The number of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) will balloon to 200 000 by 2020 from about 2000 today, according to a new report from IHS Automotive.
The explosive growth is already underway, the study finds. The number of DC chargers are expected to triple to nearly 6000 between this year alone. Fast chargers use high-voltage DC power and can charge a car in less than a half hour instead of the hours it takes with lower voltage AC chargers.
“IHS believes fast charging is a necessary step to promote higher adoption of EVs, but there will need to also be better consumer education regarding behavioral changes that may need to happen when owning an electric vehicle—such as charging overnight or at work,” Alastair Hayfield, associate research director at IHS Automotive, said in a statement.
Some states, like Texas and California, are already installing super charging networks along highways or in highly populated areas. The Netherlands is building the world’s largest nationwide EV fast-charging network with more than 200 chargers. Some stores, such as Walgreens, are installing fast chargers wherever they can.
Forecasts for chargers, fast or not, must be taken with a grain of salt. Many global forecasts for electric vehicles have overestimated the growth of the market. Fewer electric vehicles on the road means less of a need for fast chargers, which are far more expensive than their AC counterparts. Navigant Research estimates there will be 100 000 fast chargers worldwide by 2020, mostly in Western Europe and Asia.
Some governments and EV enthusiasts who would like to see more electrified personal transportation see the fast charger as a chicken and egg problem. More fast chargers could reduce range anxiety, but it’s hard to justify the cost of a large network of DC fast chargers if it will be years before there is a critical mass of EVs on the road. Also, the price for DC chargers has already dropped significantly, and could continue to drop, so there could be a financial benefit to waiting.
There is also a technology issue that could halt widespread rollouts. There is a standards war between Japan’s CHAdeMO and the Combined Charging System (CCS) from the Society of Automotive Engineers. The Netherlands will get around the issue by offering both standards on its chargers.
The Japanese are pulling out ahead, according to IHS, which noted that nearly 80 percent of electric vehicles on the road today are CHAdeMO-compatible. There still is no clear winner. BMW and Volkswagen have both chosen CCS as the standard for fast charging on their electric offerings.
Tesla is not worried about standards wars, as it uses proprietary technology for its superchargers. The company’s founder and CEO, Elon Musk, announced a nationwide supercharger network that will install DC fast charging every 100 miles or so on major highways throughout the U.S. The 200 stations will be installed within two years. The stations will be free for Tesla drivers.
“These Superchargers represent a powerful proposition for Tesla—drivers can charge faster, have U.S.-wide coverage by 2015 and will charge for free for life,” Hayfield said. “This triple threat will aim to lock drivers into the Tesla experience, and also will give Tesla a perceived advantage over other original equipment manufacturers competing in the same market.”
There’s just one other issue that could impede the impressive growth of DC fast chargers: the grid itself. Walgreens found that when it installed electric vehicle chargers at 800 stores in 2011, only about 150 were DC fast chargers because many of the locations did not have the power infrastructure to install a 480-volt, DC charger. In most cases, the utilities were not interested in upgrading transformers or other infrastructure to support the chargers.
The networks will also require more than just upgraded transformers to handle the extra load. If enough people plug in their cars during the hottest afternoons of the year, the load could be a significant strain on the grid. The EV Project, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, has found that when people plug into fast chargers, they tend to fill up, instead of just topping off to get home.
Ideally, fast charging networks would be built with advanced communications networks that connect to a local utility, so that the utility can dynamically charge the vehicles while still maintaining local reliability.
Technology can manage some of the charging load, but the proliferation of DC charging will still have to come with increased awareness for EV drivers, argues Hayfield.
Photo: Tesla, IHS Automotive