But can I find a charge station?
EVs are here to stay. The question for most consumers is how do we learn to live with them? Initial concerns about range anxiety for daily use have largely been addressed by the current crop of EVs, but the more intractable problem of long trip usage remains. The success of EVs as daily drivers has led directly to the next challenge for EV adoption; charge anxiety.
What is charge anxiety?
Charge anxiety involves use of the vehicle outside of its daily pattern – the weekend trip, or long road trip remain as barriers to full consumer acceptance of EVs. Solutions to charge anxiety revolve around charging opportunities away from the vehicle’s home base. Most EV owners’ primary means of charging their vehicle is at home when the vehicle is not in use. Away from that scenario, the current patchwork of EV chargers does little to engender confidence in EVs as a long distance travel option.
Primary charge anxieties:
Long distance EV travel poses several anxiety-inducing questions to the consumer…
- Can I find a charge station along my route?
- Will I have to wait to access a charger once I arrive at the charging station?
- How will I have to alter my plans to take charging into account?
- How long will charging my EV take?
- What will I be able to do while my EV is charging?
- Will I be able to charge my EV again at my destination?
Vehicle innovations vs. Infrastructure
Innovations on the EV horizon may help alleviate some measure of charge anxiety, but they remain intertwined with and dependent on aspects of infrastructure in significant ways. In the long term, infrastructure improvement is the one thing most charge anxiety solutions have in common. This is a complex challenge impossible to tackle without collaboration from many players. Moreover, this problem requires shrewd and generative future-casting towards a reality that none of us can yet fully see.
In order to do this, a robust innovation strategy process must be leveraged by public or private entities who wish to be at the forefront of this emerging market. For companies creating products or services for the future of EV charging, the framing of not just one idea but multiple innovation pathways leading to the desired future state will be key to navigating the ambiguity of this evolving market. Emergence as a leading contributor to this new ecosystem will require companies to both understand how to meet current consumer needs, and bring innovations that are effective at moving consumers toward a new paradigm.
With this in mind, here are some of the ideas and technologies we’re seeing in the EV charging infrastructure conversation. In our next article, we’ll share our own thoughts on what opportunities exist for innovation in each of these technologies, associated pain points, and how we can crack these nuts to fuel business growth with innovation, design thinking, and new product development.
But Can I Find a Charge Station?
V2G (Vehicle To Grid)
V2G can help alleviate charge anxiety at the home and destination ends of the trip. In the V2G model the vehicle exists in a 2-way relationship with the electric grid, both taking and providing charge according to demand. Widespread adoption of EVs as daily drivers will increase the availability of these types of charge connections, so the EV owner can have a greater assurance of charging at both ends of the trip.
Wireless EV charging / Parked
Wireless charging has both an in-vehicle component and an infrastructure component. It operates by embedding charge plates in the ground that interact with components on the car and transfers charge without physical contact. Its most basic form this involves the installation of charge plates in parking spaces. In this scenario any suitably equipped vehicle could charge simply by parking in a charging enabled space. It also has the advantage of being scalable in a way that doesn’t necessarily trigger huge infrastructure improvement costs. As a practical business concern, it could most feasibly be taken on by parking lot and garage operators. While wireless EV charging is great for parking at home or in city lots where vehicles can sit for long periods of time, it does little to address the problem of long trips.
For now, the charging experience for EV users on long trips can easily fall into the perception that charging represents a loss of time on the way to a desired destination. However, taken from a different point of view this also creates an exciting opportunity for the forward-thinking business and innovation leader: How might we mitigate charge anxiety by transforming the experience from what it is now, an exercise in waiting, to a value-add experience? This could take the form of entertainment, education, physical activity or any number of options that transform merely waiting into engaging, worthwhile, and meaningful experiences. What if while you charged your car you could take in unique experiences and activities you couldn’t get anywhere else? Placement of these enhanced charging centers along major highways and alongside points of interest could help reframe EV charging companies as sought-out road-tripping pit stops.
Emergence as a leading contributor to this new ecosystem will require companies to both understand how to meet current consumer needs, and bring innovations that are effective at moving consumers toward a new paradigm.
Wireless EV charging / On-the-go
More ambitious plans for wireless EV charging involve embedding wireless charging technology in highway roadbeds, and would allow EVs to charge in-transit. While the technical aspects of such a plan have been proven possible in small scale testing the infrastructure improvements required to implement it at infrastructure scale are daunting. Much of the complication originates in the intertwining of the electrical grid with long stretches of roadway. The vast majority of roads currently are not suitably wired and have extensive existing repair needs – meaning the cost of installation frequently competes against the cost of repair. Charging is also a service, so communications are a parallel need to the power requirement. The subject of ownership is also problematic. Who should own, operate, and repair such a system? Should responsibility for it sit with the utilities, road commission, local, state, or federal government? It’s likely that any new system will draw on the current practice of shared responsibility between levels of government. The alignment of these funding and stewardship chains will also likely vary by region which complicates the implementation of national standards. Barring a revolution in public policy, it appears the roadway EV charging option will remain long in the future. That said, it’s benefits would be considerable.
In the near to mid-term, it’s realistic to expect that system solutions of this type would also need to solve other existing transit system problems to gain an edge in the struggle for limited funding. As an example, roadbed charging could be implemented through partnerships between private companies who would benefit from the revenue generated by ubiquitous on-road charging and municipal concerns struggling with an overburdened and underfunded road system. Effectively, new charge-enabled roads could form a parallel system that subtracts congestion and wear & tear on the current roads, while simultaneously providing revenue to realign the existing system to the emerging paradigm. These semi-private roads could provide a means to evolve from current standards of congestion, service, repair, and funding to more efficient models.
image: Lotte Mart
Fast & Ultrafast Charging
Currently, owners of petrol powered vehicles can top up their tanks in 3-4 minutes. This consumer paradigm is one of the barriers to mass acceptance of EVs. In contrast, current level 3 and 4 chargers (80KW & 120KW respectively) will charge 100 miles of range in 20-45 minutes. Here innovations on the battery side will help provide a step forward. Graphene-ion battery cells promise to charge up to 60X faster than current lithium ion batteries with some companies (Skeleton Technologies, Estonia, together with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany) claiming they will eventually reach 15 second full charge times. Closer to production, solid state Lithium-metal batteries are projected to reach full charge on a 300 mile range in approximately 15 minutes. So while it seems the potential for improvement is there, these new technologies may take years to reach scale. Current level 3 and 4 chargers are likely remain the prime option as OEMs move to ramp up EV production. What does this mean for infrastructure? Likely it means a separation in the market based on charging opportunity times. Fast charging will almost certainly follow the gas station model, and may in fact become an overlay on it as the ramp up of EVs will overlap IC for at least a decade. It also means we will likely also so an opening up of new charging opportunities in places not normally associated with the task. Hotel, shopping, and workplace parking lots will be prime candidates for level 3 chargers.
Even with L4 chargers and 15 minute charge times, the coming upswing in EV production will pose significant challenges to the current network of fuel stations. First among these will be upgrading power delivery to the stations themselves, complicated by the architectural challenge of separating high voltage charging from volatile liquid fuels. This and the time difference between a gas fill-up and a full EV charge will mean architecture changes for the station will likely be unavoidable. Level 4 chargers only really become economically efficient above 6 chargers per station, and in the context of high demand. This equates to roughly a $600k for the average highway filling station just for the charge stations (at $96k per L4 charger). Optimistically, this may be a blessing in disguise for the operators, as the lengthier charge times will help them move more soft drinks, chips, and candy. For forward-thinking operators it could also be the tip of the iceberg, representing a completely new platform for products and services made possible by the lengthier loiter times of EV customers. Coincidently, smaller stations could suffer under these conditions, as the economics of fast charging and associated architectural upgrades may not be suited to lower demand.
image: Lightning Energy
Another option which has a somewhat counterintuitive advantage is mobile charging. In the mobile charging model battery/capacitor equipped vans bring charging to the customers vehicle where it is parked. While this initially sounds inefficient due to the need to create a new network of service delivery providers and charging hubs it neatly side-steps some of the bigger infrastructure issues.
First, the charging hubs can be ideally located for their power requirements and built with very high capacity unlike the more distributed gas station model. This eliminates a layer of cost analogous to the refinery in the gas station model. Further, they charge hubs can be purpose-built industrial facilities, which is likely more efficient than upgrading hodgepodge gas station architectures. Finally, as a service provided directly to the consumer, mobile charging removes the twin burdens of finding a charge station and waiting for the charge to complete.
Opportunities for EV
Each of these technologies has inherent advantages and disadvantages, and in our next article, we’ll talk about the opportunities for innovation that exist in each of these technologies and associated pain points and how they can drive business growth for your company.
In the meantime, if your interest is piqued by any one of these points surrounding the EV charging landscape, or you’re looking for an innovation and design partner to help you uncover the future of EV charging for your business, we’d love to have a conversation with you! Hit us up at email@example.com !
Senior Product Designer - HMI Design Specialist
In over 20 years at Sundberg Ferar, Evan has made many contributions to the company’s skill set and portfolio. Evan’s motivation centers on design’s drive to innovate and improve conditions for the end user. Evan began SF’s UI design capability in 1997 and continues to foster its growth and development. He is also an early practitioner of Sundberg Ferar’s Genesis process and has successfully used it to make strategic contributions for many clients.