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Fast Charging Forecast

Demand outpacing supply as electric vehicle charging providers balance the business case .

BOULDER, Colo. — For proponents of battery electric vehicles (BEV), the development of a public charging infrastructure has been frustratingly slow. And the latest technology that promises to speed up that development is facing headwinds of its own, according to a recent webinar by clean-technology market research firm Navigant Research.

DC Fast charging is an electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) technology that can provide a full charge to a BEV in less than one hour, compared to lower-voltage level 1 and 2 home and public charging stations, which can take several hours.

It also could make the best business case for public EVSE hosts–the faster the charge, the faster the ROI–and it could also influence the design of future BEVs. “More frequent, rapid charging could encourage automakers to install smaller, less expensive batteries on vehicles,” said presenter John Gartner, smart transportation program director at Navigant, noting that the price of the battery accounts for most of a BEV’s premium versus traditional vehicles.

“The challenge for companies looking to offer fast charging in their specific area is where to place the equipment, since BEV sales will not really be uniform across any geography, with concentrations in larger, urban centers,” said Gartner. According to Navigant projections, annual BEV sales will grow nearly tenfold by 2020, with the strongest sales growth in China, Japan, Germany and the United States. Currently, only 15.5% of BEV sales come from North America, according to Navigant, with Western Europe and the Asia-Pacific region expected to contribute 80% of the market through 2020.

“North America won’t grow as fast because of greater interest in plug-in and extended-range vehicles in the U.S., as many American drivers do not like to be constrained in their driving distance and they prefer having the option of a secondary power source of a fuel tank,” said Gartner.

While Navigant believes one public DC fast charger per nine BEVs is a “sustainable” ratio, there is currently only one charger per 170 BEVs in the United States. “Vehicle sales have gotten a bit ahead of infrastructure,” said Gartner. “This current undersupply of charging infrastructure indicates an opportunity for locations to host charging infrastructure.”

However, one of the biggest barriers to infrastructure development is the high cost of the DC fast charging equipment, which is continuing to fall but currently sits around $16,000 per unit, according to Navigant.

There is also an infamous standards conflict for BEV fast-charging connectors, with Japanese BEV automakers embracing the CHAdeMo standard, while European and American car makers plan to adopt the new SAE Combo connector standard. BEVs must have a CHAdeMo compatible socket to charge from an EVSE with a CHAdeMo connector, and similar constraints would apply to BEVs with an SAE Combo compatible socket. Webinar presenters compared it to the VHS and BETA videotape technology tussle of the 1980s, and expected it to take five to 10 years for the industry to finally agree on a final standard. GM’s Chevrolet Spark will be the first vehicle on the U.S. market this year compatible with the SAE connector.
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