Wednesday, August 3, 2022
As part of the Green Deal, the European Union has set an ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and has decided to ban the sale of new fossil-fuel cars after 2035. Electric-car unit sales grew last year by nearly 70%, to 2.3 million, but some barriers to electric-vehicle adoption can only be overcome by effective strategies and practices.
In a panel session at the recent Energy Tech Summit in Warsaw, Poland, e-mobility pundits discussed six ways to make mass-market EV adoption a reality.
Managing charging load
Public transportation is an effective way for cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that all new buses would now be electric and that the bus fleet would be fully electric by 2034 or sooner. Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands have also committed to having 100% of new buses use zero-emission technologies in the coming years.
“The main challenge is not increasing public transport ridership” but achieving public transit fleet electrification, said Amos Haggiag, co-founder and CEO of Optibus. “If you take the 10,000 to 11,000 buses in London and make them electric, there isn’t enough electricity to power them all. You have to spread the charging load in a way that you won’t have too many vehicles charging at the same time. A lot of the work we do is to prioritize when you charge, how long you charge, and which vehicle to use.”
Founded in 2014, Optibus has developed a cloud-native AI platform that plans and runs public transit networks in 1,000 cities around the world. “We are the AI engine used to design the routes, the networks, the timetables, and the frequency of transit systems,” said Haggiag.
Optibus has just closed a US$100 million Series D round of funding, bringing the total raised so far to US$260 million.
Generating power locally
The need to decentralize electricity production is becoming a major factor of change.
“One of the principal problems that we see is the ability to generate the power locally, far away from the grid, in a way that’s sustainable, and to be able to deploy chargers in a much quicker way without the regulatory delays or the other utility delays that are ubiquitous both in North America and in Europe,” said Martin Lynch, COO at FreeWire Technologies.
FreeWire was founded in 2014 to address the growing need for ultra-fast EV charging infrastructure. “We’re looking to fundamentally change the way energy is deployed away from the grid and building up distributed energy storage systems for our customers, as well as being able to deploy fast electric-vehicle charging using lithium-ion batteries,” said Lynch.
FreeWire’s Boost Charger is claimed to deliver fast charging (up to 150-kW output) while minimizing stress on the local power grid with the help of a built-in 160-kWh battery. The product can provide fast charging to two EVs simultaneously.
“We differentiate ourselves from our competitors in terms of really reducing the load on the grid and being able to support grid deployment of electric-vehicle charging, knowing that the grid around the world is limited in terms of both energy and power-distribution capabilities,” said Lynch.
The first generation has reached mass production, and the next generation is expected in the next several weeks.
Creating a frictionless experience
The user experience must be frictionless, with certainty of access to charging points, whether on highways or in rural areas. More EV charging stations should also be installed alongside public structures such as office buildings, supermarkets, and universities.
“People are not going to go into something that’s inconvenient,” said John de Souza, president and co-founder of Ample, which has developed a modular battery-swapping approach as an alternative or complement to charging stations.
Recharging also needs to be faster. An Uber driver can either drive and make money or spend 12 hours a week at a charging station and earn 30% less, said de Souza. “If you’re making a living from your car, and you’re effectively losing a lot of your revenue, it can be pretty rough.”
A cultural shift is needed before massive adoption, the panelists said. “We have to change the habits of drivers that are used to filling their car with gas or petrol and then going on for the next three or four days,” said Lynch. “We need to change the way that we charge our cars — not trying to fill up, but doing smaller charges more frequently, at work and other places like homes, apartments, or condos, as well as in public places.”
Easing charging and range anxiety
A recent survey released by EY shows that those who already own an EV are less prone to range anxiety and less concerned about charging infrastructure. The top motivation for second-time EV buyers is that “EVs now have more range,” and only 27% of EV owners are concerned about charging infrastructure.
Things are different for first-time buyers. Anxiety about charging and range is a common concern that keeps combustion-engine car owners from switching to EVs.
Battery swapping, a common concept in China, aims to avoid range anxiety by allowing electric cars to extend their range by exchanging a discharged battery for a charged one at a swapping station. At the station, the battery swap takes about the same time as it takes to fill a combustion-engine car’s tank.
San Francisco–based Ample is bringing its battery-swapping business model to Europe and Japan later this year. “We wanted to be able to work across manufacturers and wanted to deploy infrastructure very quickly, so we came up with this modular battery-swapping approach,” said de Souza. “We developed the small battery modules that we can fit into different vehicles by making [the module] adaptive, so it doesn’t require any changes from the OEM.”
In April, the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX vehicle drove more than 1,000 km from Sindelfingen, Germany, to Cassis, in southern France, on a single charge. Data analysis had a role to play in reaching this milestone.
“With increasing electrification of the cars and with more and more electromobility, there are definite needs and demands that are coming onto the infrastructure, and we believe that the data we generate in the cars can be very helpful in mitigating the worst outcomes and making this demand or this changeover much smoother,” said Carsten Kaefert, product and category owner for energy-related data products at Mercedes-Benz.
The data generated by EVs provides key insights such as driving habits, geolocation, battery charge, and the availability of charging systems. It also informs utilities and distribution system operators (DSOs) of where the load generated by EV charging is greatest and the demand for electricity for driving is highest, allowing DSOs to focus their investments where they are most needed and enabling a transition to cheaper and faster e-mobility, said Kaefert.
“We should use the different types of information we can get, be it from the vehicles, from the infrastructure, from all the parties involved in the whole chain (e.g., smart charging, green energy sources) and integrate that data to better understand it,” Kaefer said. “Then I think we can turn that challenge into an opportunity to use EVs and their batteries to stabilize and improve the networks that we have.”
The EV industry is multidisciplinary, with contributions from many cross-industry sectors. As the adoption of EVs accelerates, collaboration is required on an entirely new scale, the panelists said.
“We are at a unique point in history where we see this dramatic change in society in terms of how we transport people and products,” said Lynch. Challenges persist in such critical areas as vehicle charging time, driving range, and access to efficient EV charging stations, but the mass electrification of transport is well under way. “We have all the technologies in place to succeed,” but the deployment can only be effective and profitable if governments and regulations support it, Lynch concluded.
Ignas Mikutis, CEO of charging station contractor Elinta Charge, extended an invitation: “I would like to encourage everyone to look for the opportunities to review the technologies we already have in place, and we will discuss how to work harder toward finding this consensus between governments, businesses, and the people who are eventually driving the EVs.”
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