3 reasons why DC charging will leave AC in the dust

By David Finn, CEO, co-founder, Tritium

AC chargers were crucial to jumpstarting the electric vehicle (EV) market, but their days are numbered: electric cars that can take high-power charges are hitting the market within the next two years. Major changes to the EV landscape will occur when these models reach critical mass, and that’s a signal that utilities should stop investing in AC charging infrastructure now.

Abundant DC fast chargers in public spaces–including new high-power models that can charge a car in close to the time it takes to fill a gas tank–are necessary to accelerate the transition to low-emission transportation. Public agencies and utilities should prioritize investments in DC infrastructure that serves current and future EV models, so they don’t get stuck with unusable AC assets.

Now that policy makers across the country are moving to drive EV uptake by deploying public funds for chargers, they and the utilities should consider the following three technology and market factors when planning for EV needs.

1. Rapid energy transfer

The majority of utility investments in the US are for Level 2 public chargers, which provide about 12 to 25 miles of range per hour (RPH) and take from three to 12 hours to fully charge a vehicle. That’s fine for overnight or all-day workplace charging, but it limits vehicles’ usability. DC fast chargers transfer energy rapidly and thus allow wide flexibility in using EVs.

As EV owners drive longer distances and need to recharge quickly on the road, they’ll require faster charging. The electrical and cooling equipment needed to move energy from the grid to the battery at these levels is available only in off-board DC fast chargers, which can add between 100 and 200 miles of RPH.

Norway, the most advanced EV market in the world, provides a glimpse of the future: as of October 2018, nearly 45 percent of vehicles on Norwegian roads were all-electric, and they’re powered by more than 1,000 DC fast-charging locations.

Elsewhere in Europe, IONITY, a joint venture by four major automakers, is building a network of 400 high-power (175kW to 350kW) DC chargers that can power up an EV battery in about 10 minutes–comparable to filling a car at a gas station. Plans call for IONITY stations to operate in 24 European countries by 2020. In October, Gilbarco Veeder-Root, the world’s leading fueling retailer, announced that it will sell Tritium’s DC fast and high-power chargers to gas stations around the world, which will further open the door for the uptake and development of fast-charging vehicles.  

2. Future-proofing

Until now, there haven’t been enough EVs on the road to justify an investment in widespread public DC charging. By 2025, though, EVs are expected to account for nearly 22 percent of new cars sold in the US, and they will need fast-charging infrastructure.

EV uptake is increasing exponentially. The US recently surpassed 1 million EVs sold, as did Europe, and the US had its best month for EV sales in November. Global EV sales have already passed 4 million vehicles.  

As EVs become more popular and powerful, their batteries will need the faster charging provided by DC products. Investments in AC infrastructure will become stranded assets once we see large shifts to cars capable of faster charging–automakers have announced that higher-power EVs across the cost spectrum will hit the market in the next two years. 

The next generation of high-power chargers, like those in use in the IONITY network, are “future-proofed”: they can handle current vehicles as well as those to come.

3. New revenue and practicality

One DC fast charger can charge multiple electric vehicles daily, making it perfect for corridor charging parks, fleet depots, public parking lots, and shopping areas where people spend a moderate amount of time. While lower-level AC charging is cheaper now, the price of DC technology is dropping, and its benefits will quickly outweigh those of AC technology. High-power chargers will be able to service multiple vehicles at the same time. That means far fewer units will be needed, so DC chargers will be a more cost-effective choice even at a higher per-unit price.

Price advantages are shifting at the vehicle level as well. All battery electric vehicles sold now have DC fast-charging capabilities and most have more than a 150-mile range. Retaining AC charging adds cost to the car; removing it will generate savings that can be passed down to EV buyers or added to the automaker’s profit margin. This gives automakers a strong motivation to give up on AC charging, and will likely contribute to snowballing momentum for DC charging. We’re already seeing automakers remove AC charging equipment or downsize it to an emergency-use level.  

When the bulk of public charging infrastructure is DC, and in-home DC charging options come online, automakers will have no reason to provide onboard AC chargers.

Embracing the fast-charging future

Utilities can position themselves as charging leaders by embracing advanced DC options. Several states are already rolling out DC fast charging infrastructure: In 2019, New York will install 200 DC fast-charging stations at dozens of locations along areas of heavy vehicle traffic. Electrify America is rolling out DC fast-charging stations in California, which will drive up demand from drivers, who will quickly come to expect fast charges. In addition, under California’s $768 million EV infrastructure budget, Pacific Gas and Electric will receive $22 million to add 234 DC fast-charging stations for passenger vehicles at 52 sites.

All across the country, states have announced plans to install public fast-charging stations: New Jersey will offer at least 600 stations by the end of 2020, and Virginia is spending $14 million in the next three years on chargers along highways, with a focus on DC fast chargers. In Texas, Dayton Light & Power is planning to invest $1 million in EV charging with a fast-charging focus.

Meanwhile, home DC charging is on the way. Utilities that incentivize AC home charging may soon find that customers are already moving on to more efficient DC home charging that can connect to the grid, store energy, and send and receive utility pricing signals.  

With the obsolescence of AC charging just around the corner, utilities should feel confident investing in DC fast charging and high-power EV charging infrastructure.

David Finn is the CEO and co-founder of Tritium and a former member of the Sunshark solar racing team, whose technology sparked the company’s formation.

EV Charging and utilities will be discussed at DistribuTECH 2019 in multiple sessions. Learn more about the event, here.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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