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The future of EV charging

31 March 2020

Mad, bad and kind of brilliant...what does the future of EV charging look like?

EVUp EV charging parking spaces
EVUp EV charging load management

Sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to be left behind. While Australia lags in the race to low-emission transport, the rapid acceleration of electric vehicles into mainstream use in overseas markets means we’ve got a crystal ball into what the future of EV charging could look like. Miles O’Connell from EVUp takes a peek beyond the veil to explore the ideas and innovations that could help change the way we travel.

A friendly box-shaped robot is summoned via smartphone app and trundles across a car park to plug itself into an electric vehicle as the driver wanders off. When the vehicle battery has reached 80% state of charge, the robot rolls itself back to a charging bay, where it too gets topped up on mains power, ready for the next EV customer.

It’s a glimpse into the future of electric vehicle charging according to Volkswagen, who released a conceptual video of their Mobiler Laderoboter – or Mobile Charging Robot – late last year. While it could reduce electrical cable runs for charging infrastructure in public car parks, you can’t help but wonder how it’ll cope with potholed surfaces and have the dexterity required to connect a cable without scratching the duco.

How do EV owners currently charge their travel?

As a quick explainer, a typical EV driver will plug their car into their home overnight, in much the same way you’d charge up your phone or laptop.

In the morning, with a tank full of electrons, they’ll head off to work where they might have access to a 10 or 15amp power point or an installed charging station throughout the day.

Alternatively, they’ll plug in at a shopping centre while getting the groceries or going to the gym. Before a long highway drive, they can use DC charging to completely fill the battery in half an hour or less – just enough time for a coffee and toilet break. 

While ICE drivers are used to emptying the tank, then finding the cheapest fuel at the nearest petrol station to fill up, EV charging is often multiple, flexible and short top ups during the day, wherever the driver happens to stop - gym, shopping centre, work or on the school run.

AC vs DC charging

To take the explainer a step further, AC (alternating current) is the most common type of publicly available electric vehicle charging. Power from the grid is AC, meaning it can be stepped up or down for different applications. 

An electric vehicle battery pack is charged using DC (direct current), so cars typically have an onboard converter that transforms AC from the grid to DC.

Obviously, this means publicly available DC charging stations charge EVs much faster than AC, but the hardware is more expensive to purchase and install due to power supply requirements.

There’s no such thing as a jerry can full of electrons

One of the common barriers to electric vehicle adoption in Australia is what we term ‘range anxiety’. Put simply, the fear that that your battery power will run out before you reach your destination and you’ll be stranded. 

While it’s true that most electric vehicles currently don’t have a comparable range to an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, they’re far more flexible in how they can be ‘refuelled’. 

But this is bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Electric vehicle charging networks – like EVUp – are installing AC and DC charging to reduce range anxiety and encourage EV uptake, but we also need more Australians to purchase electric vehicles so charging site owners see a return on investment.

In the UK, there are now more charging locations than petrol stations. This is thanks to strong government incentives, requirements for EV-ready homes and far shorter distances to travel. However, we expect this to also be the case for Australia within the decade.

Will that be how EV charging looks from now on?

Definitely not. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the EV sector is that we’re still right at the start of what this technology can deliver.

Let’s face it – there’s not too much innovation left in the space of putting petrol into a tank. With electric vehicles, there’s the potential to completely rethink what it means to fill up your vehicle. 

Charge as you travel

Induction charging is new technology that keeps threatening to break through, but never quite makes it.

A wireless system, induction charging allows EV drivers to park (static induction) or drive over (dynamic induction) charging plates embedded in the ground, transferring power through an air gap. Formula E already uses this tech to charge their safety car and a 1.6km-long road trial in Sweden is looking promising.  

The benefits are huge; no park and plug downtime, and the near-constant wireless charging means electric car, bus, rideshare and truck batteries can be smaller, reducing weight and cost.

However, the loss of power through the transfer process (sometimes up to 20%), coupled with the need to retrofit the 6 million EVs currently on the road worldwide with an underside induction pad PLUS the massive cost of trenching existing road infrastructure to install charging plates may mean inductive charging is leapfrogged by improving battery technology.

Your EV as a mobile storage battery...V2G and V2H

Vehicle to grid, otherwise known as V2G, charging is another exciting charging innovation that’s already on the market in the latest Nissan LEAF. 

It’s exactly what it sounds like – energy from a charged car battery can be momentarily pushed back into the grid to balance spikes in electricity use. 

V2G is particularly exciting as we move towards a decarbonised energy grid that comes with the challenges of integrating renewable energy and battery storage to ensure grid stability.

That’s the idea behind V2G; if your EV is essentially a mobile battery just driving around, why not use it? 

Vehicle to home (V2H) technology is essentially the same thing, but using your EVs power exclusively within your own home with no feed to the grid.

While it’s still a little way off, all indications from overseas markets are that we’ll soon boil the kettle using our electric vehicle.

So, what does the future hold for the EV sector?

Definitely, more electric vehicles. Probably, a greater range of charging options that suit a range of locations and applications.

If the sector is confusing you or if you’d like to get the low-down on installing EV charging hardware at your business, our team can help.

Future proofing your auto aftermarket business in readiness for the rapidly growing e-mobility market by thinking about EV charging is a great first step to making you attractive to customers and future employees. 

Current and near-term future charging units aren’t just an appliance on the wall; smart chargers that can be managed, monetised and are intelligent enough to track usage data and even connect to an onsite solar system.

The EVUp team can also help site owners strategically plan EV charging, starting with one unit and scaling up as demand increases over time, while also managing the energy supply load placed on the building.

And finally, the big question; what does it cost? Charging units come in a range of sizes and capabilities, which means they can fit smaller budgets as effectively as multi-site big-budget businesses.

What’s clear is our electric vehicle charging future is exciting…and Australia will soon catch up.

For more information about EV charging, please contact EVUp Director Emma Sutcliffe.

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