Category Archives: Electric Vehicle Charging

ChargePoint Delivers Fast Charger Of The Future At CES

At CES today, ChargePoint raised the bar for DC fast charging with not just one new charger but a paradigm shift in DC fast charging that redefines the entire product category.

The ChargePoint Express Plus family revolutionizes DC fast charging by looking to the future and embracing the inevitable increases in charging speed demand with a modular design that allows hosts to upgrade as demand for faster charging speeds increases.

ChargePoint has 400 DC fast chargers (DCFCs) installed out in the field today, which are a mix of units from other manufacturers and ChargePoint units. The ChargePoint team has taken all of the learnings from those and rolled them into this new product family, which the EV company is confident can support the next several generations of EVs.

The Design

The modular design is built around the idea of individual power modules which invert AC from the grid and puts out 31 kW of DC to the charging cable. At the most basic DC Fast Charger installations for this family, each charging station can hold 1 or 2 power modules to support speeds of 31 kW and 62 kW, respectively.

Installing and linking two stations next to each other allows them to share these power modules — or power blades — much like pairs of Tesla Superchargers do today. If both chargers had two power modules, that would allow one of the chargers to charge a car at 124 kW. If another car connected to the other charger, the speed for each would drop down to the single station rate of 62 kW.

Charging … Cubed

Exciting, right? But that’s just the beginning. Adding more chargers allows them to play together in a larger group. 8 chargers can hold a maximum of 16 blades (2 in each), which can and will dynamically allocate the maximum available power to as many EVs as are charging at any given time.

If those chargers are in an apartment complex that is limited on power that it can supply to the chargers, they will dynamically allocate the available power to whichever car is connected and using power. One caveat is that the chargers can only allocate power in single-blade units — so, in 31 kW increments.

ChargePoint liked this modular design but had even bigger plans and took a chunk of 16 blades and dropped them into a cube which was then connected to a bank of chargers. Now those 8 chargers (or however many are connected) can share that pool of 16 power blades in addition to the blades that are built into the chargers.

Each blade is still the same 31 kW … but now the system has a LOT more blades in the pool to play with. Need more speed? Add another cube. Each charging station can go up to 400 kW using blades from other chargers or from a cube. Each cube can contain up to 500 kW of DC and can feed from 1–8 charging stations per cube.

Basically, this flexible, future-proof design allows system owners to start small with 1 or 2 chargers with a blade in each and provides flexibility for owners to add more blades or cubes with blades as customer demand grows for faster charging speeds.

The Power of the Network

For those familiar with virtual computing stacks, these power blades operate much like blade servers. The power modules can be hot swapped. They can communicate back to ChargePoint at the individual blade level for predictive maintenance and will automagically fail over to other power modules in the pool in the event of an unplanned failure.

One of ChargePoint’s strengths is the network which comes with a full set of tools and support for owners to configure and tune to deliver the customer experience they are looking for.

Summary

If I sound excited about this innovative new product line, I am. This truly feels like the charging system of the future. Yes, there are still a ton of variables that impact the viability of a charging location — installation costs, utility capability to supply such a massive amount of power in a given location, demand charges, customer demand, site host willingness to commit real estate for cubes, etc., etc., but just the fact that the product exists on the charging side to support faster charging speeds is huge.

I will break this family down in more detail in a future post but wanted to start with the basics of the new family to share this exciting news in a bite-size chunk. If you’re hungry for more information about it NOW, check out the official ChargePoint Express Plus page.

If you’re looking to buy a Tesla, feel free to use my referral link (here) to save $1,000, which is the only way to get a discount on a new Tesla.


The Tesla Supercharging Crisis On The Horizon

Originally published on CleanTechnica

With several affordable vehicles on the horizon that will be capable of 200 miles or more of all-electric range, the last major problem for EVs and EV manufacturers to truly solve is super fast public charging, or what we have dubbed Level 4 charging.

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Image courtesy Redditor Dakujem

Tesla is currently the only automaker to offer reasonable long-distance charging with its Superchargers running at ~135 kW, but that infrastructure is about to be pounded into the ground by hundreds of thousands of Tesla Model 3 owners unless something changes.

In the Model 3 unveiling last week, Elon Musk shared that Supercharging would be included with the Model 3 but stopped short of claiming that it would include free Supercharging, as has been the case with the Model S and X. This is a divergence from previous statements that Supercharging would be free for the Model 3.

Tragedy of the Commons

Looking at Supercharging, one of the key challenges is that it’s free. When humans can get something for free, even when it’s just a few bucks worth of power, we act irrationally and selfishly, which is a behavior captured in a theory call the “tragedy of the commons.” Per Wikipedia, the tragedy of the commons is:

“an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource.”

Stories of wealthy Tesla drivers using Superchargers every day as their main charging solutions are on the forums and are evidence of this behavior. Spending 30 minutes every day to sit around to save $3 in electricity at home is not a logical behavior for someone driving a $100,000 car, and results in charging stations being unavailable for long-distance drivers.

Tesla has already reached out to frequent … excessive … abusive … and even some infrequent Supercharging users, asking them to take it easy … and this is just with the Model S putting load on the Supercharging network. Imagine when we have 2 more years of full production volume of the S and the X weighing down on  it… Tesla Superchargers could be in for a world of hurt in no time, as defined by long lines and general unreliability of the Supercharging network.

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Supercharging in Redondo Beach | Image Credit: Kyle Field

Why Supercharging

Fixing Supercharging doesn’t mean that all of a sudden everyone has to pay for Supercharging. Stepping back from the problem to look at why Supercharging exists in the first place helps us to understand what levers can be pulled to improve the system.

Tesla developed and deployed Supercharging to fill a functionality gap for EVs and to enable long-distance travel. That’s the base use case and in these early days of Level 4 infrastructure deployment, the key reason for Level 4 chargers. This is not saying that Superchargers are not great for a quick topup or for filling up after a long day of driving around town … but that’s not what Tesla built them for.

As Supercharging networks continue to grow, there will be a natural evolution of the system to support additional use cases, but in the meantime, there is an opportunity to leverage system controls to optimize system availability. Long-distance travel and fast charging become much more relevant considerations as EVs with more than 200 miles range become the norm — as long-distance travel with sub-100 mile range EVs is painful in most scenarios anyway.

The Radius Model

Finding the sweet spot in keeping the system functional while also assuring availability is a delicate balance but is not unsolvable. Implementing a system wherein charging closer to home is not free provides an incentive for EV owners to charge at home and lightens the load on the distributed public charging network that otherwise becomes clogged by the tragedy of the commons effect we typically see with free charging.

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Great availability, low utilization | Image Credit: Kyle Field

For local charging within 50 miles of home, it is critical to bill for EV charging, as this is where 90%+ of all driving takes place. When local charging is not regulated, EV drivers gravitate towards utilizing public charging stations instead of home charging, which consumes charging spaces that could otherwise be useful for long-distance travelers. A healthy price point for local charging would be to use peak electricity rates.

For mid-range charging at ranges of 50–100 miles from home, an EV driver can still round-trip a destination on a single charge, so public charging at these distances is not absolutely required. Charging pass-through rates for power at mid-range charging stations strikes a balance that allows EV drivers to charge remotely without a penalty but clearly removes the incentive to “convenience charge.”

For long-range charging over 100 miles from the home, Level 4 charging can remain free as this is the intended use-case.

Implementing a radius model to govern charging ensures that chargers are available for the base use case while also giving EV drivers the freedom to utilize public super fast charging stations if needed, with minimal penalty. For EV drivers without home chargers, workplace chargers provide the best balance between cost, availability, and charging time.

As the Level 4 charging network catches up with EV sales growth, models can be adjusted to strike the right balance between cost, availability, and charging time. Currently, the balance is tenuous at best, but with Tesla being the only EV manufacturer to truly invest in a Level 4 charging network and ensure integration with its fleet of EVs, the balance is sure to deteriorate as Model 3 comes online.

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Tesla Model 3 on the test track | Image Credit: Kyle Field

At the Model 3 unveiling last week, Tesla shared plans to double the Supercharging network by the end of 2017, and a parallel effort to improve the destination charging program with a planned four-fold increase in the same timing.

Building and managing Level 4 public charging is a key step to ensuring robust EV charging that meets the needs of EV drivers, but with Model 3 on the horizon, it is at a critical junction as EV adoption moves from the Early Adopters to the Early Majority and the volume of EVs on the road ramps up significantly. Left unmanaged, the volume of vehicles would quickly overwhelm the current and planned super fast charging network and render it effectively unusable.

EV Charging — The Time For A Single Fast-Charging Standard Is Now!

Originally posted on CleanTechnica

The EV charging network is the gas station network for EV owners — the only place to fill up and top off when out on the town, driving around the fringes of an EV’s range. What’s more, charging up an EV takes longer than fueling up an ICE vehicle, so the quantity and availability of charging stations makes a huge impact on the functionality of EVs. To further complicate matters, the growing fleet of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that don’t have the same “need” to charger can frequently be found charging at public EV charging locations, blocking out battery electric vehicle (BEV) drivers that, as a result, might not be able to get the charge they need to continue to their destination.

As BEVs and PHEVs increase in popularity, the current public EV charging infrastructure will also need to be scaled up to support the fleet. The lack of an EV fast charging standard further complicates the landscape, fragmenting the already struggling infrastructure with several standards competing for dominance, and manufacturers are drawing lines in the sand and picking teams to determine which standard will reign supreme.

Where We Came From — Level 2 Charging

With the initial deployment of EVs, what we now call Level 2 chargers were deployed far and wide to incentivize the public to purchase electric vehicles. These chargers provide charging rates of 6.6 kilowatt-hours for each hour of charging. In a Leaf, that equates to around 24 miles of range per hour of charging. These chargers were a fantastic start at developing a public charging network and gave early adopters the confidence to purchase a $30,000 vehicle with a reduced range.

Level 2 public chargers allowed people to extend the practical range of their EVs with just a few hours of charging required to top off their charge before heading on to another destination. Level 2 chargers are now installed in garages of many EV owners and the public network of chargers has only continued to grow as EV adoption has increased.

Building a Better System — Early DC Fast Charging

To complement these chargers, Level 3 chargers — or DC fast chargers — have started popping up. Level 3 chargers brought a significant advantage to the table in terms of charging speed and were able to push ~19 kWhs in a 30-minute session, equating to the addition of roughly 80% of the charge or an extra 76 miles of range. Charging rates slow as the battery nears the 90% full range, so, your mileage may vary.

DC fast chargers have grown into the gas stations of the EV charging network in most areas, as they allow ~80% charge in the time it takes to enjoy a cup of coffee or grab a bite to eat.

Similar to early Level 2 chargers, Level 3 chargers are expensive, with installations requiring significant electrical infrastructure in addition to a hardware cost upwards of $100,000 each in the US. Due to the high capital cost required to install Level 3 chargers, early installations have been slower and mostly implemented by companies dedicated to charging infrastructure likeNRG EVgo and ChargePoint. These chargers started popping up in major cities, then made their way into smaller cities across the nation.

DC Fast Charging Today

Which brings us to today. In the southwestern United States, we have a healthy network of Level 2 chargers supported by a sprinkling of Level 3 DC fast chargers. On top of this mature network, EV sales have ramped up and are weighing heavily on our primarily Level 2 charging network. Many modern EVs are equipped with fast charging capability, with many supporting higher speeds than the current networks even provide. As we approach the next step change in EVs — with ranges of 200 miles requiring batteries of 60 kilowatt-hours and more — we are again approaching a point where even our fastest chargers today will not meet the needs of the masses.

CHAdeMO

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Kia Soul EV CHAdeMO Adapter (on right) | Image Credit: Kyle Field

CHAdeMO plugs are the size of a large firehose, making its charging cables unwieldy, and it is the fast charging adapter of choice for the Kia Soul EV, Citroen, Mitsubishi EVs, Peugots, and of course, Nissan and the established Leaf (as an option). CHAdeMO offers charging speeds of up to 70 kW, with real-life 30-minute charging sessions delivering just over 19 kWh of charge or around 75 miles of extra range (on a Nissan Leaf). CHAdeMO is seeing extremely rapid adoption in Japan, with around 5,500 stations deployed today (crazy considering how small Japan is!). The US — specifically, California — is ramping up deployment of CHAdeMO stations quickly as well, where over 1,300 stations have been deployed.

SAE Combined Charging Solution

Competing with CHAdeMO for the DC fast charging crown is the newer SAE Combined Charging Solution (aka SAE Combo, or CCS), which is a standard J1772 plug with 2 additional DC fast charging ports below it (hence the combo moniker). This newer standard is the fast charging standard of choice for Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche, and Volkswagen. Most notably, this port can be found on the BMW i3, the Chevrolet Spark EV, and the Volkswagen eGolf. Combo adapters are similar in size to CHAdeMO, though due to the utilization of the existing J1772 plug, only require a single port on the car, whereas CHAdeMO requires 2 separate on-vehicle ports.

These Combo plugs offer maximum speeds of up to 90 kW (DC Level 2) with theoretical speeds of up to 240 kW. In real life, SAE Combo charge rates are comparable to CHAdeMO, delivering roughly 80% of the range of ~100 mile EVS in a 30-minute fast charging session.

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Tesla Supercharger in Oxnard, CA | Image Credit: Kyle Field

Supercharged

Finally, the Tesla charging format supports all charging levels from Level 1 (normal wall outlets at 110 volts) up to the Tesla-only DC Supercharging network which boasts the fastest broadly available charging speeds, cranking up to 400 miles of range per hour (design rate) with a real-world miles delivered in 30 minutes of Supercharging sitting at 170 miles. This does not scale up linearly (170 x 2 = 340 miles of range delivered per hour), as charging slows when the battery approaches capacity — but it’s still extremely impressive and much faster than any other fast charging standard with a substantial deployed footprint.

The Tesla charging standard is also much more compact than the other standards and can be used for all charging speeds — from 110v wall charging @ 15 amps all the way up to Supercharging.

The Road to the Future

Where to from here? Ultimately, the market will decide which manufacturer and, thus, which standard prevails. Manufacturers are realizing the negative sales impact the current, scattered public charging network is having and building out branded charging networks. Much like the VHS vs Beta or the HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray battles of the past, fragmented landscapes rarely last for long. We will likely converge on a single standard, but the longer the transition is drawn out, the more consumers — and EV adoption rates — will suffer. We need a fast charging standard now to give manufacturers and consumers confidence in EVs long into the future.

Several clear paths exist — though, with sides having already been chosen, no option will be pain-free. An NGO or charging alliance could be formed as a neutral self-governing body to select a dominant standard moving forward. Though, this is challenging as these organizations cost money and offer little financial upside for participants. Government mandates can also create results and that feels like what may be required to unify manufacturers as an effort to protect consumers from non-value-added infrastructure fragmentation.

Whatever the path forward, the time for action is now. Consumers are calling out for a single EV fast charging standard to carry us several decades into the future….

My Epic Tesla Road Trip

Originally published on CleanTechnica

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Upon rolling out of the Tesla Dealership… er… Service Center in Columbus, Ohio, a few things hit me right off the bat: The new-car feeling, realizing that this was my car. The realization that now I really was pretty much on the other side of the country and actually had to drive back across the ~3,700 kilometers at around 33 hours of driving. The fact that I only had one room booked between Ohio and Vegas … and what the heck, I just bought a Tesla!?!

I wanted to take off like a bat of hell and drive 120 miles an hour down the road, tearing up the asphalt… but I’ve been there and done that and tickets (and accidents!) are expensive no matter what state you’re in. So I calmed myself down, took a sip of the coffee CJ had so generously hooked me up with, set the cruise control for 65, and pointed the wheels to the west.

The next day, after a few hours of rest, several stops at Superchargers, hundreds of miles, and too many cups of coffee, I had a good feel for the car and how it worked on long road trips. While the car generally met my expectations, a few things stuck out to me about the car that I hadn’t expected.

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Supercharging in Columbia, MO

Automagic Unlocking

Locking the car, for one. The Model S automagically locks (it’s an optional setting) when the driver walks away with the key fob. At first, I would nervously look out at the car from the gas station, coffee shop, or lunch stop to confirm that the handles were in, lights were off, and all that. After several stops, I realized that it just works. Put it in park, get out, walk away, and you’re good. It’s awesome. No parking brake, no locking or unlocking the car… easy.

Power at Your Fingertips

The power of the car is also amazing. With a single-motor, non-performance version of the Model S, I was not expecting amazing performance, but it blows me away. I used to have a ’97 Pontiac Trans Am, which I had done some work on, so I’m familiar with performance cars, but the smooth, torquey power of the Model S is a different beast altogether, and a lot more fun in my opinion.

Going 30 but want to go 65? Done. Going 65 and want to pass the smoggy diesel pickup in front of you? No problem. It’s something I’m still working on dampening, as it just begs to go faster than most laws allow. My favorite is pounding the pedal while cruising at around 20–30 miles per hour. It jumps like nothing else… okay, except may be a P90D with Ludicrous Mode :D.

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Supercharging in Colorado

Supercharging

I will go into more detail about Supercharging in a separate article, but suffice it to say that it blows the competition away. Triple the speed of the next fastest charger, predictable, built into the navigation, and easy to use. It’s great. I loved being able to punch in whatever destination I wanted, however far away, with the confidence that the car would navigate to the nearest charger automatically.

Most of the Superchargers were located at hotels, gas stations (of all places!), shopping plazas, and otherwise near facilities that could occupy 30 minutes of a day, which was nice. A few stops required a bit more creativity to answer the calls of nature or get a bite of food. I found the ability of the car to keep the heating on while charging to be a great feature that I took advantage of extensively on my journey.

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My favorite Supercharger — at a BP gas station in Effington, IL

Indecisive Navigation

One glitch that I noticed in the navigation is that, after topping up at a Supercharger then heading down the highway, the navigation would occasionally try to route me back to the charger I had just left (after charging for the amount of time it told me to charge for).

This even happened a few times after I was 20 minutes down the road like it suddenly realized I needed more capacity to make the next charger. It did not make sense to me, as I typically had 50–80 miles of “spare” range above and beyond what was required to get to the next charger. It was not a deal breaker and I was able to manually navigate through it by turning off charging stop recommendations, but it seems like a bug in the logic that could be corrected.

Navigation Range Estimation

Along similar lines, the navigation is conservative, but with caveats. First — it is conservative as it tries to ensure that you have WAY more charge than needed to get to the next destination. If I’m going 65 miles to the next charger, it wants me to have at least 110 miles of range to move on.supercharging

The caveat to the estimated range is that external factors like elevation gains, climate controls (heating/cooling), driving speeds, and outside weather can (and did!) have large impacts on range. It was not clear if the navigation was actively taking those factors into account — or at least for the static, predictable factors — but it seems like it could more accurately describe why it wants more charge at certain times.

On my trip, I drove over the Rocky Mountains (very steep, cold mountains in the Western United States), drove in sub-zero temperatures, and as a result, used the cabin heating frequently. I was aware of the impacts these would have, but an unfamiliar driver, not realizing the interrelationships between these factors could easily end up stranded in their Tesla. These factors are also present in gasmobiles, but with gas stations on every corner and most freeway exits, it is less of an issue. Growing pains…

The video below details some of my jumbled learnings from the road. I was happy to find that the speedometer display was the right angle to capture this specific angle with my phone, making it easy to record videos and video chat with my kids while out on the road. Technology is amazing.

All images and videos by Kyle Field