The evolution of EV charging
Charging infrastructure is as necessary for electric vehicles (EVs) to work as water is to grow plants. It’s this simple: no charge, no drive. This means that charging infrastructure and technologies are as old as EVs themselves and have evolved over time just as much. Technological advancements and changing user preferences have driven this evolution.
Did you know that electric mobility (e-mobility) looks back on a century-long history? The first electrically powered vehicle was developed in the early 19th century – even slightly before the world’s first practical combustion car developed by German engineer Karl Benz went into serial production. From the start, vehicle capabilities were limited, meaning charging infrastructure was – compared to today's standards – much less extravagant. Not only were charging technologies not as common and widespread as they are today, charging capacities were also much more limited.
Today, we classically divide chargers into two categories: alternating current (AC) chargers or direct current (DC) chargers. While the former mainly delivers slow to medium charging speeds, the latter provides rapid charging opportunities. To put it in performance figures: AC chargers often provide up to 1.8 kW (level 1) and 3-22 kW (level 2). DC chargers can power up to 300 kW or more (level 3). Within level 3 charging, two forms can be further distinguished: mid-fast charging (23-99 kW) and HPC (100 kW and more).
What is high power charging: Unraveling the technology
HPC is a transformative force in the e-mobility (r)evolution, redefining speed and convenience. High power chargers employ advanced electronics to manage high voltages, converting AC to DC within the chargers (instead of in the car, as in AC charging) for optimal battery charging.
There are four main components that enable effective high power charging:
- Vehicles: modern EVs' lithium-ion batteries, managed by the car’s onboard charging system, handle high charging rates without compromising the longevity of the battery. Unfortunately, not every EV is able to handle DC charging – older models, smaller EVs and plug-in hybrids may not support it due to smaller battery capacities.
- Batteries: balancing speed and battery health is crucial; advanced battery management systems regulate temperatures during high power charging, optimizing efficiency and lifespan.
- Cables: HPC technology is dependent on special wiring, due to the fact that very high power is applied. Where there is a lot of power, a lot of heat is generated. Thermal management and liquid cooling of DC charging cables are thus an essential part of HPC charging to guarantee safety and facilitate higher energy efficiency and speed.
- Connectors: There are two major EV fast charging standards: CCS and CHAdeMO. Each comes with standardized connectors and protocols for efficient high power charging. CCS features two main types of connectors: Type 1 (Combo 1) used in North America and Asia, and Type 2 (Combo 2) used in Europe and other regions. These are widely adopted across carmakers worldwide. CHAdeMO is favored by specific manufacturers, as it drives the evolution of EV charging technology.
HPC technology is constantly advancing and improvements in battery technology are enabling faster, more efficient charging. Bi-directional charging (aka. vehicle-to-grid) and solar charging (powering EVs with photovolatic systems), for example, lead to more sustainable, integrated and balanced power systems. Integrating high power chargers with batteries enables faster scaling by allowing high power chargers to run on existing grid infrastructure.
Advantages and challenges of high power charging
The expansion of HPC charging infrastructure is necessary for a successful transition in the mobility sector to meet users’ needs for fast and convenient en-route charging. Charging with HPC technology is also, however, associated with a number of challenges.
- Rapid charging speeds: high power charging significantly reduces charging times, allowing most EVs to receive 80% charge in under 30 minutes.
- Boosted EV adoption: HPC removes a significant barrier to EV adoption: missing convenience. It makes EVs more appealing and accessible to a wider range of consumers. Long-distance travel also becomes more attractive when a dense network of HPC stations provides a more seamless and time-efficient charging experience, eliminating range anxiety and making cross-country travel feasible.
- Reduced carbon footprint: high power charging can motivate more drivers to switch to EVs, which in turn would accelerate the transition to sustainable e-mobility and thus contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
- Grid demand: HPC can strain local electricity grids, requiring the costly and time-consuming expansion of grid infrastructure to support the increased power demand from multiple HPC charging stations.
- Interoperability: ensuring compatibility and seamless charging experiences across various charging networks, connectors, and EV models remains a challenge that requires urgent standardization efforts.
- Costs: establishing HPC infrastructure involves significant upfront investment, including installation, equipment, and maintenance, which can hinder a fast and seamless deployment process, as well as widespread accessibility to HPC.
Overcoming challenges with smart solutions
Because grid modernization and extension are so costly and time-consuming, this cannot be the only way to deal with grid congestion or bottlenecks. Grid extensions in Germany, for example, currently take around six to 12 months to be completed. Therefore, the motto must be: using brains over copper. Grid extensions can be kept to an absolute minimum by leveraging smart energy management technology. This is particularly important for fast chargers, due to their sharper and higher peak loads, which cause higher strain on the electrical grid. Intelligent and manufacturer-independent energy management solutions, such as our XENON platform, allows customers to connect, monitor and intelligently manage charging infrastructure of various OEMs (gridX supports assets from more than 40 manufacturers and all standard communication protocols, such as EEBus or OCPP). This minimizes peak loads, and with it, grid fees. Importantly, optimally using available power also minimizes grid extension and carbon emissions.
High power charging infrastructure in Europe
The International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook 2023 reported that the number of fast chargers in Europe at the end of 2022 surpassed 70,000, a rise by 55% compared to 2021. Our Charging Report 2023 found that most of Europe, however, still has a long way to go until a sufficient EV charging infrastructure is achieved – across all levels of charging. When it comes to HPC, one country has a clear lead: Norway. 15% of all public charge points in the Nordic country are above 100 kW. Germany seems to have heard the call and is closely behind with 12%. In contrast, lower rates in the UK (5%), France (5%), Belgium (3%) and the Netherlands (2%) show that fast chargers must be pushed harder in the coming years. High power chargers are crucial to meet the needs of the 41 million EVs that the European Union and its member states want to get on the road by the end of this decade.
HPC in heavy goods transport
In addition to passenger transport, logistics and heavy goods transport must also gain sufficient access to high power charging stations in order to achieve a shift towards widespread e-mobility. Heavy goods HPC charging stations, which use megawatt charging systems (MCS), have been under development since 2018. The technology builds on CCS, and will allow up to 3.75 MW of charging power. The development and introduction of CCS-based MCS is being driven by the Charging Interface Initiative e. V. (CharIN e. V.), which was founded in Berlin in 2015.
The future of HPC
High power charging technology is experiencing ongoing innovation and is set to become significantly more widespread. Advancements in technology will push the limits of charging speed and efficiency, making EVs even more convenient and attractive. As the range of battery electric vehicles steadily grows, the ability to quickly charge higher capacities will become more valuable. As infrastructure expands and standardization improves, high power charging will therefore become an even more indispensable component of clean, efficient and connected mobility ecosystems.
According to Amelie Meixner, Teamlead Customer Success at gridX, “When combined with smart charging solutions, high power charging provides convenient and seamless charging experiences, which are crucial for EVs to reach the mass market. HPC infrastructure must be properly integrated into holistic energy systems, alongside renewable energy sources and vehicle-to-grid technology, to guarantee clean and cost-effective e-mobility in the future.”
However, even the best developments are only as good as the basic conditions that underpin them. Certain regulatory hurdles – if not overcome soon – could hamper a rapid and smooth expansion of charging infrastructure in Europe. In early 2023, 20 European charging point operators stated in an open letter that "the biggest bottleneck facing operators today is the time it takes to set up a grid connection point, the complexity of the process to obtain one, and access to sufficient grid capacity." Governments must therefore push to harmonize and standardize grid connection processes and incentivize smart solutions that pave the way for a widespread deployment of fast EV charging infrastructure.