It is definitely true that the fundamental enabling technology for electric cars is lithium-ion as a cell chemistry technology. In the absence of that, I don’t think it’s possible to make an electric car that is competitive with a gasoline car.Elon Musk
We all know and love the advent of electric vehicles. There remains very little doubt that the technology is emerging at a rapid pace and perhaps in one decade or less will be the predominant means to power cars and trucks. Tesla has set the bar high and Ford, GM, and VW are all racing to catch up.
Volkswagen plans to invest 73 billion euros ($86 billion) in e-mobility, hybrid technology and digitalization within the next five years to adapt to changes in the industry. Around $41 billion will be invested in e-mobility, and $13 billion has been earmarked for the development of new hybrid cars. It plans to spend $32 billion on digitalization, around twice as much as in the previous planning period.
Ford announced it plans to invest $29 billion toward electric and autonomous vehicles through 2025. The bulk of the spending – $22 billion – is for electric vehicles.
GM will spend $27 billion on all-electric and autonomous vehicles through 2025, an increase of $7 billion, from initial plans announced in March. The increase in investment will support GM’s plans to release 30 new EVs globally by 2025, including more than 20 for North America.GM said it has moved up the release of 12 EVs, including pickups for its Chevrolet and GMC brands.
Mercedes Benz is on the hunt to hire another 1,000 software programmers at its S-Class production facility to develop its planned operating system for electric vehicles. The hiring comes as part of a broader drive to recruit a total of 3,000 programmers worldwide to strengthen Daimler’s software hubs in centres including Berlin, Tel Aviv, Seattle and Beijing. Daimler’s MBOS system, which will run electric-only vehicles, is expected to hit the market in 2024 as Daimler takes on electric-only rival Tesla and seeks to resist encroachment by Silicon Valley into the automotive industry.
Tesla owns almost 79% of the electric car market in the US, according to registration data, but that needs to change, as per Tesla’s own mission. During the first half of 2020, registration data showed that Tesla owned nearly 80% of the US’ electric car market. With VW, Ford, and GM now emerging fast, Tesla is at risk. There are many other start-ups and redirected manufacturers lining up to join the fray too.
But, all of this spells disaster for the ac power grid. It was never designed to handle this growth in demand for electricity.
Let us consider a typical Canadian neighbourhood. The power distribution system as a series of feeder lines that emanate from substations like tentacles from an octopus. It is normal to see 5 to 8 feeders from a substation. These substations connect perhaps 2,000 to 10,000 homes so they vary in size and capacity.
The feeders connect to transformers at the street level. Each transformer might connect 10 to 14 homes. If a typical transformer is rated at 43 kVA and has 12 homes with a maximum service load of 3,000 watts you can see that the math does not have much room for expansion. A 43 kVA transformer supports about 34,400 to 38,700 after you consider the power factor of 20% to 10% respectively.
- 12 homes x 3,000 watts each = 36,000 watts load (worse case)
- Add-in the classic parasite load of another 1,000 watts of un-metered loads, which would include billboards, streetlights, cable TV wiring, and the landline telephone wiring
- All specified at 15° Celsius
It is pretty easy to see that we are already at the maximum capacity of the transformers. Now, not everyone is at home at the same time and the loads are typically less than 3,000 watts for each home. So, the sizing of the grid is comfortable for the classic design.
However, if you add-in a lot of EV charging stations built-in to homes, the issue becomes catastrophic very fast.
LEVEL 1 CHARGING STATION
Level 1 charging is cost-efficient – it uses a standard 110-V outlet, enabling EV drivers to use the charging cord set provided with most electric vehicles almost anywhere. This charging takes the longest and is used primarily as an additional, emergency or backup charging solution.
Level 1 charging power output varies slightly, but is typically between 12 amps and 16 amps of continuous power. This means a load of 1,320 watts to 1,760 watts.
LEVEL 2 CHARGING STATION
Level 2 chargers are typical solutions for residential and commercial/workplace settings. Most offer higher power output than Level 1 chargers and have additional functionality that is not available with Level 1 chargers. In general, Level 2 chargers are distinguished between non-networked chargers and networked charger.
These serve a similar function as Level 1 chargers, however, if an electrical permit is going to be pulled to install a dedicated circuit for EV charging, it is most often a better value to have a 240-volt circuit installed for Level 2 charging. Level 2 chargers are available with a variety of power outputs from 16-40 amps, with non-networked chargers at a slightly lower cost than networked chargers.
Level 2 chargers, like non-networked chargers, typically produce between 16 and 40 amps of power output. This translates to loads of 3,840 watts to 9,600 watts.
DC Fast Chargers
DC fast chargers are the highest-powered EV chargers on the market. Currently available DC fast chargers require inputs of 480+ volts and 100+ amps (50,000 to 60,000 watts) and can produce a full charge for an EV with a 100-mile range battery in slightly more than 30 minutes (178 miles of electric drive per hour of charging). However, new generations of DC fast chargers are gaining traction and can produce 150,000 to 350,000 watts of power.
If you considered that these 12 homes had just one EV in the garages each, then the transformers would all go up in smoke with a ball of flames. The typical power grid cannot handle the added loads. They were never planned when these grids were built. As well, we do not have the power generation available for the transmission lines to carry the power to the homes.
Now, add in residential solar arrays and consumer battery banks and it gets even more complicated. Stir in some pool heaters, hot tubs, and super large screen TVs with surround sound and the loads in a modern home dramatically depart what was planned decades ago when the power grids were engineered.
The answer may reside with Internet of Things driven smart grids and artificial intelligence making critical decisions as to when to charge and for how long to charge. If the electric vehicles are used as a battery storage reserve, then these smart grids may “rob Peter to pay Paul” in a shared resources neighbourhood model. Most EV manufacturers are not keen on this idea. How do they provide warranty for non-driving applications?
Bringing on new power generation, running transmission corridors, and rewiring neighbourhoods takes many decades. In Canada, with a lot of underground infrastructure, it means years and years of construction headaches.
Do the chargers need to reside at the home? What if we federated the charger locations similar to the way gas stations are distributed today? The battery technology is changing and is one of the greatest areas of technological innovation today. If batteries can be charged swiftly in the same time-frame that we fuel our gas cars today, then it is not overly inconvenient to use, then this model could be the answer. Placing chargers in the homes is simply not realistic as the grid cannot tolerate the loads.
About the Author:
Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.