With the rising awareness and demand for sustainable living, the need for greener ways to commute has also risen. People are buying more electric cars than ever to reduce carbon emissions and play their part in building a sustainable future.
Governments around the globe are playing a key role in aiding this switch by providing incentives to drivers for switching to EVs. According to the Global EV Outlook report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2021, the global government spend on providing tax deductions and other incentives to drivers to switch to EVs in 2020 reached USD14 billion – a 25% growth compared to 2019. Many governments, including that of the UK have also announced their plans to completely switch to electric vehicles in a span of few years.
The growing demand for EVs has led to the need for proper public charging infrastructure to be in place to charge these vehicles. However, the possibility of supply meeting the current market demands remains farfetched. EV charging infrastructure in public places is aggressively improving but it has not been able to match the EV growth in many regions. In the European Union for instance, the number of EVs per charging station has increased substantially over the years, from two vehicles per station in 2010 to 11 vehicles per station in 2020. Also, just three countries in the EU, namely the Netherlands, France, and Germany, account for 70% of EV charging stations but account for only 38.1% of the total vehicles in use in the region as of 2020 – with Germany having 18.5% of the total vehicles, while France and Netherland comprise of 16% and 3.6% of the vehicles, respectively.
Even though, the public infrastructure is not adequately available, the technological advancements in the public stations to provide drivers and operators with ample features to control, operate, and manage them remotely will help the situation. Charging Infrastructure has advanced to provide better facilities, such as their capability to balance and distribute load equally among multiple vehicles when they are stationed for charging at a time. They can also provide higher loads when fewer vehicles are charging to speed up the process. The public EV charging stations work on the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) that facilitates communication between charging stations and their management systems via Wi-Fi or cellular technologies. They provide a host of benefits to the drivers and the grid, wherein, drivers can reserve a charging place in advance and remotely manage their charging needs through a smartphone application, while the grid can increase or decrease power supply to meet the dynamic needs of the charging station. Station operators can diagnose problems with the stations in advance and reduce downtime – thus, optimising operations, and dynamically report the status of each station in real-time to the concerned authorities.
Most governments across the globe have started to promote charging of EV’s at homes to reduce the load on the public charging stations and have started providing drivers with incentives for installing EV chargers at homes. Some governments, including that of the UK have proposed the installation of a charger in all new homes that are being built in the country. Installation of chargers is also mandatory in in all infrastructure facilities that are going major renovations – thus, ensuring an increased adoption of EVs among citizens. The majority of smart chargers used at homes use Wi-fi, Bluetooth, and cellular technology to interact with the vehicle and the grid, and provide drivers with solutions, such as controlling the amount and time of charge, using a smartphone application. It allows drivers to charge their vehicles at a particular time, thus helping them make use of the cheapest available electricity. Drivers can also fix upon a certain amount of charge they want in their vehicles - further helping utility companies to define certain limits for energy consumption so that the grids are not overloaded at any point of time. The charger simultaneously interacts with the car, charging operator, and the utility company through data connections, always sending them data points to optimise the charging process. Initially, home EV charging was more prominently done using alternative current (AC) chargers that support car charging overnight, simply stating a unidirectional charging adept at taking power off the grid and delivering it to the car. However, over time, home charging stations have evolved from stationary storage to bidirectional charging that includes Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and vehicle-to-home (V2H) charging – thus, implying that charged batteries can also be used to charge homes for a few days. Drivers now also have the option to use DC chargers, which offer a quicker way to charge their vehicles as compared to the standard AC chargers. The charging process via DC chargers can reduce the charging time from overnight to a span of few hours, depending upon the size of the battery.
The cost and time convenience of charging EVs at homes is expected to be another market driver that will help in increasing the EV adoption among drivers. Drivers have the convenience of charging their vehicles at any time and can even leave the vehicle to get charged overnight using the cheapest available electricity due to lower demands. Apart from the upfront costs of installing a charger, they are effectively cheaper than charging the vehicle at charging stations. Drivers can also allow their home chargers to be used by other drivers, thus generating an extra source of income for themselves.
To further optimise charging and increase driver confidence, the industry is moving towards wireless charging solutions. Wireless charging is done via the process of magnetic induction. This involves a set of transmitter coils on the road surface which produce a magnetic field using current from the electricity grid. Another coil is installed underneath the vehicle which converts the magnetic field back into electrical energy – using it to charge the battery.
This technology, when implemented will allow the driver to simultaneously charge their vehicle while driving and ensure that the vehicles never run out of charge. This on-the-go technology is still in its very early stages and requires a great infrastructure investment in the form of wireless charging plates embedded under the road surface with power sources installed all along the roads to provide a constant source of power to the embedded charging plates
The high power and voltage requirements, along with the need of adding another charger to the vehicle, thereby increasing its cost, pose a major challenge to the implementation of this wireless technology in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the wireless technology is still not fully efficient, with efficiency as low as 60% compared to regular wired charging. The present-day limitations of implementing wireless charging with today’s technology implies that smart wired fast chargers are the way to go for EV charging for a considerable amount of time in the near future.