• Parag Diwan

Electric Vehicles Charging Infrastructure - Where is it?


The growth in the propagation of electric vehicles (EVs)will only happen if appropriate charging infrastructure is available. But then it is like the proverbial "chicken-and-egg" story as to what comes first. Commercially, entrepreneurs will not invest in charging infrastructure without a realistic assessment of the size of the EVs market in the future. Ideally, both the vehicle market and the infrastructure should grow simultaneously. In this piece, we would primarily discuss the developments and significance of charging infrastructure across various geographies, how different types of business models for charging infrastructure will develop, and the implications for India.


Typically, there are two ways to approach the development of charging infrastructure. The first approach which is utopian is to develop a complete electric vehicle charging network in one go. Though this could promote rapid uptake of EVs, but return on such capital will not be viable. The other model is the build based on incremental growth which implies enlarging the infrastructure as user demands increase over time.


Naturally, it is a second model that is more acceptable. Simultaneously, customers should also be incentivized in other ways such as reducing the taxes, lower tariff of electricity being used charging EVs among others, to propagate rapid adoption. Further, as technology is rapidly changing, varieties of models are emerging apart from the usual conductive type. Even in conductive type, there are multiple kinds of chargers that are in vogue. These create additional imponderables for investors.


The graphic above represents the current status of penetration of conductive type chargers


Global Scenario

Today, the Global Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Infrastructure industry is valued at 1.20Bn USD. It is expected to grow at a CAGR of 48% over the period 2017–2025.

As technological innovations are rapidly upgrading current EV models and bringing them to near parity with current IC engine based cars. we can see further growth in charging infrastructure.


Europe

Europe has taken an approach of multiplayer participation in the development of charging infrastructure through a combination of private charge point providers (PPP), power companies, automakers, and governments. To rapidly enlarge charging infrastructure to create a rapid transition to an electric vehicle, they have also created several funding schemes and PPP models. At present in the European Union, there is a huge priority focus on EVs and their charging infrastructure. They have even issued the guidelines to ensure that recharging points accessible to the public are built up with adequate coverage, to enable electric vehicles to circulate at least in urban/suburban agglomerations and other densely populated areas. The focus is to install infrastructure that recharges vehicle batteries quickly, to accommodate long‑distance trips.

Number of PEV per Charging Position — Source: European Alternative Fuels Observatory Website


North America

To achieve mass acceptance and deployment of electric vehicles in North America, the two large countries have taken different approaches.


Canada has recognized that charging and maintenance infrastructure for EVs must become widely available throughout their nation. The creation of charging infrastructure in Canada has been primarily through several provincial and local governments funded public programs. The federal government is also actively involved in the sector.


A policy is being created for a zero-emission vehicle strategy that aims to set new goals for electrification and its associated charging infrastructure. To achieve this, large funding support of CAD 182.5 million for electric vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure has been committed.


The U.S. EV market continues to be bullish and is fast growing. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, (ARR) largely pushed federal funding through the EV project and it essentially created the charging infrastructure in the US.


As a result, in about six years, the number of charging points have grown to 36,000. Almost all of these government-funded stations are operated by private networks.

Asia


China is the definite leader when it comes to the adoption rate of EV and associated infrastructure in Asia. Similar to Europe, in China too, the charging infrastructure is a multiplayer game that includes the central government, local governments, and utilities.

The fast development of the charging network serves China's ambitions to become a major player in the EV market globally in the years ahead. China aims to reach a figure of about 7 million EVs by 2025.


To complement this audacious goal, the charging infrastructure has expanded dramatically in China in the past few years. The cities are mandated to provide one charge point for every 8 electric vehicles, and charging stations should be no farther than 1 km from any point within the center area of the city.


Also, to promote EV sales, some automakers in China have constructed charging stations in specific regions to propagate easy use of EVs. Today, China represents almost half of the global supply of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.


Ever since the introduction of modern electric vehicles in Japan in 2011, the government and the country's major automakers have supported the creation of charging infrastructure, viewing it as a key requirement for increasing electric vehicle sales. In 2013, the government created the massive Next Generation Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Deployment


Promotion Project to fund charging stations around cities and highway rest stations.

The Development Bank of Japan partnering with leading Japanese carmakers and power company TEPCO created an entity the Nippon Charge Service (NCS), which created a nationwide network of charging stations now operated as a private joint venture leading the development of almost 7,500 stations.


Various Types of EV Charging Infrastructure

Different kinds of charging infrastructure are emerging to support the various technological developments of EVs. However, currently, Lithium-ion batteries dominate the battery space for EVs, therefore largely infrastructure plays focused on the conductive type of charging, i.e, with a wired plug.

The above image shows the three types of charging infra that currently support the vehicles powered by LIBs.


Conductive Wired Charging using a plug

The conductive type charging infrastructure is currently classified into three categories based on speed: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 (DC) fast charging.


Charging connector standards used for charging electric vehicles may vary from place to place. Although, the most common plug types are generally well-defined and each works well for its specific application, the variety of standards has led to a lack of uniformity by the industry and thus inconveniencing the users.


The Table below from SAE summarizes the current state of various EV chargers currently in vogue, it includes both AC and DC chargers. It proposes the development of AC Type 3 and


DC Type 2 & 3 Chargers in the future.

Source: SAE International website


Battery Swapping Stations (BSS)

The other type of charging infrastructure that is slowly emerging is based on the premise of battery swapping. However, again the issue of non-standardization of battery stymie this approach.



Although the number of battery charging locations is increasing, however the charging time at these stations is either too long or reduce battery life by forcing them to undergo fast charging processes. As an alternative to these charging stations recently there has been the emergence of Battery Swapping Stations (BSS). As the name suggests, they swap a customer's discharged battery with a fully charged one of the same type.


This also creates an interesting business model, there is a thought that adoption of EVs is limited due to the high cost of the batteries. This model separates the ownership of batteries from that of the vehicle. In this scenario, batteries are owned by a third party who is also responsible for swapping them at an appropriate juncture. This reduces the cost of ownership of the EVs. Standardized batteries can be swapped out with fully charged batteries after they are drained. A network of swapping stations, similar to petrol pumps, will facilitate the swapping of batteries. Payment models include leasing the batteries and pay-per-use.

BSS acts as a battery aggregator and has enough clout to participate in markets for electrical energy and reserve. The BSS can maximize its profits by providing services to the system, such as voltage support, regulation reserves, or energy arbitrage. This is shown in the graphic below.


However, the battery swapping model has not fully succeeded globally due to techno-commercial dynamics. As is known, the main issues are around standardization, commercial viability, and reliability.


On the face of it, it seems that in India the entire premise of 'battery swapping' with leasing/pay-per-use model may significantly lower the acquisition cost of the EV. Perhaps, swapping proves to be of great advantage for fleet operators, low-speed EVs (e.g., taxi aggregators, e-auto, e-rickshaw, etc) and busses with an intercity point to point travel (< 30 km per trip, 8–10 trips per day). A well-established network of smart swappable batteries could be instrumental in the rapid adoption of EVs for public transportation. However, the roadblocks remain which are:


Standardization of EV Lithium-Ion Battery Packs has not happened globally. The probability of this happening in India is questionable. This is so because the majority of the auto OEMs preferring to control their design strategies for battery packs as their core technology.

Commercially Viable Business Models, since the Indian government is eschewing subsidies to create a viable non-subsidized commercially sound model is extremely important.


Reliability of Leased/Rented Battery Packs gets accentuated in India. In quest of achieving profitability, if battery providers short change the customer and therefore causing a potential breach may lead to a serious disaster of swapping business and can create larger controversies as well.


Induction Charging Infrastructure

Inductive charging (also known as wireless charging or cordless charging) uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between two objects through electromagnetic induction. This is usually done with a charging station.


This offers several advantages over the conductive (using a cable) charging method:

Ease of operation and amenable to the automation of the charging process.

User comfort as no cable connections are required and the driver can simply drive over the induction plate to charge. The great advantage in adverse weather conditions.

Automated charging as the inductive charger is placed on the parking slot, at home or work.


The system is safe against vandalism, misuse/abuse, and environmental influences (e.g. humidity) because all devices are encapsulated in the vehicle and the ground

There is no negative impact on the city-scape (all devices are hidden in the ground)

These above-mentioned advantages already prove the usefulness of (stationary) inductive charging compared to the currently more common conductive charging infrastructure. Inductive charging offers many more possibilities, especially concerning en-route charging.


With inductive en-route charging, EVs could be charged while standing at the traffic light, the bus stop, or the taxi stand while it should be impracticable with the conductive charging option. So, using wireless inductive charging, these short time-frames could be used to charge the EV and hence its range. The charging method above is called static inductive en-route charging because the vehicle is standing still while charging.

There is also the possibility to charge the vehicle while it is moving. This charging method is called dynamic inductive en-route charging. This charging method holds the potential of giving the driver virtually limitless range as long as he stays on paths specifically adapted for dynamic inductive en-route charging.



Flow Battery Infrastructure

Recent research excitement to make flow batteries commercially viable is driven by issues around the charging infrastructure of current LIBs. Such batteries have technical advantages over conventional rechargeable ones.


Inflow batteries, separate liquid tanks (for anolyte and catholyte) can be mounted on the car itself (just like current gasoline tanks) and thereby unlimited longevity can be achieved. Electrolyte stored in this manner is usually pumped through the cells of the battery. They can be rapidly “recharged” by replacing the electrolyte liquid (in a similar way to refilling fuel tanks of IC engines) while simultaneously recovering the spent material for re-energization.

Once this technology becomes commercialized, the charging stations for them would be very similar to current gasoline filling stations. An artist's conception of such a station is shown below.


Implications for India

Given this backdrop and the fact that the penetration of EVs is still minuscule in India, it is important that as a country we make decisions regarding charging infrastructure which would be useful in the long run:-


  1. In the case of conductive charging, the adoption of a specific charger protocol would be essential. We think the SAE combo charger would be a more appropriate choice.

  2. We could also just like we did in the case of Telecom, leapfrog directly to wireless inductive technology. This has many advantages such as India has relatively less public space, and our propensity to vandalize public infrastructure is high. This technology would take care of both the above aspects. However, the cost factors could be huge in the short run, but in long run, it would justify.

  3. Though, the concept of Battery Swapping makes imminent sense in a country like India, which has wholeheartedly adopted the 'sharing economy'. The current bottleneck as we mentioned is the non-standardization of batteries and in absence of subsidies a commercially viable model.

  4. In a still futuristic scenario, flow batteries or metal-air batteries may become the technology of choice whereby the existing fossil fuel infrastructure can be revamped to fill fresh electrolyte in such batteries and remove spent electrolyte.

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