What the future of mobility will look like has been widely discussed as of late as governments around the world pledge to prohibit the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by as early as 2025, as environmental concerns take center stage, and automobile companies like Tesla have captured the imagination of thousands with their stylish yet efficient electric vehicles.
So how far away are we from this highly anticipated fully electric future? Sales of EVs have grown steadily over the last few years, and by 2018 accounted for just over two percent of global car sales1. However, there is no question that some countries are progressing much more quickly than others. These include Norway and China which, backed with substantial government support in EV infrastructure and financial incentives for drivers, have experienced a boom in electric car usage. Indeed, in March 2020, it was announced that plug-in vehicles accounted for over 75% of new vehicle sales in Norway2.
Unfortunately, the EV industry, like the entire automotive market, now faces a major unprecedented setback. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world to a standstill, disrupting the 2020 that was heralded as the Year of EVs by many3. Manufacturers have had to push back the production of new EV models. Meanwhile, the economic fallout has led to speculation that fewer people will be willing to invest in expensive electric cars.
The negatives of petrol/diesel cars on the environment and our health is hardly a new revelation, but factors such as expense, lack of charging points and range anxiety have deterred a global surge of electric vehicle sales. However, all these government pledges stress the importance of acting now. So how does the EV industry overcome these challenges and ready itself for mainstream adoption of EVs within the next few decades?
Powering Change: Power Grids And Charging Stations
The petrol/diesel vehicle is so embedded into our everyday lives and has been for decades, so it is no surprise that making the shift to electric is no easy transition. Behind the electric vehicle itself, there is a large support system that must be completely upturned in preparation for mass EV usage. Investment and government backing is needed to get the power grid and charging stations up to scratch and able to safely fast charge EVs, while car and battery manufacturers need to work side-by-side to create an efficient ecosystem which supports ultra-fast charging (UFC) technology.
EVs are only as efficient and environmentally friendly as the power grids that supply them, so ensuring that power grids are both carbon free and well equipped to deal with UFC is imperative and requires significant investment – from electricity suppliers, charging infrastructure companies and, most importantly, from governments. To maximize the
environmental benefits, power grids must make the shift to renewable energy from fossil fuels. France, for example, is leading in nuclear energy, with 90% of its electricity coming from renewable sources4. It is certainly not a far-fetched proposition to create more sustainable power grids, especially since the price of renewable energy has plummeted over the past few years, positioning it as a strong competitor to fossil fuels.5
Once the power grid is able to supply charging stations with sufficient power, connecting the grid and the charging stations via a host of energy storage solutions is the next costly challenge. China has invested millions of dollars into growing its charging infrastructure over the last five years, a hefty investment, but one that has certainly paid off. The country now dominates the charging industry, with the number of public charging units reaching 1.174 million as of November 2019, the highest globally.6 Petrol station giants such as BP and Shell are both now expanding into EV charging, but these developments are only in their early stages.
There are many more questions that will have to be answered during the transition from petrol to electric. These include: can electric charging points and petrol pumps operate safely side-by-side? Is it safe to stay in an EV while it is being charged? What is the best way to cool UFC equipment and ensure that the grid is not over-worked?
Accelerating Into Electric: Batteries And EVs
One of the biggest barriers to achieving mainstream adoption of EV vehicles is range anxiety. StoreDot is working to overcome this problem by developing UFC technology that is proven to charge an EV in just five minutes – the same amount of time it takes to refuel a conventional combustion engine car. This technology enables drivers to travel over 400 kilometers on a single charge, completely eliminating range anxiety and paving the way for much greater uptake of EVs.
Finding ways to drive down the cost of UFCs is another crucial consideration. For a long time, the price of UFC batteries added an additional substantial cost onto the production of EVs. In 2010, the cost was around $1,000 per kilowatt, but now, a decade later it is a mere $156.7 And this is set to dip even further, to below $100, over the next few years, driven by increasing competition from battery manufacturer giants from Korea and China, such as LG Chem and cATL.
The next step for battery manufacturers is to implement their batteries into EVs, which is, as of yet, no easy task since the car model needs to be built to both accommodate and cool the battery pack. Many manufacturers are in the process of transitioning over to electric – most notably Tesla, Porsche, Audi, and Volkswagen. However, moving from conception to widespread production takes time, and the number of EV models available on the European market reflects that, with the total currently in the hundreds.
With so many manufacturers and industries involved, the importance of cross-sector partnerships is clear. StoreDot is working with its manufacturing partners, including TDK and EVE, to help bring UFC batteries to market. It is now engaging its other investors such as BP and Daimler to ensure those batteries are compatible with both charging stations and future EV designs. The good news is that these types of partnerships are not unique. Examples of other successful cross-sector alliances include Chakratec and Skoda, who have created a charging station solution that circumvents the problem of insufficient grid power in locations where fast charging is a must.
And so, we arrive back at the question we posed at the start of this feature: Is mainstream adoption of electric vehicles by 2035 a feasible goal?
This is especially difficult to predict with the Covid-19 crisis set to cast a long shadow over the industry. However, government pledges to enforce mainstream EV mobility should not be dismissed as impossible – rather they should be seized on as an opportunity to galvanise the EV industry. Governments have a major part to play by backing these pledges with the necessary funding in infrastructure and financial incentives for businesses and drivers alike. With sufficient support, such as we have seen in Norway and China where government incentives such as reduced EV tax and investment in charging stations have boosted EV production and sales, it is indeed possible to achieve mainstream adoption of EVs.
The power grid and the availability of high-power stations in city centers is the most pressing issue as, without a supportive and smart power grid, breakthrough innovations like UFC, especially for use on a large scale, are moot. However, every player in the EV ecosystem has a role to play – and increasingly they must work together. We need to see a far greater number of cross-industry initiatives springing up, such as StoreDot’s partnerships with Daimler and BP. Organizations – both private and public – must be willing to work together and be transparent for the common good. The technology is indeed feasible, and with the right industry focus it is ready to accelerate the automobile industry into electric. However, this will only be possible if we move the entire ecosystem forward together.