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Electric vehicle batteries set to leap forward, but are the chargers ready for them?

When it comes to electric vehicles, the car can go only as far as the battery can take it, and the lithium-ion battery has made tremendous leaps forward in power, capacity and charge speed capabilities.

Thankfully, the chargers themselves have evolved in line with the capabilities of the battery, if not ahead of it.

We have now moved from the home plug charger which can often add only four kilometres of range every 10 minutes, to the common 7kW home charger which can add about seven kms range per 10 minutes, to publicly-available DC fast chargers which can add about 50kms of range.

However, the batteries are soon set to take another leap forward, and the development and subsequent deployment of publicly-available charging infrastructure needs to continue to keep pace.

And with the New South Wales Government’s recent announcement of a plan to fast-track electric car uptake by supporting the rollout of fast-charging infrastructure, it’s important to consider what infrastructure might be part of that rollout, and whether it caters to both today’s and tomorrow’s electric vehicle needs.

The new generation of EVs with batteries in the 100kWh range will require higher power chargers to deliver a positive user experience. Bringing a battery of this size from less than 25 percent full to 80 percent full during a 20-minute stop will require power delivery of around 175kW.

Further, consumers accustomed to petroleum are used to “filling up” at service stations and want to be back on the road in less time than that.

The fears around range anxiety, plug-in time and infrastructure availability are all factors which hinder the uptake of electric vehicles. People are more likely to shift their purchasing focus if their day-to-day routine is not adversely affected – and people are used to the “fill up in five minutes” gas pump experience of today.

Therefore, the deployment of chargers in the 175kW-350kW range will be critical to the rollout of charger networks in the future – while some drivers are content using the 50kW fast charger equivalent, others such as taxi drivers, truck drivers and fleet managers will look for a speedier serve, as will many typical drivers transitioning to an EV for the first time.

At the lowest setting (175kW) these chargers can add up to 175kms additional range to the 100kWh battery in just 10 minutes, while a charger in the 350kW setting will add the same amount of range in just five minutes – comparable to today’s petrol station experience.

When the chargers are set to 475kW, the charge rate will be faster than any current petrol station refueling experience.

It’s only the capability of current batteries that is holding back the deployment of high-power chargers at the 475kW setting.

This is why, for now at least, network operators around the world are beginning to look at the 350kW DC high-power charger as the new standard for publicly-available chargers on highways, where space is plentiful and they can replicate the service station experience.