Why superhubs represent the future of EV charging
Large, scalable, ultra-rapid EV charging hubs massively extend the operating envelope of electric vehicles for fleets and private motorists
Plans for Europe’s most powerful electric vehicle recharging hub, due to open in the fourth quarter of this year, offer a blueprint for the future of zero emission motoring.
Energy Superhub Oxford, in the UK, will launch with 38 fast and ultra-rapid chargers, supported by a 10MW power line connected directly to the high voltage grid and a 50MW hybrid storage battery.
23 ultra rapid chargers
The £41m (€47.6m) project is being led by Pivot Power, part of EDF Renewables, and will see Wenea install 16 rapid 7-22kW charge points; Tesla deploy a dozen 250kW Superchargers; and Fastned install 10 300kW chargers, capable of charging up to 14 EVs simultaneously and adding 480km (300 miles) of range in just 20 minutes.
Fastned already operates 135 charging stations across the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the UK, and has recently raised €150 million to turbo-charge the expansion of its network, with a goal of building 1,000 fast charging stations across Europe by 2025.
For Michiel Langezaal, CEO of Fastned (pictured below): “Big stations are the only way to provide charging capacity to the exponentially growing number of EVs coming to our roads. Fast charging will be essential to the success of electric vehicles. No other solution scales as well as fast charging stations that can be upgraded quickly with more and faster chargers. We observe on a daily basis that large, spacious drive-through fast charging stations with a big canopy for visibility are the best solution to handle a lot of traffic.”
Charging stations must be visible and easy to use
This is not a deliberate move to mirror petrol station networks, but an acknowledgement that petrol stations have two great strengths – high visibility and ease of use. The piecemeal approach of early charging infrastructure fails this test, with chargers often hidden behind buildings or fences or tucked into the corner of car parks, said Langezaal.
“But if you have a large station it’s easy to find, you can see the electricity coming through the solar panels, and it’s a completely different experience,” he said. “We want to help people find the station, and show ICE drivers the infrastructure is there to convince them to buy an electric car, and that is working.”
Moreover, a large charging station with multiple charge points proves efficient for both drivers and operator, with limited (if any) queuing time to access a charger, and good utilisation rates, a single grid connection and ease of maintenance for the charging network.
Barriers to building infrastructure
However, the structure and regulation of local property and energy markets means there’s no uniform approach to the location of large charging hubs. In more regulated countries, distribution network operators (DNOs) charge a fixed fee to connect a charging station to the grid, regardless of its location; whereas in the UK, DNOs charge widely variable fees for connecting charging hubs to the grid, depending on local power capacity.
This means that the British business case for choosing a location to install chargers is more heavily influenced by sites with cheaper grid connections, “whereas in Europe you will build stations where EV drivers need them the most. The cost is socialised – it doesn’t matter where you deliver the grid connection, so there’s a big difference in finding the site,” said Langezaal.
The biggest investment decision, however, is to access markets with strong incentives for drivers to choose an electric car, whether through bans on ICE vehicles entering clean air zones, subsidies to offset the higher prices of EVs, or the impending end of the sale of ICE vehicles altogether.
“Most governments are goal setting to have full vehicle sales being electric by 2030, 2035, or 2040, which means all cars will be electric on the road by 2050 to 60, and hopefully earlier to combat climate change. This is growing to be a growth market for four decades before it becomes a replacement market,” said Langezaal.
This exponential growth represents a huge challenge for charging infrastructure companies to build capacity to meet demand. The Energy Superhub Oxford has been years in the planning, and there are barriers throughout the supply chain; building permits can take up to six months to secure, procuring a grid connection can take two years, and even the supply of high speed chargers is an issue, all of which means that this could be a supply constrained market for the next decade, warned Langezaal.
“We are working incredibly hard to make sure demand does not exceed supply, but this will happen here and there, and that’s a consequence of success,” he said.
Speed and reliability
Having built more than 100 charging stations and acquired years of experience in operating them, Fastned is well placed to build infrastructure that endures and that operates reliably, added Langezaal. Banks of data that forewarn of impending problems allow the company to fix faults before they develop into failures, providing the reliability of service that is essential for EV drivers.
These drivers are also demonstrating an increasing appetite for high-speed charging as battery technology improves, said Langezaal.
“In 2014 the average charge speed was about 20kW. It’s currently about 44kW and if you only count high speed chargers it’s around 65kW,” he said. “It’s tripled over six years, and we see that accelerating as more and more fast-charging cars come onto the market.”
And it’s not just supercars, like the Porsche Taycan which can charge at an average of 200kW, that charge at these ultra fast speeds. The Hyundai Ioniq is capable of charging at 175kW sustained power (and a maximum of 232kW), which is almost 10 times faster than charging speeds a decade ago.
400km range in 20 minutes
The fleet business case for the first wave of EVs may have been built on low cost home charging, but rapid charging massively increases the operational envelope of zero emission vehicles for companies looking to shrink their carbon footprints and run greener fleet operations.
“It means you can charge from a nearly empty 10% to full batteries in 18 minutes,” said Langezaal. “Cars that charge this quickly open up the EV market to many more use cases. You no longer need to install a charger on your driveway. The average motorist can plug in once a week (at Oxford) go to the toilet, maybe very quickly drink a coffee, and when you get back to the car the batteries are full. That’s 400km range, the average weekly use of a car. It’s super exciting and so interesting to see the technology landscape changing, and being able to put a dent in the universe when it comes to contributing to climate change. The exponential rise in demand for electric cars and charging means exponential growth in CO2 avoided.”
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