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Is this the charging future we want?

7528 Views 48 Replies 22 Participants Last post by  GJETSON
Casually glancing through the automotive press and websites, I am delighted to see more coverage of non-Tesla BEVs yet exasperated at the number of bloggers and journalists that pair the new crop of BEVs with a grim picture of the ‘public charging infrastructure’. Their simple solution: Let (Electrify America, EVgo, Tesla, the government, or some other company) solve the problem with (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) stations that can charge our ($90,000/$100,000/non-existent) vehicles in (5/10/20) minutes under certain* conditions. (* never explained in the articles.)

The buzz has reached the non-EV public. I used to be asked range questions. Now I am asked how I can drive out of my local area without a (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) station? People honestly ask to see one of these fantastic stations. I feel most of the well-intentioned inquirers are surprised when I tell them that except for longer drives, I charge the BOLT at home. I am sure they think I am crazy; they are perfectly convinced from the Internet they need the (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) stations before they could consider a BEV.

Even though I think it would be cool to have a (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) station in every existing gas station, I also wonder if we know what we are getting into. If we want it and will pay for it at the charger, I assure you investment money will come in. With money will come marketing and lobbying to make the investment pay off. That marketing and lobbying will affect our choices and future infrastructure.

Have we thought about what we are getting into?

Why don’t we walk through some simple math and finance to see what a full high-speed charging infrastructure could look like? At the least, we can start a good discussion.

To get the thinking going, let’s be very aggressive and build a high-speed charging infrastructure for 2 million non-Tesla vehicles. Two million vehicles are 10-20 times more BEVs than we have now. These vehicles will charge on a ‘gas station’ like basis, with no or minimal L2 charging while parked. This answers the common plaint by the press pundits: “We are not all rich and cannot afford to install personal parking chargers, street chargers would be extremely expensive, L2 chargers will be vandalized, these would require new taxes, landlords would face bankruptcy, etc., etc. We need a full network of high-speed chargers before EVs can be considered practical

It’s also a good a good assumption most owners will generally replace a petroleum mile with an electric mile. We would expect the same 18,000 miles per year or a total demand of about 5,300 kWh per vehicle per year. Over 2 million vehicles, this is about 10.5 Terawatt Hours (TWh = 10^12WH), or under 3% of the 2016 total electricity sales. This should not crash the grid… (See figures for calculations).

How many fast-charging points would be needed to be convenient and not strand the new BEV owners? We can make an educated guess that the new BEVs will have at least a 160-mile range. A good battery range means the new owners would only need to charge every 3 days if they want to replicate a petroleum, run-to-near empty, ‘fueling’ strategy. Charging every three days means 1/3 of the 2 million show up at their local fast-charging point in any one day. Let’s imagine they can spread themselves out over a 12-hour day (I know this is unlikely, but it’s nice to let people sleep). That means we need at least 56,000 charge ports, and more like 100,000 ports to avoid long queues. (Ports are not locations; a location will have more than one available charging port.) We are near to having the same number of charge ports as gas stations. Mission accomplished!

Yet we must pay for this. Whether it comes from subsidies or private investment, the drivers will pay for it in taxes or charging fees.

Let’s put in a bit under 100,000 non-Tesla charging ports. The (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) stations are probably not cheap due to load-balancing, water cooled cables, peak-load local storage, trenching, and other capital costs. Making 100,000 of them will drive costs down. For the sake of analysis, the total installed cost may be between the cost of a Tesla supercharger and a 50kW CHAdeMO, or $125,000. Our new infrastructure will cost $12 billion. I know this is a big number, but it is about half of what GM paid out in stock buybacks to satisfy their hedge-fund partners (HBR, 2015). The money is there if the public will pay for it and it goes to someone’s benefit.

Capital needs to be accounted for. There is no getting away from this. Any entity that owns the chargers will need to account for depreciation. Similarly, maintenance and administration need to be funded so that customers are not frustrated by out of service charging ports, and payments are recorded. Public financial information from companies such as BLINK, EFACEC, and ABB, as well as press releases from EVgo advise setting depreciation, maintenance and administration costs at about 25% of capital value per year. The annual base-costs are then $3 billion per year just to keep investors happy and the charging stations working.

(There may be some tax credits that make it easier. However, the tax shortfall needs to be filled, as do potholes that are normally ignored in state budget crunches caused by tax credits.) (See the attached figure)

Each driver or our 2 million new vehicles needs to spend at least $1,500 per year to cover that $3 billion in annual costs. Because the ‘gasoline model’ driver will be at a charger every three days, they may see a hook-up fee, or pay a monthly membership fee to offset the company’s costs. Maybe that’s acceptable for the speed or convenience; perhaps it's much cheaper than gas.

But $1,500 per year? Isn’t that getting close to the cost of a good L2, parking area charger?

But, all those parking area L2 chargers would be expensive, right? OK. Let’s provide one L2 charger for each new owner. I assume that a box that’s mainly a cable, a chip, and a relay would be less expensive in quantity. Let’s be generous and assume $1,500 all-in with installs. Over 2 million cars mean a cost of $3 billion, or about $9 billion less than the (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) station solution. (See figure)

Count me in as one who would like to see next-generation generation solutions speed the move from ICE to an EV future. We would have a lot more fun driving! However, technologies create social and systems changes that we should be aware of.

We should just think a little deeper about what we are wishing for.


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If I understand correctly, you're saying much of the public is unaware that EVs can be charged at home, or otherwise aren't able to due to lack of access to necessary infrastructure. You're proposing every EV buyer get $1,500 presumably to install 240v charging infrastructure? That, in addition to the $7,500 federal credit, and some state and local incentives.

There's no money in DCFC infrastructure in itself, similar to how there is very little money to be made at a petrol station by itself. The money is made in snack sales and lottery scratch-offs.

I'm a huge fan of EVs, but as I'm constantly saying, it's not the government's job to decide which technologies shall win, and which shall lose. That's up to the market to decide. Instead, it's the governments job to protect the health of citizens by preventing the tragedy of the commons. If the environment has unacceptable levels of pollutants, the government needs to determine the acceptable limits and create disincentives (taxes) to those pollutants sufficient to reach their target levels.
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My hunch is that improved battery tech will tend to decrease overall range, not increase it (in the long run). There will probably be 400 mile range EVs offered at some point, but they won't be very popular. I think the ~250 range might be around the sweet spot.

If battery technology improves so that they can charge more quickly, and the charging infrastructure is both commonplace and high output, then it reduces the necessity of a long range battery. 200 real world miles would be fine, as it's no problem to stop every 3hrs to charge for 10 minutes, for instance. No sense lugging around the weight and expense of a larger battery if a smaller one can be recharged quickly.

It's dumb to have an EV sitting around doing nothing while the owner has an additional expense of renting an ICE for long trips. There should be an app where people can swap cars. I've always thought it was crazy that I drive a car to the airport, pay a ton of money to allow it to occupy a few square feet of asphalt, pay a ton of money to rent a vehicle at my destination, all while people in my departure city are doing the same thing. Why aren't they using my vehicle while they are in my city while I use their vehicle while I'm in theirs?

For that matter, I have quite a few vehicles that mostly sit doing nothing. Might as well rent those out to produce a modest passive income.
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Good note. However, it's not clear why a larger battery is worth the cost other than to provide some personal security for the owner.
I was thinking more along the lines of 150 miles being the sweet spot, but considering cold weather effects and other range limiting scenarios, I figured 250 miles built in a good buffer. You'd want a car capable of 150 miles in worst case conditions, which is probably 250 mile range under ideal conditions, but perhaps even that is too conservative.

People will want a range that allows them to travel how long they would normally travel uninterrupted, which I would guess is about 3 hrs or less, or about 200 freeway miles. If they could charge in nearly the same amount of time as it takes to stretch the legs, and the chargers are located conveniently, then people generally won't feel they need more range.

As I've said elsewhere, I'd be fine with about 100 miles of range, as I don't intend to use an EV outside of a local area.
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Maybe it's not their job but it's a job they do. Through subsidies, supports, bailouts, tax breaks, tax policies, rebates, research and development at DoD, NSF, etc.

... Maybe a pure market would be better (and that's probably what redpoint5 meant), but we don't have one.
I'm saying that the room for corruption is far to vast, and the benefits to the people far to minimal, for government to select which products receive subsidies, especially when those subsidies come in the form of regressive tax breaks. Some senator in Arkansas isn't up on the latest advances in energy and transportation. If the senator makes any decision on what to subsidize, it's entirely based on political motivation, and objectivity has nothing to do with it.

The proper role of government is to defend her people, enforce laws that promote fair business and trade, and protect the commons. You protect the commons by taxing those things that pose negative externalities. If certain levels of CO2 production are unacceptable, then the proper response is to tax those things that produce CO2 in proportion to how much they emit until emissions are within acceptable limits. How we reduce CO2 is none of the government's business because a few politicians can't outsmart the collective intelligence of the market.

Put another way, if government knows best on what should be subsidized to achieve certain results, then they also know best what should be produced, in which case we might as well have a communist market rather than a free(ish) market. Bureaucracy would be the most efficient way to determine what should be produced, how much, and what the price should be.

I'm not for a purely and entirely free market, because that doesn't sufficiently protect the commons, but in a mostly free market, the best way to achieve desired results is to create economic disincentives for behavior that is harmful, and let industry figure out how to adjust.
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With my Bolt EV, I have done 450 miles in a day with three charging stops. Just adding a 100 miles of range, would remove one or two of those charging stops, so I feel that 340 miles of range would be a great improvement.
Just 100 miles of range is an additional 25 kWh of battery capacity, or adding about half again of the Bolt's capacity and accompanying cost ($5,000) and weight (450 lbs), for a trip that is presumably infrequent.

I'm not saying nobody would need it or want it, but it's no trivial thing to add that sort of range.

If improved battery tech primarily comes in the form of cheaper batteries, then I would predict battery capacities to increase.

However, if improved battery tech primarily comes in the form of faster rates of charge/discharge, then I expect battery capacity to remain relatively stable, or perhaps even shrink.
I would say that in my case the larger battery capacity enables me to utilize public/private free L2 chargers exclusively, similar to Model S with free SC. At the 100mile range I would likely have to charge at home (which I never do now.) Even with free juice I don't drive more miles in total, I do however drive more miles in my EV rather than one of our ICE vehicles. Unless there is a reason (seating/cargo capacity) that we have to take the ICE vehicle, we always drive the free/clean powered car.

Additionally, the 100mile range puts places like the airport out of range. My brother and I flew on the same flight a few weeks ago. We carpooled, but he parked his (24kWh?) LEAF at my place and we took the Bolt which was only at 60% SOC, but still made the round trip + parked at DIA for a few days with margin.
It takes a lot of free charging to make up for the battery capacity that isn't necessary. It sounds like something in the 150 mile range would be adequate for your commute/airport trips. That would be a 25 kWh smaller battery than the Bolt's 60 kWh. Bolt's battery is estimated at $205/kWh, so that represents $5,125 for that extra 100 miles of range.

Perhaps with the cold CO winters, the battery is just the right size for you, or nearly so. Not trying to say you've wasted your money, only putting into perspective how quickly adding range adds cost. After all, we're essentially paying for the size of a "fuel tank". That's why getting a vehicle with the smallest acceptable range is important, not to mention resources such as cobalt are finite, and have skyrocketed in price due to demand.
Actually both would be helpful. The L2's work for overnight charging, while the DCFC (L3) would facilitate flexible charging for variable timed situations. I always point out that cost effectiveness is crucial. So a 20-40 kW DCFC that uses an existing 100-200A 240V circuit would be a great fit at a multi-unit apartment.

I'm no lineman, but it would probably be best to dedicate a transformer from the high voltage line to specifically supply the ~500v AC to the DCFC, that way voltage doesn't have to be stepped up. No sense using a transformer to step down the voltage to 240v only to use another transformer to step it back up to 400+.
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