV charging gold rush when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funded two major public charging deployment programs in 2009. The ChargePoint America and The EV Project programs resulted in over 6,300 public and private charging station installations (excluding residential). California got around a third of these; roughly 2,000 Level 2 and direct current (DC) fast charging stations were deployed in the state from 2011 to 2013. At the same time, California saw its DC fast charging installations grow thanks to the settlement between the CPUC and NRG Energy. The company, through its EV charging arm eVgo, committed to installing 200 fast chargers under this settlement from 2012 to 2014.

Charging Stations on the Rise

This new surge of stations will target a different segment of the market. The focus on public stations is waning somewhat, as utilization rates of public Level 2 stations have been mixed and as the market anticipates long-range battery electric vehicles (BEVs) that will have little need for short-term opportunity charging. What the PEV market does still need is charging at workplaces and at condos or apartment complexes. The DOE reports that there are 5,500 charging stations deployed at office facilities operated by its 250 partner companies in the DOE Workplace Charging Challenge. Navigant Research estimates that in total there may be around 9,000 charging stations in workplaces in the United States.

While this is a good start, workplace chargers need to expand beyond early adopters, as offices are going to be key to supporting PEV charging needs. SDG&E has said it will target multifamily communities, another critical next frontier to support increased PEV demand. SDG&E notes that 50% of its housing consists of multi-unit dwellings, representing a large and relatively untapped market for PEV drivers. Through all of this, utilities will need to manage the deployment process carefully to ensure that chargers are being placed in the best locations; that their charging company partners are secure, long-term partners; and that funds are optimized to buy charging stations that provide necessary data and management capability but are not over-equipped for the job they’re asked to do.

 

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