Swiss electronics giant ABB has launched a new electric car charging point, which it claims can charge any electric vehicle (EV) on the market in as little as 15 minutes.
Charging times are one of the major bugbears of electric car ownership, especially given the limited number of public chargers and the increasing need to queue to get plugged-in when out and about. If ABB’s claims stand up to scrutiny, then such high-speed charging points could be something of a game changer for EV use, especially on long journeys.
As you would expect from its name, the Terra 360 charger runs at a maximum capacity of 360kW – that's 10kW more than the fastest chargers currently available in Ireland. ABB says that each Terra 360 can be equipped with four charging connectors, which, unlike most fast-charging points, can actually charge four cars at the same time – assuming you can get enough power from the grid. The company claims that it is "capable of fully charging any electric car in 15 minutes or less, meeting the needs of a variety of EV users, whether they need a fast charge or to top their battery up while grocery shopping."
Power is, of course, at a premium, and with warnings of brownouts and blackouts this winter, could Ireland's grid sustain such high-speed charging points?
"With governments around the world writing public policy that favours electric vehicles and charging networks to combat climate change, the demand for EV charging infrastructure, especially charging stations that are fast, convenient and easy to operate, is higher than ever," said Frank Muehlon, president of ABB's emobility division. "The Terra 360, with charging options that fit a variety of needs, is the key to fulfilling that demand and accelerating emobility adoption globally."
While there is, as yet, no confirmation of any Irish orders for a Terra 360, the idea is not merely for it to be installed at public charging points, ABB claims that it is also ideal for haulage companies, as it can quickly zap a charge into a delivery van or even a larger truck while the driver is on a break, potentially speeding up the take-up of zero-emissions delivery operations. Each Terra 360 charger is designed to have as small a physical footprint as possible, so they can be installed in small depots or parking spaces, where space is at a premium.
Power is, of course, at a premium too, and with warnings of brownouts and blackouts this winter, could Ireland’s grid sustain such high-speed charging points?
Smart metering would allow people to plug in and wait for peak demand to pass before their car starts to charge, reducing overall demand on the system
Ionity (a charging conglomerate made up of Ford, VW, Mercedes, Hyundai and other car manufacturers, which uses ultra-fast ABB-provided chargers for its network) has told The Irish Times that it has had repeated problems getting enough electricity feed to its fast-charger sites in the UK, and so is toying with the idea of vast on-site batteries in order to guarantee enough supply at the end of the cable. Paul Entwhistle, from Ionity, told The Irish Times that: "The following story from the UK is typical of the issues we have to deal with. We asked for 1250KVA at one particular and very busy, from a traffic volume perspective, site. We received 250. So we are looking it installing 'battery sites' so we are able to guarantee supply. We believe that high-power charging is critical to the take up of emobility."
David Martin, a spokesman for Eirgrid, told The Irish Times that sudden brownouts caused by everyone plugging in an EV are unlikely: "From an electricity grid perspective, EV's biggest impact will likely be on the amount of capacity required to meet peak demand. If smart charging can be fully realised, EV charging can be moved into the night-time rather than peak dinner time, therefore, minimising any impact on additional capacity requirements. On an annual basis, the demand from 900,000 EVs would represent 9-to-ten per cent of the total annual electricity demand in 2030."
The idea of smart metering, as mentioned by Martin, is a potential solution. In theory, this would allow people to plug in and then simply wait for peak demand to pass before their car starts to charge, reducing overall demand on the system.
There has long been talk, too, of using electric cars as storage tanks for electricity, charging them up from night-time wind power, and then drawing on the remaining charge in the battery (assuming that most people will plug in long before the gauge reaches zero) if the car is plugged in at peak demand times. That plan, though, was first mooted more than a decade ago and still has not come to fruition, although both Hyundai’s new Ioniq 5 and Kia’s new EV6 electric cars can, in theory, reverse their battery flow and power your home in the event of a power cut.
Will it be a problem, The Irish Times asked Eirgrid, if people – in that bloody-minded way that ‘people’ tend to operate – want to come home and start charging immediately, in case they need to go out again that evening? That issue, it seems, will be down to both education, and the carrot of lower charging costs at off-peak times. “As quantities of electric vehicles grow they will have an increasing impact on the electricity grid and on electricity markets. The scale of this impact will depend on the quantity and types of electric vehicle, vehicle usage, types and locations of vehicle chargers and the charging patterns of vehicle owners” said Martin.
“Charger technology has the potential to minimise the potential impact of electric vehicle demand on the grid. It is assumed that charger technology will evolve over time from simple chargers and patterns that are readily available today, to smart chargers with features such as programmable charge start times to smarter charging technology that optimises vehicle charging in line with dynamic electricity price signals.”