One of the famous technology companies ABB specialised in electrification, robotics, industrial automation, and power grids.
One of the first companies to be involved in the charging sector. The services they offer are AC wall boxes and DC fast chargers used in highway charging stations such as Fastned in the Netherlands.
ABB also partnered with the Formula-E race to promote and accelerate electric mobility development.
The interview was conducted by the TU Delft. It has been edited as per the requirement.
What are the key technology enablers for compact, efficient, and low-cost fast chargers for electric vehicles?
Of course, for compactness power electronics is the key. That is the main technical challenge there. But to make a good charger a lot of software is required and because it is a product that interacts with a vehicle, there is a lot of software communicating with the vehicle, with the battery management system of the vehicle.
There is software for payment and user interfaces. So I would say it is a power-electronics product, with a very strong software component in there and the software is, I would say, for the customers we have is very key. Because they make the payment applications, they make interaction with the user and all these items which are very visible to the outside world.
Charging stations often have different types of connectors. What has led to this and what do you foresee in the future?
The adoption of different connectors is actually due to industry politics because the Japanese were first with electric vehicles and then the Americans and Europeans decided not to follow their standard. So, they created their standard. And, also later the French tried to bring in a new standard. It was in the end from a technical point of view: it makes no sense.
But, it is just politics, and standardisation committees in the end have found a way to say “agree to disagree”. So, there is a standard with multiple n axes. So, charges now have three cables at the moment and soon it may go to two and maybe in ten or twenty years to one, but that’s a question mark.
How does charging technology for cars differs from that for buses or trucks?
Busses and trucks have much bigger batteries and typically the charging power is much higher. And, also the use case is very different. For example, a city bus drives the same circle the whole day and it stops at the regular places. So, it needs a charging system which is very fast, but chargers the bus enough to drive one circle whereas if you are in a car you want to drive 300 km or so and maybe after 300 km you stop a bit longer.
Maybe 15 or 20 minutes. So, I would say for the busses and trucks the charging power is much higher. It can go even to 500 kW and maybe later an MW or so. Where in the car it is now in the range from 50 to 350 kW, which is also quite high-power, but the battery is just smaller.
What has motivated fast chargers to move from 50 kW charging power to 350 kW and up?
I think 50 kW was the initial standard for fast charging, which was based on the technology of that day, which is about 8-9 years ago when batteries were quite small and 50 kW was efficient to charge such a battery in about 20 minutes, but the range was very limited of these vehicles.
And, what is happening now is that new electric vehicles are coming to the market which can drive 4-5 hundred kilometers on a charge, and to charge such a battery in 20 minutes you need up to 350 kW of battery power. So, the idea of the 350 kW new standard is that 15 minutes of charge will give you 400 km of range so it is very close to fuelling at the petrol station. 15 minutes and you can go 400 km then.
What is the role of smart charging and what are the biggest challenges for its implementation?
I think the role of smart charging will be quite big. It may not be as big in the fast charging domain as it is in the slow charging domain, because – let’s say – charging at home and the office is the biggest market for smart charging. Because there you can shift energy over time. You can balance the grid with smart charging.
I think the biggest implementation issues are mainly that many stakeholders have to come together to build an application and there needs to be a business model behind it. I think the business model is really what – the implementation is not difficult, the business model is the difficult case.
Why doesn’t ABB offer bidirectional chargers with vehicle-to-grid capability? Is that going to change?
That may change in the future. At the moment we have a prototype of a vehicle-to-grid charger, but for smart charging the business model’s hurdles are relatively small, so that business case is quite simple to solve. For bidirectional charging, there is also a very large regulatory aspect. It is that it is not allowed everywhere.
And, the use case is that many stakeholders are coming together because if you use the battery to balance the grid, for example, it degrades the battery. Every use of a battery degrades it. So, you need to find financial compensation for the loss of capacity of the battery versus the stakeholder, which is a different stakeholder, which is for example the grid owner. So the business model challenges are not easy.
And, therefore we think that vehicle-to-grid may have a good market, but it will take a longer time. So it is something at the moment which is more in the experimentation stage and pilot project, but hopefully in the next five years will develop into a real product category. But we are still a bit monitoring how fast the real market will happen.
Tell us more about flash charging and opp-charging that ABB offers for electric buses.
We have multiple concepts. Because every use case has a different implementation. So, flash charging is a very fast charging technique, which allows charging in one minute for city-bus applications, so charging at the bus stop.
Then you have a technique called opp-charge which is a more mainstream technique that is more based on the idea of charging at the endpoints in the routes so that charging time is about 5 minutes more or less.
And for electric cars the use case is mainly, I would say, on the highway maybe 15 to 20 minutes, but there are also other use cases like supermarkets where half an hour to 45 minutes would be a good use case. Or if you would go for example to a concert or a commercial shopping mall, where you spend maybe two hours then that is an appropriate use case. So, in the end, our philosophy is mainly that the use case defines the charging time because the consumers have a certain behaviour. They will not change this so you have to adapt the charging time to the location where people spend a certain amount of time.
Do you see both slow AC charging and fast DC charging co-existing in the future?
I think the majority of charging at home and in the office will be AC charging for now. And, the faster you go the more sense it makes to have DC charging. I would say that there is also a possibility that in the future DC charging at home can come. The combination of solar and battery storage et cetera, but the timeline is maybe a bit longer. They absolutely will go exist at least for the next ten years, for sure.
What are the unique selling points of ABB EV chargers?
I would say we have a quite broad portfolio for all the use cases and our chargers are very well. We have invested a lot into the software side of the charger. So, the applications, building, payment, connectivity, and remote diagnostics, because to make a charging operation commercially attractive your running costs need to be very low.
And, remote diagnostics and remote service capability are crucial to many customers. So, we invested a lot in that. And, we invested a lot into the integration with payment applications, integration with apps, smartphones et cetera, which defines the user experience.
So, there compared to others we have a really strong position In the Asian region we are maybe not the market leader but also a strong player. And, I think compared to the others we have more focus on the application for the end-user. So, how does our customer use the product? It is not just a box with hardware, it has software, it has a user interface, it has connectivity, and a payment application, and that is very crucial to our customer base.
What is the future of EV charging? And do we even need to charge our cars if they have their solar panels?
That is an interesting question. I mean in general, the future for electric cars is very bright because every car will be electric. It is just the question if it is one or two decades. And, three decades for sure not. It is one or two decades.
So, there is a bright future. I think there will be a very wide variety of charging options. If it would be feasible to have a solar panel on the car. Maybe technically at some point, it is feasible, but the question is if it is practical for all the use cases. Not all cars are always in the sunlight and we are living in the sunny country of the Netherlands where maybe there is sometimes a cloud.
So, I have my doubt if that is a solution for all. But maybe there is a possibility to have that technology working in certain regions. So, I think it is interesting. In general, the outlook for EVs and EV charging is very bright I think.
Is the battery technology even prepared for 350 kW charging?
Well, of course, the first generation of electric vehicles was not capable to do that but there is now a next generation coming, which is capable of charging at that rate. Also, the battery capacity will be very big.
Much more than 100 kW hours, so it means that the relative charging speed compared to the battery capacity, the C-rate, is actually in the 2-3 C-range. And what we are seeing is that battery manufacturers are now just starting to design their products according to this specification, so they have the requirement from the automotive industry that any battery needs to be charged within 15 to 20 minutes, which means a 3C charging rate and they are just adapting their chemistry and the way the battery is built.
They are adapting it to the requirements of the automotive industry. So, I would say the previous generation cars were not capable but I think in the next generation cars many of the vehicles will be capable to charge in the range of 200 to 350 kW magnitude.
Source:- Electric Cars: Technology