With more than 175,000 plug-in vehicles in America today, advancements to ensure charging solutions meet current and future requirements are paramount. An emerging trend with the next generation of electrical vehicles is the utilization of larger on-board chargers. But what does this really mean? The need to future-proof your home or workplace with higher amperage charging stations to accommodate these larger on-board chargers is becoming inevitable.
While the future looks bright for electric vehicle charging, it’s important to level-set with an understanding of the different types of electric vehicles — a distinction often lost on many consumers. Electric vehicles are classified into two main types: plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs). PHEVs are hybrids with high capacity batteries that can be charged by plugging them into an electrical outlet or charging station. These vehicles can drive anywhere from 11 to 40 miles using only electric power. The short distances are supplemented by combining gasoline power to provide a more manageable driving distance. BEVs on the other hand, use chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs. BEVs use electric motors and motor controllers instead of internal combustion engines (ICEs) for propulsion and drivers can expect a range of anywhere from 70 to 300 miles on a single charge. There appears to be an even split between usage of both PHEV and BEV vehicles. In light of the large number of vehicles on the road there are some emerging trends on where and how people charge their vehicles.
Charging stations are popping up all over, in the home, workplace and public spaces, such as parking garages and shopping centers. Some studies indicate that home charging might be greater than 60 percent of the total charging locations used. The complexity with home charging is that residences can be single family or multi-family homes with garages, carports, or street parking and may be owned or rented. All of these factors may impact the charging options available for the car owner.
On the other hand, workplace charging is estimated to be between 15 and 30 percent among consumers. Most days we end up staying at work longer than we would like, but on the flip side, it creates an opportunity to recharge our electric vehicles. In addition, we are finding that progressive workplaces are offering electric vehicle charging as a paid service or as a benefit to their employees.
That leaves approximately 10 percent of the total charging to occur in public places. These charging stations often cost in the tens of thousands of dollars and can include high installation costs.
Quick charging or DC fast charging has been developed to manage “range anxiety” in commercial and public locations. Similar to gasoline stations, customers want to be able fill up 80 percent in 30 minutes or less. Some typical locations for quick charging include rest areas, movie theatres, restaurants, and shopping locations.
As the adoption of electric vehicles becomes more prevalent, we’re seeing rapid advancements in car technology that meets these the changing demands. The first generation of electric vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, featured 3.3 kW on-board chargers. The next generations of electric vehicles — like the Ford Focus EV, Honda Fit BEV and Kia Soul EV — are already increasing those capabilities with larger 6.6 kW on-board chargers. Also the Toyota RAV4 EV and Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive have 10 kW on-board chargers. In addition, the Tesla Model S offers either a 10 kW or 20 kW on-board charger. These on-board chargers also feature power electronics associated with their battery management systems, including DC converters and inverters that can draw 300 to 600 watts of non-power train related load. These loads can significantly reduce charge time.
Charger size isn’t the only thing changing with the continued production of new electric vehicles. Additional enhancements to the battery system will not only improve efficiencies in the charging process, but give back as well. In the near future, on-board chargers will be able to provide unidirectional or bi-directional power flow. A bi-directional system enables the electric vehicle to become a distributed energy source. These systems, while not yet readily available, could provide benefits of enabling electric vehicle owners to provide energy back to the grid, manage peak load, and create potential arbitrage opportunities. This is a significant development and will have a great impact on the future of this market.
Knowing that on-board chargers are changing and the technology is improving to offer new and better ways to charge our vehicles, it’s imperative that consumers and contractors know how to prepare for the future. Purchasing and installing larger charging stations helps to future-proof the home or workplace charging station requirements so drivers can maximize the charging experience. Like any major appliance purchase, these charging stations are long-term decisions. Consumers report to us that the electric vehicle charging stations are like a refrigerator or oven — they plan on keeping their station for a decade or more, even moving the charger from house to house.
To remain compliant with the charging requirements of today and tomorrow, a larger Level 2 charging station is ideal to supply ample power. The ideal charging station should deliver 7.7 to 10 kW of power in order to maximize the charging efficiency. The larger Level 2 stations can not only meet the next generation of electric vehicle needs but will also be well equipped to serve the majority of American homes and businesses for years to come.