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.

Top countries in adoption of battery electric vehicles

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 ·

  1. A BEV is a Battery Electric Vehicle. Also you sometimes hear PEV where P is for Plugin.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Chris R (Nov 04 2018, at 21:52)

I think you missed one option: rest stops. Those would be excellent options, too. Physically configured for it, even. The US interstates have them everywhere, and Canadian highways too. They're constants, everywhere.

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From: Peter Eller (Nov 04 2018, at 22:50)

I hope the jag you are getting is an E-type Zero

;-)

https://youtu.be/610Amyhpzzk

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From: Ivan Sagalaev (Nov 04 2018, at 23:28)

> 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.

Exactly how I chose the hotel for my trip to lake Chelan this year.

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From: hawkse (Nov 05 2018, at 03:35)

L2 should be enough at workplaces. You would need to have a very long commute for needing a full charge every day.

No-one expects their petrol powered car to be fully fuelled for every single ride.

It's an interesting point though since the electric car definitely is a change in mindset. It's not 'refuel when the fuel runs low' but rather 'top up as soon as you get a chance'.

Much how we treat our phones and other electronic gizmos nowadays.

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From: Rob Jordan (Nov 05 2018, at 04:45)

Tim, interesting discussion but there's something I'm missing. You don't discuss who pays for the electricity. I'm not sure if there's an unspoken assumption that charging stations at hotels, condos, coffee shops, malls dispense electricity for free? I might feel aggrieved as a cyclist or public transport user if my hotel charges / groceries are being inflated to subsidise EV drivers. OK, maybe it's a fringe concern, but if EVs scale up as expected, the transfer of fuel cost burden from directly-incurred by drivers, to public utility, is significant.

We are already seeing conflicts in the UK where pavement (read sidewalk) and cycleway space is being taken from pedestrians and zero-carbon cyclists to provide charging stations for EVs. Which - though a great step forward from fossil fuel guzzlers - are still contributing to congestion and de-humanisation of cities.

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From: Martin (Nov 05 2018, at 05:10)

I own a Nissan Leaf for 2 years.

- My battery is smaller than your future car, but my commute is fine. Every day you start with a full tank.

- Your text assumes you need a full charge. All you need is enough to get you home. As such, a L2 is good enough for work. At most I charge half a day at work to fully fill in my (small) battery.

- On the road, you *need* L3 chargers and there is not enough yet. This is where the travel planning counts.

The real "killer" for me is the winter. -10C in Montreal removes 30-40% of my range.

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From: Patrick Gibson (Nov 05 2018, at 09:38)

I'm not sure what it's like for other electric vehicles, but my Tesla Model 3 gets about 35km/hour range charging at most L2 chargers commonly found in mall parking lots, community centres, and libraries. If I was plugged in all day long at work at an L2 charger, I'd have to have arrived with a critically low battery to not get a completely full charge by the time I have to leave.

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From: Ted (Nov 05 2018, at 12:28)

Suppose, worst case, that a million vehicle owners in the Metro Vancouver area all decide to use an L3 charger at the same time, 7am say. That's 10^6 x 5x10^4 = 5 x 10^10 watts = 50 Gigawatts ~= 50 medium-sized fossil fuel power plants. How will the utilities meet that kind of demand peak, using currently available technology ?

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From: David Magda (Nov 06 2018, at 17:22)

While not a high-Level charger (5kW; 16A), having ubiquitous chargers may be as much of a good idea if you don't have to worry about location:

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKaEhBjt1ls

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From: Boltonic (Nov 06 2018, at 19:33)

Regarding fast chargers, there are a variety of kinds of varying levels of capability. For example, the Bosch 25kW DC Fast Charger needs only single phase power input and 165A circuit. On the one hand, it's not a very fast fast charger, but on the other, it's 3.5 times faster than a typical Level 2 charger and costs less than US$10,000.

In the USA, the major companies installing fast chargers are ones that arose out of settlements, EVgo came out of a settlement with utility company Dynergy for their role in the California power crisis of 2001, and Electrify America came from Dieselgate. Electrify America will have 150 kW and 350 kW chargers along the US side of your route to Seattle (Bellingham, Everett and numerous Seattle locations) — expect them all to be open before June 2019.

Regarding Level 2 at work, these help people who can't plug in at home or who drive a plug-in hybrid, which will have very limited range. For these drivers plugging in at work can easily recover the battery used in getting to work, for most people in less than an hour, and even the longest commute in less than three.

If you charge at home and have a decent sized battery, there is obviously no need to charge at work unless it is free.

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From: Michael (Nov 07 2018, at 00:01)

My colleague Christian and I kept talking about having a trailer that would have a small gas-powered (or propane) generator on it. It would generate power for the vehicle.

You'd therefore convert your BEV into a hybrid, only for the trips where you need the extra range.

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From: Doug K (Nov 13 2018, at 10:02)

Like Rob I have wondered how charging at a station works, in terms of paying for the electricity. It seems trivial to set up a credit card payment in the charging station, every gas pump has this already.

To me an EV doesn't make sense until the electric grid is mostly powered by renewables. It's not clear that burning coal in a power station to generate electricity, instead of gas (petroleum) in the car, is a net gain. An EV with solar panels and storage battery at home seems ideal, but that runs into a lot of money.

The Union of Concerned Scientists developed the measure MPG(ghg) which is the miles per gallon equivalent in greenhouse gases. See link from my name.

So an EV getting 40 MPG(ghg) generates emissions equivalent to a gas car at 40mpg.

For coal-fired electricity, a gas car getting better than 30 MPG outperforms an EV in terms of ghg. That's why I have a Honda Fit and not an EV. For oil-fired, 32. For natural gas, 54, or what a hybrid gets.

There isn't a clear benefit to EVs until the electricity is all renewable, solar, wind etc.

Hydro has its own set of problems but at least in terms of greenhouse gases it is good. See

https://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-hydroelectric-power.html

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From: Doug K (Nov 13 2018, at 10:17)

"using a charging network to help sell a brand of car. I’ve heard rumbles that Volkswagen is thinking of this"

Not thinking of it - they were required to fund EV infrastructure, as part of the Dieselgate settlement - see link from my name. Electrify America is the VW subsidiary, committed to $2 billion of infrastructure spending.

There's that damned government regulation again, taking away our freedoms, and making life better for everybody. oh wait.

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From: Jarek (Nov 14 2018, at 13:11)

"Suppose, worst case, that a million vehicle owners in the Metro Vancouver area all decide to use an L3 charger at the same time, 7am say. That's 10^6 x 5x10^4 = 5 x 10^10 watts = 50 Gigawatts ~= 50 medium-sized fossil fuel power plants. How will the utilities meet that kind of demand peak, using currently available technology ?"

They won't. Nor will they have to. If L3 chargers get popular, they will have demand-management pricing on them (50 kW requires separate wiring, so separate billing won't be surprising), so it'll get increasingly more expensive at peak times, and it'll encourage people to charge at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m. This is fine. The real world doesn't scale, and for the most part gets by fine. Just imagine the line-ups if everyone tried to fill-up their fossil fuel car on the same day at 7 a.m. The water system couldn't deal if everyone repeatedly flushed their toilet for an hour, either.

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