Though the electric vehicle (EV) segment has seen a steady gain in adoption numbers over the last decade, there are a few elementary issues that the industry needs to confront before it looks to take on its bigger adversary – internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
One of the primary factors that constrict adoption is the sticker price of an electric vehicle at the showroom. For instance, in a comparison between an electric and an ICE vehicle that are functionally similar, the EV is roughly twice as expensive – making it less convincing a choice for potential buyers.
Range is also a definite issue, as most of EVs on the market today can travel around 300 miles on average at full charge. This range is problematic, and the vehicles’ dreadfully slow charging cycle compounds the issue. However, shortening the charging cycle from an average of eight hours is critical, because it is truly an issue for most owners.
“To have widespread adoption, the industry needs to reduce the sticker price and shorten charging cycles. All vehicles with the same type of function must have comparable prices – be it electric, diesel or gasoline. That apart, the vehicles must also have the same sort of recharge points and mileage. The fundamental thing that needs to change for this is the battery itself,” said Stephen Voller, the founder and CEO at ZapGo, a British fast charging technology startup.
Voller compared the current stage of battery development in the EV market to be the early “brick cellular phones” that led to the smartphones of today. “What the industry does today is use laptop batteries in the vehicles, which are put into trays under the vehicle. Though they do provide a good riding experience, it is just brick-phone-good. We haven’t yet gotten to the Nokia stage, let alone the smartphone stage,” he said.
As air quality across major cities decreases, Voller pointed out that ultimately adoption of EVs will not remain a choice for people, but rather forced upon them by legislation.
“The macroeconomic argument of today now includes air quality. Many governments are facing significant pressure to improve air quality. This pressure is stronger than the one felt when the discussion was about climate change. That is because you can measure air quality 24×7, but can’t say the same with climate change, as you can’t quantitatively show that things have a particular effect,” said Voller.
ZapGo’s solution to the charging cycle issue is a 350-kilowatts charging system – thrice the output of the current Tesla superchargers that operate at 120-kilowatts. ZapGo’s system is designed so that a vehicle like a Porsche Taycan can drive 300 miles on a 15-minute charge.
“In the current scenario, charging is slow because EVs are normally connected to the electricity grid using a 75-kilowatts AC connection. Our technology boosts that up to 350-kilowatts, making it much faster. This is important because using our technology, we can store electricity at night when it’s off-peak or green or cheap. EV owners can then charge their vehicles using the stored energy and not directly from the grid. This way, there’s a price benefit that we can pass on to our users,” said Voller.
ZapGo is one of the members of a standards body called the Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN), an industry body comprised of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) looking to develop new standards for the different charging technologies as they evolve. Currently, the group is developing standards for a 1.2-megawatt charger, which will be equivalent to the output of 10 Tesla superchargers.
These power chargers will be primarily designed for large vehicles like electric trucks. To power a large truck carrying a heavy load through electric batteries, there needs to be about one-megawatt power stored on the truck – the equivalent of having 800 U.S. homes come on the grid all at the same time.
“I see us at the cusp of something really exciting. I certainly believe that a child born today will look back on our era now and laugh at what we do,” said Voller. “A child born today will probably never learn to drive a car, will be driven around in an autonomous vehicle, and will think it’s ridiculous that we put up with the air quality as we do.”