A Plan Emerges for Convenient EV Road Trips: Corridors with 350-kW Stations

By · December 01, 2016

Plans for an ultra-fast network of EV charging stations in Europe will utilize the CCS combo cord standard favored by European and American automakers.

We reported in October that an alliance of automakers launched a network of 25 “ultra-fast” public EV charging stations in Europe—to be used by buses and trucks at first and then eventually by drivers of passenger vehicles. The news stood out from other promises about EV charging infrastructure because the core idea was to offer charging outputs of “up to 350 kilowatts.” That would mean charging at much faster times than today’s 50-kW CHAdeMO public chargers or even Tesla’s 120-kW Superchargers, thus giving EV owners the ability to add 300 kilometers (or 190 miles) of range in about 20 minutes.

Those plans have apparently gained momentum. This week, a global consortium of automakers—including BMW, Daimler, Ford and Volkswagen—announced a joint venture to deploy a highway-based network of 400 high-power charging sites in Europe, beginning in 2017. The number of stations would grow to “thousands” by 2020. And what’s the power output for those proposed stations? A whopping 350 kilowatts.

It's All About Corridors

The idea of shifting focus to high-power charging corridors has also taken root in the United States. In recent years, the number of highway-based public charging stations (even offering relatively less power) has significantly grown in the US—in addition to Tesla’s proprietary network of about 750 Supercharger locations.

In fact, in early November, for the first time, the United State Department of Transportation formally established 48 national electric vehicle charging corridors on US highways. The newly designated electric vehicle routes cover nearly 25,000 miles across 35 states. We don’t know how a Trump Administration will affect the plans, but the current White House dedicated $4.5 billion in loan guarantees to support commercial-scale deployment.

You can review the location of the corridors in the White House’s detailed press release. Among those details, however, there is no mention of charging speeds—although a White House announcement from July indicated that the feasibility of 350-kW charging would be explored.

That’s a critical factor, as the preponderance of today’s public 50-kW chargers only add about 50 miles of driving range over a 30-minute period. A network of 350-kW chargers strategically positioned between major cities would be a whole new thing—reducing electric pit stops to the length of a coffee break.

The European alliance, in its announcement this week, clearly outlined the goal—to make EV charging, even on road trips, just “as convenient as refueling at conventional gas stations” based on recharging “in a fraction of the time of today’s battery electric vehicles,” regardless of brand. With nearly every automaker preparing a long-range EV, these stations need to be compatible to all makes.

Tesla now features about 750 so-called Superchargers in its proprietary network. A network of even faster public chargers positioned along key corridors in Europe is being explored by other automakers, although the details have not yet been announced.

Still Work To Be Done

As the next wave of big-battery 200-plus mile EVs—like the Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3 or a next-gen Nissan LEAF—come to market in the next year or two, the combination of charging corridors and 350-kW charging could finally persuade mainstream drivers to go electric.

This shift will not happen overnight. Despite the emerging vision of masses of consumers driving long-range EVs and taking road trips with minimal inconvenience, those networks need to get built. And we have not yet seen enough discussion about the economics. Powerful blasts of power can result in so-called demand charges from utilities—erasing the cost benefit of cheap electric fuel. The cost structure can be tricky, as we saw earlier this month when Tesla said it would start charging fees to new customers for access to Superchargers, which have been free-for-life for the past several years.

Today, EV drivers know that a simple home charging station readily supplies all the range needed by commuters behind the wheel of an electric car. The electricity, especially when combined with home solar, is cheap and clean. Now the attention is rightly turning to road trips. Of course, there are technical and economic issues that still need to be resolved, but the vision is in place—as expressed by Oliver Blume, Porsche’s chairman of the executive board: “There are two decisive aspects for us: ultra-fast charging and placing the charging stations at the right positions. Together, these two factors enable us to travel in an all-electrically powered car just like we drive a conventional combustion engine vehicle.”

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