Electric vehicle charging infrastructure will see a frenzy of change over the next ten years. That will involve how it is made and installed, how it operates and even whether it is needed at all. For example, the 1.3 million electric vehicles for the disabled, obese and elderly being sold this year will rise to over three million in 2021 and none of them will have a charging station - you simply plug them into a regular socket.
Registering that the most convenient and affordable charging station is none at all, the e-bike manufacturers have at last started to move in the same direction. Adoption of the new lithium-ion batteries releases a huge amount of weight and space and a charger can now be fitted into the e-bike. That will become more affordable as the years go by.
The 25 million plus sale of e-bikes - outnumbering all other forms of EV put together - is not as exciting for charging station manufacturers as it seems to be at first sight. Nearly all of the sales are in China at knock down prices and replacement bikes often do not lead to charger sales, even when a separate charger is still needed by the design.
On the other hand, the 160 kilometer range of most pure electric cars will deter most car buyers for many years to come and there is no way the mainstream electric car manufacturers will add one gram of extra weight yet awhile - certainly not a convenient integrated on-board charger. There are standards for car chargers delivering AC, meaning the electronics to put the appropriate DC onto the traction battery is on board, but adoption is heavily in the direction of charging stations delivering the correct DC, thus minimising the weight and maximising the range of the vehicle.
Dominant but rapidly changing car requirement
By far the largest market for charging stations is for cars. Today and up to the end of 2015, that primarily means chargers used at home for pure electric cars, despite the fact that hybrids vastly outsell pure electric cars and will continue to do so throughout the decade.
Hybrid cars are usually either mild hybrids that cannot plug into a charging station or plug in hybrids with a feeble all-electric range of 20-30 kilometers that will not encourage many purchasers to buy a charging station.
Fast forward to the second half of the decade and that changes with plug in hybrids in very large numbers having a useful 40-200 kilometers range. At that time, hybrid car purchasers will tend to buy a charging station just to save money by using electricity at one fifth of the price whenever they can. Oh yes, and it's nice to save the planet. In addition, the huge increase in number of plug in vehicles of all sorts will generate a significant market for outdoor charging stations and ones at destination such as workplaces and supermarkets.
Plenty of options if you make chargers
Those making charging stations will have many strategies to choose from. Beyond cars and e-bikes, they can address a $2.6 billion 2021 market for charging stations for other electric vehicles - land, water and air. Most of that will be for land-based vehicles but high margin opportunities are still attractive with the new electric aircraft, airships, on water and underwater vehicles and so on. For example, the traction battery in a tugboat or Autonomous Underwater Vehicle AUV or military land vehicle can be ten times as big as a car traction battery - it is not all about numbers.
Technology in ferment
In parallel with the rapidly changing mix of requirements and locations for charging over the next decade, we have completely new approaches to the technology and performance of charging stations.
Energy harvesting to provide the electricity involves solar panels, wind turbines and so on but in changing form, the new flexible solar film being particularly attractive visually and financially.
However, that is all too feeble for the fast charging that most car users really want when away from home, meaning under one hour and preferably only minutes. Here we deal with up to megawatts and heavy power engineering often involving three phase power supplies but also an interest in large lithium-ion batteries to store electricity slowly delivered at everyday currents then pulse it in.
Of course such thunderbolts require extreme safety measures and still the battery can be destroyed or its life greatly shortened. The lawyers will have a field day if vehicles and charging stations are not designed for what they will experience.
Uncertainty even about the building blocks
Does that mean supercapacitors across the traction and charging station batteries, third generation surge tolerant batteries or supercabatteries? Will supercapacitors, otherwise known as ultracapacitors power some vehicles without a battery or with a small, low cost battery? All these questions are being resolved over the coming decade and the answers will be different for the various types of vehicle, with the charging station manufacturers needing to pay close attention.
Financial uncertainties and opportunities
Then there is the financial aspect. Grants and tax breaks abound in the world of charging stations and, in addition, pure electric car manufacturers such as Nissan are heavily funding them in order to boost sales of their pure electric cars.
Some organisations such as electricity utilities seem to be placing orders for public charging stations primarily to boost their image and explore new possibilities rather that log a clearly understood payback. When will the easy money be withdrawn? Can outdoor charging stations be viable? Do they have to provide fast charging? Battery swapping is splendid for fleets and it can sometimes be even faster that filling with gasoline.
However, will battery swapping be a success beyond forklifts and on-road vehicle fleets where there is little or no variety of battery shape and electrical characteristic? No one knows the answers yet. Some investments will crash and some will pay back handsomely.
The network must improve
There is a great deal of opportunity to improve the network behind charging stations. We have all heard about the dream of the envisioned smart grid using the traction batteries of millions of vehicles to balance load but borrowing electricity from vehicles is surely some way off when charging time and vehicle range i.e. affordable battery capacity are inadequate for so many needs. Certainly car traction batteries have no spare capacity yet awhile.
Other systems issues
There are other systems issues and opportunities. For example, at the forthcoming event Electric Vehicles - Land Sea Air Europe 2011 in Stuttgart Germany 28-29 June, Siemens AG will present on charging infrastructure and Dr Zafer Sahinoglu, Senior Principal Member Research Staff of Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories will present.
He says, "When electric vehicles replace fuel vehicles in the near future, inevitably power grids will experience a burden to charge tens and thousands of EVs. Aggregate EV charging load may show self-similarity, and thus make load forecasting via traditional methods such as Markov-Chains and auto regression inapplicable. I shall explain how intelligent EV charging schedules and admission control mechanisms are needed to reduce the probability of power outage, while satisfying quality of service requirements of the charging EVs."
On the other hand, Siemens has just announced an exceptionally fast charging station and it will present on this. The many producers of on and off-road electric vehicles, electric aircraft and boats present will be able to give their own views and needs for charging infrastructure and there is even a three hour optional Masterclass on the subject.
On board charging transmogrifies
Then there is the allied subject of on-board charging with the first designed-to-purpose simplified ICE range extenders from Polaris Industries, fuel cells from Intelligent Energy, mini-turbines from Bladon Jets, heat, light and movement harvesting from Asola and others. These will also be thoroughly covered by best in class speakers. The next generation batteries, software configurable batteries, Nanotecture supercabatteries and other exotica that help with charging will also be covered. This subject is exciting, rapidly changing both commercially and technically and frankly rather unpredictable as yet. For more see www.IDTechEx.com/evEUROPE.