Electric vehicles (EVs), such as the Tesla Model S, Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf, are poised not only to change the automotive landscape, but also the infrastructure that supports it.
Over the past four years, EV sales in the U.S have increased at an annual growth rate of 32%, which amounts to a total of nearly 542,000 EVs being sold in the U.S alone. Grouped in this category are hybrids (Toyota Prius), plugin-hybrids (Mitsubishi Outlander), and plug-in electric cars (Tesla Model S), with hybrids currently being the most popular of the three types of EVs. The Nissan Leaf, owned by more than 250,000 people worldwide, is the world’s best-selling, highway-capable electric vehicle.
And each passing year, positive consumer reports, great reviews from industry publications, and decreasing costs of the cars themselves are generating more demand for plug-in hybrids and plug-in electric cars. These vehicles offer greater cost savings over traditional hybrids, since plug-in hybrids like the Mitsubishi Outlander use their batteries first before their gas-powered engines, while electric cars don’t use any fuel at all. With prices falling, and additional demand for more efficient, eco-friendly vehicles, EVs are likely to become the first choice for new car buyers over the coming decades.
To support the shift in demand from traditional/hybrid-powered vehicles to plug-in electric cars, our automotive infrastructure requires a dramatic change. The key to increasing the use of electric cars is more EV charging stations. Without a wide proliferation of electric vehicle charging stations, EVs will remain a niche auto market.
If you live in California, Oregon, or Washington—states in which EVs are selling in record numbers—you’re already starting to see this infrastructure transformation, but the recent growth is only the beginning.
Despite current progress, there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to modernizing our infrastructure to support the rise of EVs. In this post, we will cover everything there is to know about charging station technology, including where it’s headed.
What are Electric Car Charging Stations?
Charging stations, as the name implies, are like gas pumps for EVs, where EV owners can charge their electric cars during long parking stretches. Charging is almost always done via a cable, hence the name “plug-in hybrid” or “plug-in EV”.
There are different “levels” of charging provided by these stations—from level 1, 2, 3, and so on—and each level can charge an EV at different rates, with levels 3 and 4 equating to “fast charging.”
While home chargers only add about four miles of driving range per hour of charging, fast chargers (technically called DC fast chargers), can provide over 100 miles of driving range in as little as 30 minutes!
Why are EV Charging Stations Important
While it’s true that all EVs can be charged at home, either through a standard wall charger or home charging station (EVSE), these home-based methods currently do not offer fast charging.
As with all rechargeable batteries, each time the battery is “cycled” or recharged, it loses some of its capacity. This cycling process is worsened when the battery is drained to its lower limit and then recharged up to full capacity.
It thus behooves the EV owner to keep the vehicle’s battery charged close to their upper limit, though not at max capacity, as this essentially slows the cycling process. This means that the batteries inside an electric vehicle should be charged frequently, making it especially important for remote charging stations to be available at multiple locations along popular commuting routes.
Charging Stations and Peace of Mind
For EV cars that have improved driving ranges, owners still face the issues of battery limitation and pure convenience. Although the current range at which EVs can travel is improving all the time, many plug-in EVs, like Chevy’s other plug-in vehicle, the Volt, can only go 53 miles on a single charge before the gas-powered engine kicks in.
For the average commuter who travels 40 miles a day, and wants to maximize fuel efficiency, this doesn’t leave very much room for “the unexpected” such as traffic delays due to accidents, detours, or anything else that might lengthen the commute.
Remote EV charging stations in these situations help consumers maintain fuel efficiency, and provide a “just in case” system which can help relieve any anxiety associated with running out of juice.
Also, unless you’re willing to spend $700 to $1000 on a home charging station, you will be forced to rely on a standard wall charger, which as discussed earlier, is painfully slow. This can lead to “charging” fatigue, something that millions of Americans experience every day as they charge their smartphones, smartwatches, laptops, Bluetooth headphones, or anything else that typically needs to be charged daily.
This means that there will be days when individuals simply forget to charge their cars, in which case remote charging locations can provide consumers with some peace of mind that they can “refuel” while on the road.
Who Pays for Remote Charging Stations for Electric Cars?
While the owner of the structure or facility typically pays for the stations to be installed, the owner of the EV pays for the energy that is fed into their vehicle.
Rates vary from location to location, but typically, facilities that have “fast-charging” stations might charge a few dollars an hour, though, some facilities only provide simple wall charging, in which case, the fee may be less.
State Utilities and Authorities Get Involved
It’s no secret that charging stations present a unique business opportunity, as there is money to be made in their construction and operation.
As more consumers switch to EVs, many facilities and businesses are also quickly finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage by not having charging stations installed. If you own and operate, say, a local mall, and a competing shopping center in the area recently installed an array of fancy new fast EV charging stations, it’s likely the case that your facility will lose some of its traffic to customers who have switched to an electric car.
Accordingly, EV charging stations are popping up in more and more diverse locations.
If you live in California, Washington, or Oregon, then this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you: electric car charging systems are everywhere. From malls to supermarkets, companies like Tesla are helping finance installations of new charging stations wherever there is likely to be a need.
And it’s not just the private sector that is helping facilitate the availability of charging stations. In fact, just last year, the California Public Utilities Commission approved Southern California Edison’s plan to install 1,500 charging stations within its service territory.
Additionally, PG&E, a utility company that supplies a large part of California with natural gas and electricity, has requested permission from the CPUC to build 25,000 more stations in northern and central California.
The Future of EV Charging
Even with fast charging stations becoming more widely available, these systems still rely on a hard connection between the vehicle and the charging unit.
However, organizations such as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SEA) and companies such as Qualcomm have been helping develop new wireless charging standards which will hopefully become integrated into all future EVs.
In fact, one such EV has already been announced, and it’s the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S550e. The Mercedes-Benz S550e is the first vehicle in the world to be equipped with this technology, known as “Halo”, the outcome of a partnership between Mercedes-Benz and Qualcomm. This electric car charger can effectively charge a 13.5 kWh battery pack in a single night, which isn’t necessary fast, but its ease of use is a breakthrough.
Remember our discussion about charging fatigue? Well, this technology aims to alleviate such issues. With this new technology, there’s no need to fuss with cables, ports, or charging door releases: all that driver must do is park within six inches of a specially designed charging pad, wait for a light to turn green, and then they’re done.
This wireless EV charging technology can be implemented in several ways, granted that the EV supports it, and it’s not hard to see that in the future wireless charging will become the preferred method of charging over a traditional cable.
There are other, more futuristic projects in the works as well, such as roads that charge your vehicle as you drive, but it is yet to be seen how these sorts of systems will be implemented with any real effectiveness.
What’s certain, however, is that charging EVs will become easier, less labor-intensive, and more widely available soon, which is just the sort of thing we all need in our technology-driven lives.