The future of e-mobility is built on rapid charging

Tuesday, September 28, 2021 - 10:28
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The future of e-mobility is not a new topic of discussion. Over the past decade, companies have committed to introducing innovations for both business customers and consumers to ensure consistent development and improvement are front of mind for all. While the idea of the future of mobility used to be a vision of the future, the reality is that this is now highly achievable, and is already on its way. Ambitions of self-driving, autonomous vehicles run in parallel with ambitious change goals around the world. While this progress is being made, it’s important to take a step back and focus on how electric vehicles can further align with this.

The enthusiasm for the future of e-mobility, particularly among fleet owners is encouraging. We are seeing a strong increase in the number of cities wanting to move towards electric vehicles for public transport across the UK & Europe, as well as companies wanting to electrify their fleets. The recent announcement from leading UK businesses such as BP, BT and Royal Mail committing to fully electrify their van fleets by 2030 is hugely encouraging and will support long-term goals to achieving a zero-emissions future. We are certainly past the point where e-mobility is seen as a fad. It’s here to stay. This will be clear come November when the UK hosts COP26. The event’s president, Alok Sharma has already outlined the importance of e-mobility and knowledge sharing on this topic, and how this will be key to achieving the goals of the conference. Mobility will play a crucial role in the conference, as many look to the automotive sector to encourage business attitudes to shift. By enabling businesses to make this shift, as an industry we must ensure we are providing the charging infrastructure needed to make this a reality.

The implementation of this infrastructure is critical to support the shift to electric, in particular while the industry continues to compete with non-renewable or more “traditional” energy sources. The benefits such as speed, efficiency and minimal downtime are key factors in ensuring electric is the clear frontrunner. Solutions needed to support this development must be deployed correctly, as the idea alone is not enough. City planners and local governments looking to introduce electric vehicles must also ensure they are deploying the correct rapid charging infrastructure to make these implementations a success.

Deploying rapid charging at scale requires time-efficient solutions, and a combination of a number of charging methods, depending on the task in hand. By 2040, the UK will need an additional 3 million charging points across the country. The deployment of this level of infrastructure requires collaboration to allow chargers to be seamlessly installed without causing disruption to a city’s day-to-day activity, while also being placed in a non-obstructive place and close to the charging location, ensuring minimal impact on views. While this process sounds complicated, this provides an important solution to fleet managers looking to upgrade their fleets and be part of the future of e-mobility. As fleet managers and city planners look to revolutionise their cities, e-mobility will be a crucial part of their conversations and visions.

On a more technical level, rapid charging infrastructure is built on Direct Current power, which supports renewable sources such as solar. While Alternating Current power is currently the market leader due to its affordability, the strength of DC power is key to maintain optimum power across a grid of any size.

Fleet managers understand the benefits of e-mobility, such as e-buses and e-trucks that will transform how goods are transported, while also supporting environmental goals. They know that the future of e-mobility for business will be focussed on smart technology, efficient investments that improve quality of life for business owners, and will revolutionise how they will operate. Business owners are wanting to implement their visions for e-mobility, but in order to ensure these visions become reality they must look to rapid charging to ensure they can deploy at scale to achieve maximum success and impact in a timely way. It’s important to note that by 2030, the UK is expected to be the second highest ‘owner’ of chargepoints in broader EU. Its electric bus fleet is set to be the largest in Europe by 2024, demonstrating the necessity for city planners to be prepared to implement this technology. In order to effectively plan for this growth in the cities they work within, city planners must be looking to smart, rapid charging solutions to support the e-mobility infrastructure they intend to deploy.

While rapid charging is crucial to the implementation of e-fleets, there also comes a question of how the energy used to charge these vehicles is effectively managed. When it comes to energy management, the key element is to avoid putting additional stress on the grid. Smart energy management could revolutionise solutions to the issue of grid stress, by activating charging capabilities that optimise the grid at peak times, and putting energy back onto the grid when it has not been used and is needed elsewhere. Electrification, as we know, puts pressure on the grid, particularly during peak hours. Therefore, while implementing charging infrastructure it’s important to consider the bigger picture, and consider how best to manage this grid pressure. A practical solution is Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, a component of larger smart charging software, which will see the car effectively putting energy back into the grid. However, for this to be useful and to be considered “smart”, new technology must be developed and appropriately deployed at scale.

The need for a bi-directionality function as well as Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) to be built into chargers to support this is increasing as city planners focus on the energy transition, ensuring that resources are preserved and used optimally.

When it comes to smart charging to enable the implementation of electric fleets, the boundaries are set by the customer. Firstly, the schedules are very tight. At 12pm it is common for a very small percentage of a fleet to be parked and charging. Fleet vehicles that return to be charged during this time often have a short turnaround window, offering minimal flexibility. However, this is where the importance of the grid connection comes in. Fleets that implement charging controls can help to reduce peak demand and offer a more stable consumption pattern to the local network. In addition to V2G, adding a stationary storage battery onsite can add further revenue streams from necessary services, and support further energy management strategies. For example, a battery could reduce the grid connection request further, and trade its capacity during the day on the markets. An additional advantage of this is that locally generated energy can be stored directly in the battery. Various bus depots are already equipped with solar panels so that during the day, this energy is generated and stored, and at night it can be used to charge the buses. This has no additional impact on the grid connection, but bring clear value to the business proposition.

The three trends discussed, e-mobility, smart energy management and rapid charging, will be key to enabling smart cities to grow and develop. The time to make the necessary changes is now. The immediate future of e-mobility will be built on rapid charging, while smart charging and V2G technology will ensure these solutions are sustainable. E-mobility is the key to driving forward success as it becomes the backbone of local planning bridging both energy and electric vehicles, and having the solutions necessary to support new infrastructure will be crucial to bringing these visions to life.

Author: Menno Kardolus, Heliox Group CTO


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