Debating public EV charging speeds: how fast is fast enough?
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EV Charging
Nov 18, 2021
Mehanaz Yakub

In a webinar on public electric vehicle charging, industry experts joined Electric Autonomy Canada to discuss the steps needed to ensure Canada’s fast charging infrastructure will match the increasing charging speeds of EVs

A group of expert panelists convenes to discuss how best to match public charging speeds with the growing capabilities of electric vehicles.

Industry experts on public fast charging joined Electric Autonomy Canada for a webinar to discuss the steps needed to ensure Canada’s fast-charging infrastructure will match the increasing capabilities of EVs

This week, Electric Autonomy Canada, along with sponsor, LeadingAhead Energy, hosted a panel on public fast-charging speeds in Canada. The participating experts examined what current charging infrastructure looks like in Canada and discussed what investors and site hosts will need to do to ensure charging speeds match the advancing technology of EVs of the future.

At this point, it’s clear that automakers are buying into an electric vehicle future and are now focused on competing to build the best EVs on the market. A large part of this is about building the best battery with the fastest charging capabilities.

But as this trend accelerates, industry leaders are concerned that charging infrastructure is not evolving as quickly, and that many of Canada’s chargers — those offering 50 kW charging — are going to fail to meet customer expectations for faster speeds.

Stephen Tok, Director Americas Energy and Utility Strategies, Tritium EV Chargers; Mike Buff, Manager of Infrastructure Planning and Research, Electrify Canada & Electrify America; Stephen Bieda, Eco Brand Business Development Manager, Kia Canada; and Maxime Charron, President, LeadingAhead Energy all joined to give their insights. 

You can watch the full discussion with Electric Autonomy in the webinar presented by LeadingAhead Energy and read the summary below.

Charging speeds and customer expectations

As the push for greater EV adoption continues, Electrify Canada & Electrify America’s Mike Buff says a key to helping people switch to EVs is to create an ultra-fast and convenient charging experience.

The company’s research finds that drivers would rather pay to use DC fast-charging than to have to use Level 2 charging — even if it’s free.

Part of the reason why, says Tritium’s Tok, is because once drivers get “a taste” of a higher-power charge and see their car can handle it, then that is the level of experience they want universally.

The charging infrastructure in Canada and the U.S. is not as advanced as in Europe. Across the Atlantic, there are far more 350 kW chargers at public fast charging stations, says Tok, calling it one of the major differences he notices between his North American and international clients. But lately, he says, the trend of higher speeds seems to be making its way into North America.

This will be important as vehicles, such as the Kia’s EV6 Crossover and Hyundai Ioniq, with capabilities of up to 350 kW charging speeds, Mercedes’ EQS with charging speeds of 200 kW and Porsche’s 225 kW capabilities will begin to reach customers by early next year.

“The charging infrastructure that we have deployed right now, it’s not quite suited for cars with that capability of EV6,” says Kia’s Bieda.

“[The EV6s] can get up to 80 per cent state of charge in roughly 18 minutes… It’s all about customer experience and it’s all about convenience — that’s what we designed for and the people today are just not very patient. Everybody wants their cars charged rapidly and ready to go. And so this is a big development in the industry and we’re really passionate and excited about seeing many more of these 350 kW chargers offered so that our customers driving the EV6 will really be able to get to where they want to go with minimal inconvenience.”

Future-proofing for fast (and faster) charging

During the panel, LeadingAhead Energy’s Charron pointed out that if automakers continue to put out and advertise EVs with increasing charging speed capabilities but customers can only find access to 50 kW chargers, then it’s going to result in a lot of public frustration.

“We’re going to see people going back to diesel and gasoline vehicles quite rapidly which for the industry will be very disappointing. But also it’s going to be that much harder to get those people back into an electric vehicle in the future,” says Charron.

On the plus side, the Canadian government is working to increase adoption rates by investing in chargers, adds Charron. But he also says that if companies are “going to install charging stations that are going to last for a long time, [LeadingAhead] are going to make sure that they are future-proofing for the cars that are coming. Otherwise, we’re kind of just building disposable items…and that’s really not good for greening the transportation sector.”

At Tritium, Tok says the company is working with site hosts to make sure they will be able to accommodate future charging technology and avoid infrastructure that becomes obsolete quickly.

“A lot of our products are replaceable with the same base plate and so once that conduit is already laid, we can put a higher-power charger on and change the breaker.”

Tok also says he expects there to be a growing number of fast chargers per site, which will mean the need for a lot more power.

“Areas that have hydropower can create more power — that’s not a problem — but for other areas, other utilities, that’s going to be a problem with demand charging and load management.”

“The biggest part is getting the utilities to size the transformer up right,” says Tok.

Designing sites for public fast charging

Electrify Canada and Electrify America operates a public charging network with stations that feature charging speeds of 150 kW to 350 kW. Buff says that “charging speeds are at the heart of our strategy, but so is convenience,” and that Electrify is approaching each potential site and considering each element of the customer’s experience with that guiding principle in mind.

“We have plug and charge at all of our stations which is a really cool technology. You can just plug in the car, and the car and charger talk to each other to authenticate and [then] you’re on your way. It’s very seamless,” says Buff.

Each expert in the panel also mentioned other features that could be included in future site designs. From ensuring a portion of stations be accessibility-friendly, with wider stalls for wheelchair access, to installing canopies at charging locations, to ensuring that more than one charger is available per site.

Moving forward, Buff says the upfront costs of installing fast 350 kW chargers will be significant. But there are ways site hosts can make sustainable economic returns depending on the site locations and whether there are convenience stores at these locations or if they offer different types of amenities for drivers.

“[The] easy items you could add to a station maybe can generate a bit of revenue by keeping the cost of maintaining them to a minimum,” says Bieda. “I think [that] could go a long way to making the experience more fun and fewer people frustrated waiting.”

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