Electric vehicles: the charging technology

The arrival on the automotive market of electric vehicles, expected in 2012-2013, has been strongly supported by many governments. The hopes placed by manufacturers and the public authorities still leaves open the issue of charging infrastructure, essential to the successful marketing of these cars

Renault Fluence, Zoe, Twizzy, Class A E-Cell, IQ, Nissan Leaf, Blue On, Peugeot Ion etc. Electric vehicles sold on a large scale in the near future share the same constraint: the range of electric batteries, limited to just over 150 km and the recharging times that remain relatively long. Initially, therefore clean vehicles are designed for urban use, and will be mainly useful for short daily journeys.

The charging infrastructure: an inescapable need

It will be necessary to “fill up” frequently with electricity. In France, the national plan for the development of carbon-free vehicles is planned to meet this demand by installing charging points in extended parking places: at home, where it will be strongly recommended to install a dedicated socket in accordance with current standards, allowing the vehicle to be charged up overnight, but also in the parking lots of apartment and office buildings as well as in supermarket parking lots. Self-service charging stations will also be installed on public roads.

What alternative today?

Private companies will soon offer alternatives to the limitations of recharging times: the Californian Better Place start-up, a distributor of charging stations, is also testing the fast replacement of batteries in dedicated stations, allowing empty batteries to be replaced by charged-up batteries in just a few minutes. Instead of taking time to recharge the battery, the idea is to replace it with an already charged-up battery. The system is currently being tested, in particular in Israel and Japan.

An unresolved issue: the management and supply of the infrastructure

However the charging infrastructure works, the problem of the energy supply remains the same. According to RTE, the French Management Company for the Electricity Transmission Network, the shift toward sustainable “carbon-free” travel methods will result in both a significant increase in electricity consumption by 2025 as well as a risk in terms of power demand. The distribution network in its current state would have difficulty in supporting the simultaneous charging of many electric vehicles. However, incentives should help smooth out this demand and spread it over off-peak hours. Finally, with the use of smart grids, it should be possible to use vehicles as storage elements: if necessary, some cars could be discharged to provide support, albeit diffuse, to the network (“Vehicle-to-grid” concept).

These are constraints that  electric vehicles project managers (?) will have increased control over with the roll-out of “pilot” projects in San Francisco and New York, in 12 French conurbations and in 5 Chinese cities (Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Hefei and Changchun). Shortly, these should provide reliable information on the uses and limitations of electric vehicles.

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