Electric cars and charging stations

EV charging in South Africa

Electric cars and charging stations – the one cannot live without the other.

Although it is totally possible to charge your electric car at home and the office and even at the mall, for electric cars to be adopted as the main means of transport in the future, we need charging stations to increase in number and evolve in capability. We need access to charging stations everywhere in the same way that we have access to fuel stations. Charging speeds need to increase as well to improve the convenience of charging. As charging stations increase in number and charging speeds increase, the less important the size of the battery will become. Faster and accessible charging means smaller battery requirements. Smaller batteries mean cheaper, lighter, and cheaper vehicles. Together with the other benefits of electric vehicles like the ease of driving and low maintenance requirements means that the adoption of this technology will substantially increase. Tesla has introduced a 1 MW charger operating at a 1000 V with the introduction of the Semi Truck. This means that a million Joules of energy flows into the battery per second. That is a lot of energy! This is just one indicator of how charging technology and charging stations are going to evolve.

The Tesla Supercharger evolution is indicative of this phenomenon as can by their successive introductions:  

September 2012           V1        100 kW             450 V

March 2016                  V2        145 kW             450 V

March 2019                  V3        250 kW             450 V

December 2022            V4        1 000 kW          1000 V

New market entrance

Providing a charging network is a major competitive advantage to the motor manufacturers and most manufacturers offers charging either directly or through partnerships with companies specialising in producing charging stations. This is definitely an opportunity for new market entrants in a brand new market. It is also interesting how Automotive manufacturers (OEM’s) and Oil Companies are getting behind these initiatives, branding or co-branding charging stations. Tesla is the only company that I know of that actually has an in house manufacturing plant for these stations.

Seamless, easy

Charging time is valuable and the process should be seamless and quick. In Tesla’s case there is no interaction with the charging station. I remember renting a Tesla Model S and when I brought the Supercharger plug closer to the charging flap, it simply opened automatically, and I could plug it in. Seconds later it was charging requiring no input from me. The car ‘handshakes’ with the charger and the billing is seamless. Soon the car was charging at a rate of more than 850 km per hour!

Battery swapping

The idea of battery swapping has been around for a while. An Israeli company called A Better Place made a lot of progress in this space but eventually did not survive, filing for bankruptcy in May 2013. Tesla also did a demonstration in June 2013 – showing that it can be done in 1 minute and 36 seconds but decided subsequently to move away from this concept and focus on installing their Supercharger network. A company that has successfully implemented the battery swapping concept is NIO in China where there are functionally operating battery swapping centres which would swap your battery in three minutes. This is much faster than charging the battery. The interesting part of this model is that you pay for the difference in state of charge between the battery that you give versus the battery you receive. This approach also allows the separation of the cost of the car and the battery. For example, you can buy the car and lease the battery, reducing the cost of owning an EV substantially. It also addresses the fear many have regarding the cost of replacing a battery. I believe as time goes on this will turn out to be less of an issue. Car batteries are managed better (and maybe built better). I have not noticed any degradation in my almost 5 year old BMW i3.

Enjoyable charging experience

It is a fact that charging takes longer than filling a tank and it is helpful if charging takes place at locations where there are things to do. Restaurants are popular as are shops and play areas for the kids. I had the pleasure of enjoying a lunch at a beautiful wine farm on the Helshoogte pass while my car was charging, also visiting an interesting Farm Stall on the N2 (charging site in development) as well as the V&A Waterfront (charging for free for BMW). It is part of the fun of having an EV to find new charging locations and experience what they have to offer.

AUTHOR: Theo Calitz

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