The Wikipedia article on Electric Car Use by Country is interesting. Below I excerpt a graph (misspellings: theirs) of the leading electric-car jurisdictions: As I write, Norway leads, at over 20%, while the US average is 1.5%. (Visit the Wikipedia link for the latest whenever you read this.) How are all these cars going to be fed? Let’s consider the future business of car-charging.
My own angle · Since I’m about to become an electric-car owner, I’ve been pre-planning trips, both for work (i.e. to Seattle) and to visit family elsewhere in Western Canada. And I’m having a feeling I last had in the Nineties, as a bleeding-edge traveling Internet user. Back then, when you picked your hotel, you really cared about whether your dial-up Internet would work — there were certain 20th-century “digital” hotel phone systems that got in the way, and then some places had proprietary plugs, and others blocked calls to the local PoP because they thought you were trying to dodge their larcenous long-distance charges, which you were.
As a side-effect of this, I’ve learned a lot about what kinds of chargers there are, and it raises questions in my mind of how we get the ones we need, and (chiefly) who’s going to pay for them.
Defining terms ·
A BEV is a Battery Electric Vehicle. Also you sometimes hear PEV where P is for Plugin.
There are a bunch of ways to talk about how fast a charger charges your BEV, but I don’t think there’s a standard acronym for my favorite, how many km of range you get per hour of charging. Let’s use kRh for “km of range per hour”. American and British readers can divide by 1.6 and call those mRh.
A Level 1 (L1) charger means plugging straight into your home current, either 240 or 110 volts depending where you are in the world. This is an unsatisfactorily slow way to charge a BEV, a handful of kRh.
An L2 charger is what many people install at home when they buy a BEV. Ways to measure it include kW (6 or 7), amps (30-ish), and you might get 30 or so kRh. The idea with an L2 is, you plug in your BEV while you sleep, and it’ll be charged when you want to head out in the morning.
An L3 charger is what you find in Tesla’s Superchargers network, and recently other networks such as Ionity in Europe. Don’t know the Tesla details, but the majority of publicly accessible ones in late 2018 run at 50kw or so, which is to say probably better than 200 kRh.
The Jaguar I’ve ordered is advertised as being able to charge 80% in 40 minutes on a 100kW charger (of which there are approximately zero as I write), which my arithmetic suggests is like 450 kRh. Now, it’s more complicated than that, because it’s actually amperes that charge your car, which is a function of the upstream source plus circuits both in your charger and in your car. And it’s more complicated than that because fast chargers charge cars fast, but only for the first 80% or so of capacity, then they slow down. So the polite thing to do at a fast highway charger is to charge up to only 80%. For what it’s worth, there’s excited talk about higher and higher charger ratings, Ionity claims they’ll be shipping 350KW chargers: “Stop,drink a coffee, and go.”
Costs · A lot of people put in L2 chargers at their residences. They cost under a thousand bucks, but you can’t install one yourself, so for most people, by the time you’ve paid the electrician and so on you’re probably in for over a grand. I suspect these costs will come down, but not hugely; volume will go up, which will help, but nobody’s predicting big technology breakthroughs. Having said that, a thousand bucks may be economically tolerable when you consider the trips to the fuel pump you’re avoiding.
An L3 charger is another story. This useful page at OhmHome suggests you’re looking at $50K and up, possibly way up. Among other things, you have to run three-phase power to the site, and you have pay a highly skilled professional to do the installation because at this power rating, mistakes are apt to be lethal. In conversations before I ran across the OhmHome site, I’d heard typical costs north of $100K, and some really extravagant numbers for the cost of the Supercharger stations.
So, given all that, who should build chargers, and where?
Hotel and residential · I think this one’s pretty easy. Hotels and residential developments should try to have a number of charge stations corresponding to the local proportion of electric cars. Except for, they should start with maybe twice the current value, because the proportion of electric cars being sold is way higher than that already out there. And I suspect that in places like hotel and condo garages, the cost of installing ten is way less than ten times the cost of installing one. These should be L2 for charging while sleeping; there’s no good reason to pay up for fast chargers.
A word of warning to hotel operators and residential developers: The time is very near where I won’t consider your hotel or your condo if I can’t be confident of charging while I sleep.
Employers · This is an interesting one. Lots of office buildings (including Amazon’s) have car chargers in the basement parking. But so far, near as I can tell, they all seem to be L2. I’m not sure I see the point; even if you could hog the charger all day while you work, you probably wouldn’t get a full charge. Maybe it’s useful for people who have a short commute and don’t have a charger at home? And in fact most of these things are un-used when I drive by them, in Vancouver and Seattle. There might be a case for L3 chargers at HQ for people like me who occasionally drive down to Seattle and back in a day (I’ve done it, it sucks) but the current L2 deployment seems wasted.
Roadside attractions · Now, here’s where it gets interesting. When you’re doing an extended long-distance drive, you really need fast chargers or you’e going to be ridiculously, laughably slower than with a fossil-fuel car. So the place for them is by the highway. Who’s going to pay for them? Especially given the high cost?
I originally thought that coffee shops would be the natural homes for these things, add a charger and attract the crowds, but at $100K I don’t think the economics work. But here are a few other interested parties who might have an interest in making the investment to put a fast charger near a big road:
Malls; the scale is presumably large enough that the investment looks more tractable, and they have an interest in keeping you parked for a while once you’ve arrived.
Chambers of commerce; put a charger near the middle of a small town’s roadside shopping street. This is a variation on the mall theme.
Car companies, emulating Tesla’s strategy of using a charging network to help sell a brand of car. I’ve heard rumbles that Volkswagen is thinking of this, and they certainly have the scale.
Governments, interested in trying to meet their carbon-load reduction targets.
Electric utilities, trying to convince lots of people to buy electric cars. Since the vast majority of electric cars spend their time shuttling people back and forth to their place of work, the utility probably doesn’t need to charge enough to recoup the investment. In other words, the chargers serve a psychological function, reassuring people that if they have the urge to drive across a couple of time zones to visit the family for Thanksgiving, that’ll be no problem.
The future · One way or another, I bet there are going to be plenty of chargers out there. Just like today I don’t have to worry much about whether the hotel I’m going to has Internet.