Where and how to charge an electric vehicle remains one of the most important factors facing car buyers considering switching to an electric car. Electric car drivers can charge at approximately 50,000 public charging stations in the United States.
While electric vehicle sales still make up only a small percentage of the total number of cars and trucks sold each year — about 5%, according to recent data from Cox Automotive – these numbers are likely to rise over the next decade. But how will the EV charging infrastructure adapt to the increasing number of electric cars and PHEVs (plug-in hybrid vehicles) that require an efficient and reliable way to charge?
From robots and charging pads to places that massively expand your charging options on the go, we’ll tell you what you need to know about the future of electric vehicle charging.
What EV charging looks like today
Right now, unless you have a charger installed at home or work, finding a reliable method of charging an EV can be a harrowing experience. When a public EV charging station is available, there is always a chance that it is already occupied by another electric vehicle. Or, worse, a gasoline-powered car whose owner didn’t know (or didn’t care) the spot is reserved for electric cars.
There’s also a matter of time, specifically the amount it takes to give an EV enough energy to start traveling again. Charging times can range from 20-30 minutes using a high-power Level 3 DC fast charging station to 24 hours or longer when relying on a standard 110-volt Level 1 charger. Between those two options is a 220-volt Level 2 charger, which can add about 20 miles of range in an hour of charging.
While 110-volt outlets are everywhere and 220-volt is also very common, the best solution seems to be DC fast chargers, right? Unfortunately, the cost of installing and operating it is prohibitive. In addition, not all EVs have a fast charging function. Don’t worry if your head starts to hurt; there is good news and many innovations are on the way to make charging electric vehicles easier.
What charging your electric car will look like in the future
An essential first step is to build more public charging stations to cope with the expected increase in electric car sales. Federal EV tax credits and state and local incentives are aimed at promoting electric cars, including the extensive tax credits for both new and used electric vehicles. The initiatives help bring the vision of more public charging stations to life as more EVs hit the road.
But the need to create a more robust EV charging network is just as essential in getting people to give up a gas station for a charging station. We will come back to this topic shortly.
What if you didn’t need a charging station at all? Imagine parking your car and giving a friendly robotic helper a helping hand or, more to the point, a cord and battery to keep your EV charged. That is the aim of projects such as Ziggy, a mobile EV charger under development by EV Safe Charging.
How it works is simple and effective. Let’s say an EV driver parks a lot and taps the location of his vehicle via an app. This warns Ziggy, the charging robot that resembles a battery the size of a refrigerator on wheels, to proceed to the EV’s parking lot.
A few caveats remain. First, Ziggy can’t physically connect itself to a vehicle, so you still need a pair of human hands for that task. Second, Ziggy doesn’t move fast. It rolls around at a leisurely walking pace, so it may take a while to reach some spots in a large parking garage. But the idea of mobile and semi-autonomous charging aids means that fixed charging points may one day become obsolete.
Expansion of networks
With the recently passed infrastructure law, 500,000 is an important number to remember when it comes to future charging infrastructure. That’s how many public charging stations the bill should create in the US. Exactly where these stations will be installed and how many can be located where you are at home has not yet been decided.
Currently, the number of EV charging stations varies by state and population density. California and New York have thousands of stations, while North Dakota and Nebraska only have dozens of public charging stations.
Tesla has also stated that the company will eventually open its Supercharger stations to non-Tesla vehicles. Pilot programs are underway in several European countries, including France, Germany and Spain. There is no set timetable as to when Tesla’s US network of approximately 1,200 Supercharger stations will be available to other EV drivers. However, recent reports suggest that this could happen by the end of the year.
An EV charging aid for robots can be useful. Still, not every portable charger has to be as futuristic — or terrifying, if you’re concerned about a robotic revolution coming. Portable EV chargers, like those built by Lightning eMotors, can vary considerably in size. Some are as small as a suitcase or as big as a trailer and pulled by a truck.
Portable chargers can be useful when the demand for electric vehicle charging rises suddenly. Compare it to having portable toilets in a field for an open-air festival, but cleaner. Mobile charging of electric cars could alleviate the overwhelming existing EV infrastructure without the added cost of installing permanent charging stations.
Will gas stations come into play?
Many oil companies are already claiming a stake in EV networks by creating charging stations or promoting products aimed at servicing EV vehicles. BP and Shell have already announced ambitious plans and billions of dollars in investments in electric charging stations.
Since the need for petroleum isn’t going to disappear overnight, it makes sense that oil companies would hedge their bets that EVs aren’t a passing fad or stopgap solution for the automotive ‘next big thing’.
We’ve talked about types of charging stations and even stations that come to you. But what about never stopping to recharge? This may sound impossible, but wireless charging pads can extend EV range, even on the highway. The technology is already here, with wireless charging pads giving juice to needy smartphone batteries.
The problem is scaling up the technology to operate electric vehicles that have a huge appetite for energy compared to the phone in your pocket. The technology and installation costs for wireless charging are also higher than more traditional cord-and-plug solutions. However, this may change with future developments.
Wireless charging pads embedded in a road surface can give your car extra driving range while you’re on the road. They may be located at traffic lights or curbside parking lots in an urban environment. Of course, wireless charging for electric vehicles can also help tidy up your garage or driveway, leaving no room to plug into an outlet.
Imagine nothing more than the warm rays of the sun doing the job of keeping your EV charged and ready for action. Using solar panels on cars is not a brand new idea. Several vehicles have used small panels to power auxiliary components. Features such as fans keep a vehicle’s interior from getting too hot on a sunny day. While most teardrop-shaped experimental vehicles are built to prove the potential of solar energy, there are also cars that run entirely on solar energy.
However, car manufacturers are starting to include solar panels in their production electric cars and concept vehicles. For example, the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX has a roof that is completely covered with solar panels to supply energy to interior functions, such as the HVAC system. The Hyundai Ioniq 5 has an optional sunroof that helps charge the battery and power the heating and cooling system.
Right now, a fully solar-powered production car is unfeasible or at the very least extremely expensive. But using solar panels as a means of increasing driving range is something more electric vehicle manufacturers are likely to incorporate in the future.