Surprises in electric vehicle charging infrastructure

30 November 2010

IDTechEx’s report ‘Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure 2011-2021’ revealed some unexpected results
IDTechEx’s report ‘Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure 2011-2021’ revealed some unexpected results

IDTechEx’s report ‘Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure 2011-2021’ revealed some unexpected results.

According to the report, only half of the money spent in the next ten years on electric vehicles, hybrid and pure electric, will be on cars. The electric car business is hugely competitive, whereas there is less competition and premium pricing in most of the other forms of electric vehicle and their components. This involves vehicles for land, water and air, but the full picture will be covered by the conference ‘Future of Electric Vehicles’ in San Jose, California, from 7-8 December.

About $2.3 billion will be spent on plug in charging stations at ex factory prices in 2015. However, in contrast to the market for the vehicles, the market for their charging stations is greatly dominated by car versions.

Cars are usually sold one at a time, with most sales of the increasingly popular plug-in versions triggering supply of a charging station. Indeed, the first 3000 Nissan Leaf pure electric cars come with free charging stations as will the first 4500 Chevrolet Volt plug in hybrid cars. However, a company buying one electric van and then some more, may find that one charger is enough for all of them. Admittedly, some forklift fleets intensively use lead acid battery chargers but lithium-ion batteries and fast charging are just starting to be offered for forklifts by Linde, Nissan and others.

The non-car charging station business is expected to peak in numbers in 2019 and in value in 2017. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, innovation is slower with cars whereas a Suzuki electric motorcycle in Japan is already charged by an on board fuel cell. DesignLine electric buses in New Zealand are charged by on board Capstone turbines. Batteries with longer range reduce the need for charging stations. For example, lithium sulphur batteries have succeeded in pure electric manned aircraft and military electric vehicles. A much larger battery is often affordable giving longer range, also reducing the need for charging stations. Some 400kWh battery packs have already appeared in military and marine vehicles.

There are other reasons why few charging stations are needed beyond cars. Whereas the rarely seen solar panel on an electric car may increase range by three miles or so and regenerative braking increases the range by something more, the many other forms of energy harvesting appearing on other electric vehicles ‘pack more punch’.

For example, energy harvesting shock absorbers on a truck can each generate one kilowatt, enough to power a red glowing bar fire. Indeed, many pure electric autonomous underwater vehicles have no charging station because they stay at sea for years by rising to the surface to garner solar and wave power when needed.

Although heavy industrial electric vehicles will see strong growth over the next decade, as detailed in the report, ‘Electric Vehicles 2011-2021’, it will take place in the outdoors for earthmoving where there will be nowhere to plug in. These Caterpillar hybrid electric bulldozers and Hyundai heavy outdoor forklifts are hybrids with no charging station. They are going hybrid to improve performance and fuel economy, as are tugs pulling large ships; fast growth in sales of electric vehicles without the need for charging stations.

Global demand for charging stations using contacts to the vehicle are forecast to quadruple in the next decade to reach over $20 billion including installation. Ex factory prices for the hardware will be about one quarter of this but all the figures are depressed by very low prices in China where much of the demand will occur.

China is building around 50% of the worlds new accommodation today and IDTechEx forecast that it will buy about 50% of the worlds electric buses (hybrid and pure electric) in 2021. Indeed, East Asia will take 40% of the EV charging station market by value in 2021.

Pure electric cars and, in later years, a larger number of plug in hybrid cars drive the charger market. Those seeking high margin niche applications will find plenty of opportunity elsewhere, notably in industrial, commercial, military and marine applications.

There are so-called ‘wild cards’ as well. Governments, including local governments, subsidise the introduction of public charging points. The Chinese government is spending $5 billion on over 500,000 public chargers because apparently most Chinese people live in apartments. With their 100 million electric bicycles, they take the battery or the whole bicycle to their apartment to charge it. That is not possible with an electric car, so the 100 or so Chinese manufacturers of pure electric cars fail to sell many as yet. In most other countries, residential chargers will make up most of the market. Unfortunately, premature withdrawal of financial support can make these car markets collapse.

There is an idea to put contactless charging in the surface of the M25 around London; perhaps generating a one billion dollar level of charger business, but it is too speculative to count just yet. By contrast, Hino Motors, KAIST, Delphi with WiTricity, Evatran, HaloIPT, Nissan and others have demonstrated impressive contactless charging for EVs on a more modest scale; they will grow the market, trumpeting superior safety and convenience. This wastes some power but resonant transfer is an improvement.

However, the standards committees are concentrating on cables with contacts at the end, with Europe as the laggard. The European Commission and European standards organisations hope for a common interface in general use by 2017. Quixotically, they hope their standards will become global despite the fact that North America, China and Japan are showing more urgency, already pushing for their standards to be adopted globally.

Nonetheless, there are no agreed and adopted standards anywhere for the fastest ‘Level 3’ form of charging, a top request for public places. If Level 3 can be made safe and affordable, charging some EVs in ten minutes is possible if they have the right type of lithium-ion battery. Fastest charging means expensive hardware and installation at present, often with a large lithium-ion battery and ultracapacitor bank in the charger. Copying the 40MW delivery of a petrol station is not necessarily feasible, safe or affordable yet.

An alternative would be $500,000 battery swapping stations, some taking only one minute, at least for standardised taxi and bus fleets. Battery swapping has been considered for mainstream cars, but it seems that there is a lack of interest in standardising battery shape, fitment and interconnects.

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