Industry Article

Is Charging Infrastructure Ready for Widespread EV Adoption?

February 04, 2024 by Gopal Mitra, OmniOn Power

The obstacles affecting the extensive deployment of charging infrastructure are vast and critical: infrastructure costs, performance considerations, availability issues, grid reliability, and stability.

Electric vehicle (EV) adoption has gained momentum worldwide as the United States and other countries race to meet sustainability standards. Governments have introduced legislation and incentive programs stimulating innovation in battery technology and promoting EV manufacturing, which has led to more EVs on the roadway. With an already increased rate of EV adoption, the focus has shifted to powering these vehicles with a reliable charging network.

 

 

To continue the pace of adoption, engineers must consider many power implications related to charging. Driver expectations have set a standard for high-speed charging that is widely available and reliable, requiring the buildout and overhaul of current infrastructure to support increasing EV adoption and meet growing demands. Continued updates and upgrades of EV charging power architecture are crucial to ensure a seamless, efficient, and accessible charging experience.

 

Navigating EV Evolution and Consumer Concerns

EVs have skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years. New reports from the IEA  expect a 35% increase in sales in 2023, bringing the total of electric cars on the road globally to 14 million. What was once an option only for the tech-savvy elite has become a more affordable consideration for the eco-friendly. This increase is partially driven by automobile manufacturers’ commitments to EV production and legislation mandating sales and production requirements. Recently, the Biden-Harris Administration introduced standards and investments in producing affordable and sustainable EV options. Its focus on bolstering charging networks underscores consumer and industry concerns.

In recent years, increasing EV batteries' longevity while enhancing their affordability has been top of mind. The production of cost-effective batteries has long plagued manufacturers as they aim to improve performance with higher power density, energy efficiency, and storage capacity. However, as recent advancements have addressed the concerns of batteries, the conversation is shifting toward the charging solutions powering them.

 

 

OmniOn Power’s recent State of Power Conversion Industry Report highlights that consumer apprehensions revolve around dependable charging options and a sustainable energy supply for EVs. While many consumers opt for in-home AC power charging solutions, the report found that the accessibility and reliability of outdoor charging options are also essential parts of the equation. Varying charging infrastructure across different states restricts the number and accessibility of chargers, which, in turn, affects the experience of traveling in an EV.

  

Barriers to EV Charging Infrastructure

Both consumers and EV OEMs have recognized the obstacles affecting the extensive deployment of charging infrastructure across the nation. These challenges encompass a range of critical factors, including infrastructure costs, performance considerations, availability issues, and grid reliability and stability.

 

Grid and Infrastructure Shortages

With the time and power limitations of AC charging options for at-home charging, consumers are looking for ways to improve the charge time of their vehicles and extend the range of their travel with convenient EV charging hubs. Direct current fast charging (DC fast charging) solutions have been implemented at various locations, from grocery stores to shopping centers, providing an almost full charge in minutes. However, the current infrastructure does not support the wide availability and accessibility of these charging systems. As EV charger providers look to expand their offering options, consideration must be given to the electrical grid’s supply and stability.

An influx of EVs stopping at rest areas and shopping centers equipped with fast DC charging stations can strain the electrical grid considerably. Hence, a reliable energy storage system is essential. The impact on the power factor and a potential degradation in power quality resulting from increased demand also need to be considered. Local grid authorities and engineers can work together to implement upgraded substations that address these location-specific power supply concerns.

 

Power Topology Design

Multiple challenges are associated with building a power topology that can help meet current and future demands. A nuanced approach should be taken at each charging site from a charging infrastructure power perspective and at the grid level. For example, designing a charging hub alongside a highway would require knowledge of the volume and types of EVs stopping there for a charge to ensure the grid can sustain ebbs and flows in required power. Another consideration when selecting charging infrastructure locations is the availability of options for productive use of time. Because current charge times are longer than a typical fill-up at a gas station, many charger infrastructure providers have selected locations such as shopping malls to offer essential facilities, entertainment, and conveniences for productivity, like Wi-Fi-enabled work areas, while charging a vehicle. However, in choosing a location that already has significant power needs and likely has power infrastructure to meet those needs, adding EV charging to a mall’s topology may pull more energy than is available, creating grid challenges.

Additionally, the widespread adoption of EVs has expanded past passenger vehicles, with trucking fleets and public transportation turning to electric options in a move toward sustainability. Introducing EV options into these spaces has created the need for new charging scenarios that maintain uptime and reliability. DC fast charging has proven a successful option for long-haul and last-mile trucking fleets due to their consistent routes and lengths, fully charging once their route is completed or during mandated breaks and stops at DC charging hubs.

 

Solving EV Charger Challenges

The Biden Administration’s recent approval of $100 million to improve or fix the current install base of EV chargers reflects one of the industry's most critical challenges–charger and network uptime. With a national goal of achieving 97% charging network uptime, innovative power solutions, and regular maintenance are crucial. To solve reliability challenges, four key areas should be addressed:

  • Interoperability: Although Level 1 and Level 2 chargers feature standardized charging ports, Level 3 DC chargers have varying ports depending on the manufacturer and geographic region. Many automotive manufacturers recently adopted the North American Charging Standard (NACS) plug to standardize charge ports. However, to meet the current widespread demand for accessible DC charging, service providers can build hubs equipped with chargers that accommodate various charge ports until a universal option is adopted.
  • Communication between charger and vehicle: To prevent failed charging sessions, it is essential to establish seamless communication between the charging network and the vehicle. If the charger and vehicle do not properly connect, the vehicle will not be able to communicate effectively and charge. There is also the possibility that a vehicle may appear to be charging, but the network does not give the charger permission, resulting in a failed charging session. The industry is pursuing standardization in charging-related communication protocols to help solve challenges like these.
  • Charger damage and overheating: Internal damage to a charger brings the system offline until reparative maintenance can be performed. Chargers must be manufactured using components that protect from overheating and potential cable damage, and, in case of damage, the replacements should be prompt and easy, driving the need for modularity in the charger design.
  • Billing system disruptions: Even if all of these aspects are working, one of the biggest disappointments can result from the failure of a charger’s installed billing system, with the charger going offline until it is resolved. However, some providers are preparing to switch these systems to a “plug and charge” model that removes the additional billing system and instead bills the payee’s account based on the vehicle’s registered VIN. 

 

The Future of EV Charging

Like the emergence of conventional gas stations in the 1930s, it is now time to expand DC charging hubs in response to the surging demand for EVs. The power industry will play a crucial role in addressing reliability concerns to help meet the White House’s goal of having EVs make up 50% of new vehicle sales by 2030. And through collaborative strategies and partnerships, a future with widespread EV adoption can be attained.

 

All images used courtesy of OmniOn Power