the New Gasoline
Keeping EVs from
Overloading the Grid
EV charging stations serve as the crucial bridge between utility power distribution and electric vehicle power consumption. We need to promote EV charging interoperability through open standards, and collaborate with OEMs and utilities to deploy faster, cheaper charging stations with energy storage and load balancing.
ALMOST OVERNIGHT, EVs ARE HERE
After years of denial and resistance, the realities of climate change have broken through into the consciousness of citizens worldwide. Across the globe, consumers are expressing increased desire for sustainability, and governments are offering incentives to satisfy that desire. One clear result has been the nearly overnight acceptance of the need to transition from the internal combustion engine (ICE) to non-polluting alternatives like electric vehicles (EVs). EV demand promises a better, more interactive car that eliminates the need for conventional gas stations.
While EVs cost more than vehicles with ICEs, they are projected to cost less than ICEs by 2025. EVs currently have a smaller range than ICEs, on average requiring twice as many fuel stops as ICE vehicles, but this too is expected to improve noticeably even in the short term. Tesla, for example, has projected a range increase of nearly one-third, achieved by altering cell form factor and cell vehicle integration (i.e., making the battery a structural element of the car), without switching to a new battery chemistry.
However, improvements to EVs themselves are obviously only half the story. The vehicles themselves need to be charged at a cost roughly on par with present-day gasoline/diesel, and without requiring the EV to be tethered to a wire all day.
DCFC CHARGING STATIONS VARY IN COMPLEXITY
Much of the present-day excitement around EVs stems from the massive marketplace disruption of Tesla’s portfolio of luxury auto models. Less noticed are the company’s innovative charging solutions, which range from networked “supercharging” stations to consumer roofing-tile and battery products for generating and storing power at home.
However, Tesla’s charging strategy is proprietary and closed. Their vehicles can use adapters to fuel at most “generic” charging stations, but other vehicles cannot use Tesla’s superchargers. The coming worldwide explosion of EVs will require an open charging standard, and toward that end we have offerings by the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), which is the key network communication protocol for DCFC stations) and Charge de Move (CHAdeMO), which competes with the Tesla supercharger as a method for DC Fast Charging (DCFC), and is adopted in almost all commercially available DCFC stations.
THE TECHNOLOGIES OF GETTING CHARGED
Currently, the EV charging opportunity is dominated by comparatively low-tech chargers, with the high-compute applications occurring largely inside EVs. There are three levels of EV charging solutions, with Level 1 being the most basic.
Level 1 uses adapters included with most EVs to directly plug vehicles into wall sockets or outlets. Level 1 is slow—a maximum of about 5 miles range-per-hour (RPH), and unless a separate meter is installed these chargers typically have no human-machine interface (HMI) and lack even the most basic features like energy consumption monitoring or automatic shutoff.
Level 2 enables faster charging using 240V outlets. It requires dedicated hardware, usually SAE J1772 EV plugs and adapters, and charges between 12-25 miles RPH. Possible features of Level 2 include load balancing, remote payment and pricing, app-based wayfinding, and remote maintenance and updates.
Level 3, also called DCFC chargers, are the focus of this article. Level 3 chargers are expensive to install, requiring a separate station usually in public venues, but they fuel a vehicle much faster than Level 2 (100+ miles RPH). Today, most Level 3 charging stations are unconnected wall-box solutions or standard 50kW products. However, new models are being developed that have higher energy outputs, 5G connectivity, infotainment displays using LCD/LED touchscreens, and AI-level applications like analytics-based load balancing, AC/DC power inversion, and distributed energy resources (DER) storage and integration.
As players align to capture the hyped, fast-growing EV market, EV charging station suppliers are taking two paths: Selling EV charging hardware and components, and an app-based subscription to public EV charging networks.
EV CHARGING MARKET IS COVETED BY OEMs AND INNOVATORS
CHARGING STATIONS BY REGION AND DEPLOYMENT
China’s aggressive environmental policies and infrastructure investments have led it to outpace the world in terms of Level 3 DCFC adoption. Even as other countries catch up, China’s EV head start, along with their massive population, will allow the country to retain its dominance. By 2025, China will have nearly 750,000 Level 3 stations installed, out of a global total of 943,000.
TOTAL INSTALLED LEVEL 3 STATIONS BY REGION
Residential venues and offices have little need for fast charging, but retail and commercial locations, as well as fleets and buses, will represent the highest margin charging opportunity. Though deployment differs across countries, gas stations and public EV charging networks represent the greatest concentration, with nearly 487,000 Level 3 DCFC stations in 2025 out of the global total of 943,000.
TOTAL INSTALLED LEVEL 3 STATIONS BY DEPLOYMENT
HIGH-COMPUTE APPLICATIONS AND ADJACENT OPPORTUNITIES ARE KEY
As more countries mandate the production and use of EVs, the rising fuel demand will necessitate the replacement of traditional vehicle fueling methods with EV charging stations. While Level 2 will dominate residential charging in the near future, Level 3 DCFC stations in public settings will exponentially increase.
Level 3 EV charging requires high infrastructure investments and a new fueling model for consumers. But only advanced DCFC stations will be able to defend market share against EV dealerships (e.g., Tesla) and offset lost retail revenues due to consumers charging their EVs at home versus the classic model of filling up at a station.
EV charging stations serve as the crucial bridge between utilities power distribution and electric vehicle power consumption. Applications such as power inversion, off-grid power storage, and grid interactivity can optimize this bridging process, helping to avoid overload by the massive demand for EV charging that will soon be upon us.
Public EV charging station networks are inherently a high-technology digital business. They displace the legacy fueling model with a distributed, subscription-based approach enabled by software, analytics, and energy management to prevent EV charging from crippling the grid. Industry groups should continue to promote EV charging interoperability through open standards, and collaborate with OEMs and utilities to deploy faster, cheaper charging stations with energy storage and load balancing, thereby accelerating the shift to EVs. ◆
This essay is supported by our infographic on the EV Charging Opportunity.
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