Battery Storage Can Help Expand Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

by Jake Richardson

Mar. 7, 2018


Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 4.05.21 PM.png

McKinsey & Company recently published an intriguing article about electric vehicles and public charging infrastructure in the US. According to McKinsey, there could be ten to eleven million battery electric vehicles (BEVs) by 2030 on American roads. (Currently, there are just 700,000 to 800,000.) If the company’s estimate is correct, there will be a huge surge in electric vehicles in the next 12 years.

There are some issues though. There are only about 16,000 public charging stations and of those only 2,000 are the fast charging kind. So public charging availability must be increased to accommodate all the new EVs.

At the moment, fast chargers can recharge an EV battery in an hour or less. Level 2 chargers are much more common but they require  4-8 hours for a full charge.
What are the challenges with installing fast chargers? They require far more electrical infrastructure compared to a Level 2 charger, resulting in costs up to 3x as much.  There’s an additional operational cost for the fast ones: higher demand charges due to energy usage spikes. The electric vehicle is a device with energy usages on par with an HVAC system. Fast chargers deliver several times more electricity than Level 2 chargers, so they incur greater demand charges from the grid. Demand charges at a fast charger could exceed 50% of the revenue. Businesses operating fast chargers would need to reduce their costs to become profitable or charge higher prices for charging to recoup the costs, both options presenting different challenges.

This complicated situation is beautifully illustrated by McKinsey in this animated video.

McKinsey identifies a promising solution: energy storage. Battery systems can be co-located with fast chargers in order to reduce or even eliminate demand charges. Batteries can be charged when electricity rates are very low so they can later  service EVs at charger stations. With this method, no demand charges are incurred for EV charging. They can also be used when multiple EVs need charging and the number of fixed stations is insufficient, so one could be charged from batteries and another from a fast charger. In this scenario, less grid electricity is used by the fast charger so demand chargers are reduced.

By reducing demand charges at fast charging stations both the EV drivers who use fast charging and the charger businesses experience lower costs. When the number of customers increases, fast charger operation costs can be reduced again, because there are simply more customers to share the costs together.

The entire economic picture is made more favorable, encouraging the installation of more faster chargers, feeding back into overall EV adoption. As fast EV charging is made more affordable, EV adoption would grow in parallel. It used to be that ‘range anxiety’ was viewed as the primary barrier to EV adoption. Today, it is a lack of fast, affordable public charging options.

Mobile energy storage systems have yet another advantage. They can be deployed in places where public charging is lacking or non-existent. Once they are in place and EV drivers are using them, data can be collected to study real-world situations. Usage times, locations, frequency and consumption can them be calculated to make better plans for permanent charging installations. By employing this pilot program approach, and gathering essential information expensive logistical mistakes can be avoided, so better capital investments can be made to grow charging infrastructure.

Looking at some real-world scenarios, a recent study estimated that by 2030 Chicago could have 80,000 electric vehicles on its roads. The same source stated about 2,700 public charging stations total may be needed to match the EV growth. However, Chicago currently only has about 300, and 34 are the fast kind.

It’s not difficult to imagine what would happen if there 80,000 new electric vehicles in a very large city and only 34 fast chargers. Energy storage is needed to help support all the new fast chargers that will be installed in order to keep operation and consumer costs at an affordable level.

The projected number of electric vehicles in Los Angeles by 2030 is 451,000, according to Environment California. At the moment LA has about 1,340 Level 2 chargers and 84 fast ones, as reported by Charge Hub.

Obviously, many more fast chargers will be needed to balance out the charger network there and to handle the influx of new electric vehicles. Stationary and mobile energy storage can help support LA’s growing charging network in order to keep costs low and to help with testing sites and planning.

Energy storage can play an integral role in support of America’s emerging EV charging infrastructure.