EV infrastructure: opportunities and challenges

24 June 2020

André ten Bloemendal, VP Commercial Sales, Europe, at ChargePoint and Christof Engelskirchen, chief economist at Autovista Group, explore the world of electric-vehicle infrastructure from pricing to grid capacity management to leasing models and envisage the infrastructure of the future.

You can read the full interview here

Q: What is your view on the technology roadmap for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)?

A: If you look at a plug-in hybrid, that is a little bit of a strange animal, because it has two engines in one car. Why would you want two engines in one car? It is a transitional technology towards the battery-electric vehicle. If you look at the recent press release from Daimler saying that they have decided to stop all efforts to make a hydrogen fuel cell private car, that is along the lines that we think things will go.

Fuel cells will play a role in heavy-duty trucks, but less so for private consumers. Where you need a fuel cell to store more energy than you can with a battery, fuel cells make sense. Batteries would be too big and too heavy if they were to power a long-distance drive in trucks. Here, you offset the less efficient means of getting energy into the vehicle against the mileage capacity you gain from the fuel cell.

André ten Bloemendal

Q: Do you have a vision for what electric vehicle infrastructure looks like? How far should you have to drive to find an empty charging station, for example?

A: If you drive an internal combustion engine (ICE) car, sometimes you will drive it until your tank goes empty or until your fuel tank indicator lights up on your dashboard. That is not the behaviour you see in people driving BEVs.

When you see somebody driving a BEV, they readily adopt the behaviour of connecting the car to the grid the moment they park it for a long period. Not for 10 minutes, but say you park your car at your home, you connect it. If you park your car at your workplace, you connect it. That is generally what you do. I would rephrase that question, from ‘how far should you have to drive’ to ‘how likely should it be that a charging station is available at the place I leave my car for, say, longer than three hours?’.

Q: So, if I plan to park my car for three hours or more?

A: You should assume there would be a charging station available, in 100% of the cases. There are two reasons this is desirable. One is you always start with a charged battery, which means on normal use, the size of the battery doesn’t matter that much anymore, so you don’t need oversized batteries.

The second thing, which is maybe more important is, to do with one of the questions I am often asked: ‘what about grid capacity? Can the grid in Europe cope with the enormous amount of energy that has to distributed if everyone uses EVs?’. The answer to that is no, not at all. However, how can that be? For a very simple reason: the behaviour of people is that they start working in the morning and start going back home in the evening and there is only a window of two and a half hours where people arrive at their workplace and arrive at their home.

If, as I just explained, you then connect your car to the grid, and everybody does so at the same time, the peak at the start of the charging session is enormous, and the grid cannot cope. But that’s not an issue if you allow smart charging, whereby you allow the start point of your session, or the maximum power provided in your session, to be influenced by the grid, or by the station operator or by whoever does it, so that the peak is flattened. Again, this requires easy access to charging stations at the places people park the longest.

Q: It is not always desirable for good battery health for a battery to be charged to 100% all the time. How do you manage those types of considerations? What are the rules for battery charging?

A: Our systems ‘handshake’ with the car. We listen to the car, and in fact, the car dictates the charge-power. The manufacturer of the car sets it. While the manufacturer has to provide a warranty to the driver or owner of the car, it does that on the basis that the battery is treated in the right way.

So, the manufacturer allows the charging station to influence the length of the session and the amount of power that you push to the car, but the car, in the end, decides what the maximum charge is, what the minimum is. The rules are set between the car manufacturer and us.

This article contains extracts from the full interview between Christof Engelskirchen and André ten Bloemendal.

You can read the full transcript, in which the two discuss ChargePoint’s business model and the rules for battery charging, here.

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