Where is the EV Charging Infrastructure !
The growth in the propagation of electric vehicles (EVs)will only happen if appropriate charging infrastructure is available. But then it is like 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 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 development of charging infrastructure. In the first approach which is utopian is to develop complete electric vehicle charging network in one go. Though, this could promote a 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 second model that is more acceptable. Simultaneously, customers should also be incentivized in other ways such 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 usual conductive type. Even in conductive type, there are multiple kinds of chargers that are in vogue. These create additional imponderables for an investors.
The graphic above represents the current status of penetration of conductive type chargers
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 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 in order to create rapid transition to 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, in order 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.
In order 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. Creation of charging infrastructure in Canada has been primarily through a number of provincial and local governments funded public programs. In fact, the federal government is also actively involved in the sector.
A policy is being created for a zero-emission vehicle strategy which aims to set new goals for electrification and its associated charging infrastructure.To achieve this, a 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.
China is the definite leader, when it comes to adoption rate of EV and associated infrastructure in Asia. Similar to Europe, in China too, the charging infrastructure is multiplayer game which includes the central government, local governments, and utilities.
The fast development of charging network serves China’s ambitions to become a major player in 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 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 car makers 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 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 conductive type of charging, i.e, with a wired plug.
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 lack of uniformity by the industry and thus inconveniencing the users.
The Table below from SAE summarizes 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.
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.
Despite the fact that 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 emergence of Battery Swapping Stations (BSS). As name suggests, they swap a customer’s discharged battery with a fully charged one of the same type.
This also create 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 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, 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 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 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 rapid adoption of EVs for public transportation. However, the roadblocks still 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, majority of the auto OEMs preferring to control their design strategies for battery packs as their core technology.
- Commercially Viable Business Models, since 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 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. Great advantage in adverse weather conditions.
Automated charging as the inductive charger is placed on the parking slot, at home or at 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.
In addition, there is also the possibility to charge the vehicle while it is actually 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 charging infrastructure of current LIBs. Such batteries have technical advantages over conventional rechargeable ones.
In flow 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 station is shown as 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 long run:-
1. In case of conductive charging, adoption of a specific charger protocol would be essential. We think SAE combo charger would be a more appropriate choice.
2. We could also just like we did in 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 costs factors could be huge in 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 ‘sharing economy’. The current bottleneck as we mentioned is non-standardization of batteries and in absence of subsidies a commercial viable model.
4. In a still futuristic scenario, flow batteries or metal air batteries may become technology of choice whereby the existing fossil fuel infrastructure can be revamped to fill fresh electrolyte in such batteries and remove spent electrolyte.