Most drivers live in cities, but current EV-charging options make owning an EV unattractive. We need to think outside the box and reimagine urban charging.
On a daily basis, we read about developments in e-mobility. Whether it’s new car launches or government incentives, e-mobility as a solution to air pollution is everywhere. Everywhere that is, except in our driveways or parking spaces.
Recent surveys undertaken by Delta EE and McKinsey indicate that almost 70% of us are thinking about an EV, as our next car. However, around 60% also indicated that charging was the single biggest barrier to actually buying a new EV.
What most people forget, particularly in Europe, is that around 72% of us live in urban areas, meaning larger towns and cities. When this number is considered, it indicates that providing adequate charging in urban areas is key to the overall success of e-mobility.
Our Time is Precious
But what does urban charging mean and why is it difficult to solve? In reality and away from the nice politics in our capital cities and the boardrooms of our automakers, most of us lead extremely busy and often stressful lives. The few precious hours of free time per week are very valuable to us. Therefore, it should not be surprising, when car owners or drivers say, they have absolutely no desire to spend time looking for a charger and then wait hours for their car to be charged. Who can blame them? This is simply a loss of valuable time.
It’s also a trade-off between the environment and free time. For some of us this is a welcome possibility, but for most of us the environment is important, up to a limit. Many think, I have a perfectly good diesel or gasoline car now. An electric car would be nice, but the hassle is far too high a price to pay for some environmental good.
In reality, we need to consider urban EV charging purely from the perspective of the consumer. Because, if we don’t, they won’t adopt, and e-mobility will probably never happen.
Ideally, both car companies and governments would provide cars and charging facilities capable of megawatt charging – which would mean fully charging a large car in under 5 minutes. We’re not there yet, although it is being discussed and may come in the not too distant future.
AC-Chargers are like Dial-Up Modems
Currently, urban charging is far away from this vision. I like to equate the current AC charging infrastructure in cities with the dial-up internet modems from 20 years ago. That is more or less the same level of technology, except, today we already have cars, which can charge with the equivalent of a very high-speed broadband connection.
Having said this, I am surprised every day to see cities, utilities and car makers promoting and installing this slow charging infrastructure. While AC-chargers do have some advantages for drivers with private parking, it remains by kW of power one of the most expensive options of providing charging infrastructure and certainly the least efficient or effective.
Making e-mobility attractive to drivers means making charging convenient. Convenience means easy to access and not time consuming. Therefore, we need to make charging faster and bring it to where the driver can access it easily.
High-Power Charging is Part of the Solution
The obvious solution to faster charging is High-Power Charging (HPC), which can be up to 15 times faster than the conventional AC-charging. This solution is being increasingly installed on the motorway system. It generally works very well and most new EVs are capable of HPC charging. It allows the weekly power needs of 250 km to be charged in 10-15 minutes. Something which all of us can imagine while running into a shop, post office or even while having a coffee.
But for those of us living in cities and towns, this technology in its current form is far away. High-power charging has two drawbacks. It is extremely capital-intensive, and this high investment will inevitably lead to higher consumer electricity costs. Additionally, it requires a powerful and stable electricity grid at the charger location. This unfortunately is very rare in our towns and cities, with only a limited number of sites fulfilling the basic requirements for high-power charging.
Accepting that high-power charging is the solution for urban drivers, the question becomes - how to make it economically viable and widely available? For most city mayors, the answer cannot be to invest tens of millions, in laying thick cables through city and suburban streets, taking years and causing massive disruption.
If we agree that high-power charging is the solution and we also agree that the stability of the grid is the major obstacle; then we need to find another way to make grid and charging work together.
This is what we have done at JOLT. We realized that the challenge to the electricity grid is to find a balance between higher and increasingly fluctuating power demands, while dealing with our growing dependence on renewable power, which by nature cannot be easily controlled.
Reimagining Urban Charging
Our solution to this problem was to design a high-power charger, mainly for urban needs. Understanding the limitations of the electricity grid, we integrated a large battery, which helps us handle the fluctuating availability of electricity in the cities. We also understood that the availability of power even within the cities differs, depending on where the charger is located. So, we designed a charger which could be connected to any available electrical connection or even placed where no electrical connection exists.
With the integrated battery, the charger can fill itself-up slowly during the night or at quiet times during the day, in between vehicle charging sessions.
While this was a technology which already existed, we took it a step further. First, we made the charger completely mobile. This means that the charger could be placed on a street without an electricity connection (i.e. stand-alone battery pack) and then later swapped with a full unit, taking the empty unit to a central recharging center, as needed. This creates significant flexibility in terms of location and convenience. Second, we have integrated a micro-grid controller into the charger. This allows the charger, when connected, to actively interact with the electricity grid.
It means, when the electricity grid has a shortage of power, JOLT can trigger all of the chargers or a group of chargers to push power back into the electricity grid, acting almost like a virtual power plant. Additionally, when the electricity grid has a surplus of renewable power, we can tell all the JOLT chargers to suck it up, bringing us lower cost electricity and stabilizing the grid at the same time.
By taking a highly innovative approach to EV-charging, we have found a way to turn our biggest obstacle, the stability of the electricity grid, into a significant advantage, compared to competing technologies, which are focused solely on charging cars. We call this charger-to-grid (C2G) technology and it will allow us to provide the wide scale availability of high-power charging to urban drivers, while at the same time ensuring the effective use of renewable energy in e-mobility and an economically viable urban charging infrastructure.
Maurice Neligan, CEO
Jolt Energy Group
Maurice Neligan is CEO of Jolt Energy Group, with operations based in Dublin and Munich. He is a leading e-mobility expert, having started his career at Siemens in the power generation business before moving to senior positions in the automotive business in the United States and Germany, working for companies such as SiemensVDO, Continental, MAN and Volkswagen Group. JOLT was founded in 2017 with the motto to “bring fast-charging downtown” and the vision to place a high-power charger on every street of every major city.