22 Sep 20

How to get EV charging right

Going electric with your fleet is a bit more drastic than just changing 'fuels'. You'll also need to learn about a whole new charging ecosystem. That gets complicated fast, but here's a basic rule: “Public charging is the most expensive solution, charging at work the cheapest. Charging at home falls in between,” says one expert.

Company fleets have always pioneered innovation in mobility. It's no different when it comes to electrification. A recent survey in Belgium showed the share of companies with EV charging infrastructure increased from 16% in mid 2016 to 36% by the middle of last year. Conversely, the share of companies not interested in EV charging declined from 45% to 15%. 

Total Cost of Ownership
The overall reason is simple: TCO. The Total Cost of Ownership for EVs keeps declining. For some use cases - especially short, fixed delivery routes – it's already better than the TCO of petrol and diesel cars. On top of that, in many countries, fiscal incentives sweeten the deal; and in an increasing number of cities, low-emission zones penalise petrol and diesel cars. Last and certainly not least: electrifying the fleet is an important element of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). It's good for the planet. And it improves the corporate image with both customers and prospective employees. 

So, yes to electrification! But which electrification? This is where careful consultation will have to determine which mobility needs are better fulfilled by EVs – and by which type of EVs: BEVs, which are 100% electric, or PHEVs, which combine a combustion engine for longer journeys with an electric motor for shorter distances. Deciding for BEVs, which have to be charged or for PHEVs, which need not be charged (or a mix of both) will determine how much charging infrastructure you will need to install yourself.

Massive increase
Because you can't depend on public chargepoints alone. Despite a massive increase in numbers, the EV charging network is still too thin on the ground, and too expensive. This is the crucial difference with fossil-fuel cars, for which a dense and price-competitive refuelling infrastructure exists.  

That's why studies show that, on average, just 10% of all EV charging is done on public chargepoints. About 30% is done at home, and the remaining 60% at work. Indeed, for reasons of operational and cost efficiency, companies generally prefer to install a number of chargepoints at work. Often, companies will also provide their EV drivers the opportunity to install a home-charging unit. 

Different types
Chargers come in different types, and which chargers go where – at home, at the office, in public – depends on those types. 

  • Slow chargers (3 kW). These typically charge an EV from zero to full in 8 to 12 hours. Because of that duration, slow chargers are mainly used as home or workplace charging devices. That’s because their ideal use case is for charging EVs overnight, or during the day. 
  • Fast chargers (7-22 kW). These operate at about twice the speed of slow charges, so a full charge takes about 4 to 8 hours. They can be used at home, but since these are considerably more expensive than slow chargers, they are more likely to be used as public or workplace chargers.
  • Rapid chargers can deliver up to 80% battery charge in half an hour. Due to the amount of power required, they are unsuitable for home use. Rapid chargers are typically found at large service stations and come in two kinds.
    • Rapid AC charging (43kW), which uses more power than conventional AC charging but essentially operates on the same principle (the car's own converter changes AC into DC). 
    • Rapid DC charging (50kW or more). Here, chargers bypass the EV’s converter to deliver DC current straight to the vehicle, allowing the car to charge much faster. 

Connector types
For now, charging an EV means using a cable. Which cable? That depends on the car, and on the type of charging point. The most common types of connectors are:

  • Type 1. This connector has a 5-pin plug. It’s mainly found in North America and mainly used for slow charging. Public charging points in Europe rarely have a Type 1 socket anymore. Most new ones are equipped with Type 2 sockets.
  • Type 2. This 7-pin plug is the norm in Europe for fast and rapid AC charging. Tesla has developed a modified Type-2 socket that allows for both charging at home and at its rapid Superchargers. 
  • CCS. Stands for Combined Charging System. This 5-pin plug allows for rapid DC charging at public charging stations. CCS, used by most German and US brands, is gaining in popularity. The CCS socket is always combined with either a Type 1 or Type 2 socket. CCS1 and CCS2 allow for both rapid DC charging at a public charging station and normal charging at home. 
  • CHAdeMO. A Japanese-developed rival to CCS, this 10-pin plug also allows for rapid DC charging at public charging points. The CHAdeMO socket in a car is always next to another socket (either Type 1 or Type 2), which is for home AC charging. 

Plug wars
So, will the plug wars have a definitive winner? Or will we end up with a planet as divided for EV plugs as it is for electrical outlets? 

It looks like we’ll be landing somewhere in between, with one fast-charging standard per region. Now already, governments are pushing for consolidation around regionally preferred connectors. In North America, it’s CCS1, in Europe CCS2, in Japan CHAdeMO and in China they have their own GB/T standard, one for AC and DC charging each. 

Tesla’s Supercharger combines some of the best aspects of all these systems – but because it remains limited to Tesla itself, it also adds to the proliferation of connector types.

Find specialists
We could get a lot more technical, but fleet managers need not become specialists; they just need to find specialists. Those could be the Charge Point Operators (CPOs), who manage the hardware, or the e-Mobility Service Providers (eMSPs), who specialise in software and service delivery (many suppliers will fulfil both roles). 

In most cases, their trusted lease partners will have oven-ready solutions for everything, from assessing a fleet's need for e-mobility to picking the right EVs and partnering with CPOs and eMSPs. 

Terra incognita
Even tricky issues like home charging have solutions, both in terms of ownership (does the employer or employee pay for the installation?) and reimbursement of home charges (specialists offer modules that measure use and automate repayment). 

Yes, for newcomers, the e-mobility ecosystem is bewildering; but it's no longer terra incognita: experienced guides are available, and they have cleared paths through the jungle towards a future fleet that's greener, cleaner and cheaper. When will you plug in?

Image: Shutterstock

Authored by: Frank Jacobs