30th March 2022

Electric vehicles (EVs) are already here and fast becoming the future of transportation

Electric vehicles (EVs) are already here and fast becoming the future of transportation

How and why will EVs be the main vehicles in the future?

Just like the internet and then the smartphone, electric cars will soon be a mainstream product that most of us never had and yet in the course of our lives changed everything beyond recognition.

This revolution is being accelerated not just by the natural growth of technology but also the grave danger that faces humanity and nature: namely global warming and climate change. Humanity’s back is against the wall. Which in reality is a great motivator and innovator.

Within transportation cars are the biggest source of greenhouse gases and electrifying them will go a long way towards halting the destruction to the thin layer of atmosphere that separates us from the dark void of space. Fuel cell EVs that use hydrogen as the fuel source instead of a battery are also another option that could make headway. We have no choice but to give up fossil fuels – and fast.

Even if the electricity grids that power electric cars are fed by fossil fuels this is still better for the environment as EVs are more efficient at converting energy to power in addition to being emission free. They are cheaper, cleaner and perfectly adequate for home charging and the local area. Until longer lasting solid state batteries arrive on the scene and the charging networks have been fully built, the worry about having enough range to reach one’s destination will remain an issue but with good planning this can be avoided.

Automakers are scrambling for position in the new gold rush, eager to capture positions of dominance in this new industry. Tesla has been the leading innovator so far with the manic genius of Elon Musk at the helm, but others are close behind including established German automakers and one of the richest tech titans on the planet: Apple.

So far ‘halo vehicles’ like those from Tesla have been built for wealthy early adopters but ultimately products for the mainstream consumer will need to be mass produced. Gigafactories providing thousands of new jobs are being built on different continents to manufacture the powerful batteries needed to drive this revolution forward to achieve a zero-carbon future. Resembling gargantuan battery packs lying flat on the landscape, with access roads coming off them like attached cables, these huge factories manufacture not only batteries but the electric motors that make up part of an EV.

But all this comes at a price and as always there are winners and losers. The natural environment is being poisoned and destroyed in the hunt for the lithium and cobalt metals needed to make the essential batteries come to life. As production ramps up remote communities will be starved of their local drinking water, needed in huge quantities in the bright yellow and green lithium evaporation ponds covering the landscape in Chile’s Atacama salt flat.

Even this is only the beginning, just a trickle before demand for EVs turns into a raging torrent. Can the earth keep up with the demand? For even these metals are finite and non-renewable. Alternatives will have to be found and research is already underway.

What types of EV are currently available?

All types of vehicle will eventually become electric including cars, vans, buses, garbage trucks, HGVs or trains. City bus fleets are some of the earliest being converted to electric. The main focus is currently on cars though, as that is where the biggest difference will be felt in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and poisonous smog in our cities. Three different technologies exist:

Battery electric vehicles or BEVs – also called an all electric vehicle – this runs entirely on a battery and electric drivetrain, the electricity being stored in a large battery pack which is charged by plugging into the electricity grid. These are the future of EVs, the next step in evolution from so-called “hybrids”.

Plug-in hybrids or PHEVs – has both a petrol or diesel internal combustion engine along with an electric motor and large rechargeable battery which kicks in when the main IC engine is not being used. These are on the way out but were the first vehicles to use at least partial electricity.

Fuel cell electric vehicles or FCEVs – also known as zero emission vehicles. These split electrons from hydrogen molecules to produce electricity to run the motor. With this vehicle one would still fill up like at a regular petrol station, but with hydrogen under pressure. The only emission from the exhaust pipe is pure water. Despite ‘hydrogen highways’ being long in the making the main infrastructure being rolled out at present is for BEVs. The ‘hydrogen hype’ is in danger of being left behind or used in other industries.

Lithium-ion batteries

What are EVs, when it comes down to it? Giant batteries on wheels? EV car batteries after all work on the same technology as the lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries that most of us carry around inside our mobile phones.

However, EVs don’t use a single battery like a phone, but instead a pack which is composed of thousands of individual Li-ion cells working together. When the vehicle is being charged, electricity is used to make chemical changes inside the batteries. When driving, these changes are reversed to produce electricity and the batteries are discharged. Just like with a mobile phone, repeated charging and discharging of the battery will eventually lead to it being able to store less energy. The time to fully charge will decrease between journeys, but so will the range. EV batteries are predicted to last anywhere between 10-20 years before they need to be replaced. This has not yet come about as fully electric vehicles have not been on the roads long enough, but because the greatest cost of an EV is the battery pack itself it is likely that people will just replace their entire cars and the battery will go on to be recycled or used in domestic or business energy storage systems.

Are solid state batteries the future?

Solid state batteries offer the possibility of giving at least twice the energy of lithium-ion batteries by using a denser solid electrolyte instead of one in a liquid state, as well as being safer and less prone to fire risk. The technology is still being worked on with the main problem being the price of manufacturing them. They are unlikely to be commercially viable until 2030 at the earliest and other technologies like hydrogen fuel cells may jump ahead by then. A major disruption in battery chemistry will need to occur for the cost of EVs to drop enough to become an integral part of our future.

EV Blog Image

Charging an electric vehicle

Gone will be the days when we stood squeezing the pump handle, inhaling fumes as we heard the liquid fuel gurgle down into our fuel tanks, being careful not to get the stuff onto our hands or shoes. But there will be other challenges to get used to and iron out, not least waiting around somewhat longer if not charging from home or work and learning to manage ‘range stress’ in the early days.

Different countries will look for different solutions based on their available infrastructure. It will be impossible to install home chargers in the countless terraced houses found all over England. India is looking to follow in China’s footsteps and build hubs that swiftly replace batteries instead of charging them.

Construction of charging infrastructure has commenced in developed countries and is developing fast. Public charging is more expensive than home charging but thousands of free charging points do exist, although charging time restrictions or requiring an in-store purchase may be in force.  The main point here to understand is that until a full charging network exists, the tipping point will not be reached where people start to purchase electric vehicles en masse.

Driving an EV requires a completely different mindset about the way we have refuelled our cars and vehicles up until now. In fact, it is similar to how we charge our mobile phones – during the night while we sleep or at points during the day while at work or home. Unlike a traditional combustion engine vehicle that is often driven until the low fuel warning light comes on, EV charging works on a ‘top-up basis’ meaning drivers need to top-up their battery at various points throughout the day or week (depending on how far you drive and your driving style). Electric vehicle owners can utilise the time they are parked for charging while working, sleeping or pursuing leisure activities. There are 3 main options for topping-up – at home, at work and on the road via public charging.

Charging at home

The vast majority of EV charging will take place at home when cars are not being used. But it will be necessary to have off street parking facilities. Energy companies offer cheaper rates than public charging, especially during off-peak periods such as at night using smart home charging units connected to the Internet. This will help avoid the energy supply grid from being overloaded when too many EV owners charge their vehicles at the same time.

Home chargers are mounted on a wall outside or in the garage and can be equipped with a universal socket compatible with all plug-in electric cars. This is useful if you have cars with different connector types. A portable cable can be sold separately. Alternatively, a tethered version would come with a permanently attached charging cable that wraps around the unit so being quick and easy to use.

Charging at work

After home charging, places of work will be the main site where people charge their EVs, in spite of the rise in hybrid working. An eight hour shift is more than enough to top up or fully charge an EV battery. Office and shop workers will have parking bays fitted with fast EV charging posts or points whereas large logistical hubs and warehouses will have dozens of rapid or ultra-rapid chargers constantly powering their fleets of vans and HGVs coming back and forth.

Businesses, charities and local authorities can all take advantage of the Workplace Charging Scheme, which comes with incentives to reduce carbon emissions. There are customised options that use battery storage, solar, Vehicle to Grid (V2G – a technology that enables energy to be pushed back into the power grid from the battery of an electric car) and Demand Side Response (DSR – reducing energy load in response to supply constraints, generally during periods of peak demand) which can be potential revenue streams.

Charging on the road (public charging)

Public charging networks can be used locally when shopping and at leisure facilities but are especially useful for when driving long distances. Public charging points are generally classified as either Fast or Rapid. Large, modern charging stations are similar to petrol stations but can have larger shops for people to browse while waiting for their vehicle to charge, which takes longer than the few minutes required to fill up petrol and diesel vehicles.

There are an expanding range of public charging networks which vary in coverage, services offered, costs, support, membership options and how they are operated. Before setting out on a long journey one should plan ahead and find out where charging points are located along the route. Signing up with a network before setting off will make using their charging points more hassle free.

A note on EV charging etiquette. Never park an internal combustion vehicle in a place designated for an electric vehicle, no matter how busy a car park is and how infrequently the charging point is used. Only charge when necessary so that a charging point will be available for another EV driver who might need it more. Charge and then promptly move on – only occupy a charging point while your car is actually being charged. As soon as the charging session is complete – either when the battery is full or when you have adequate range to comfortably reach your destination, unplug and move your car as soon as possible. Many charging networks and car apps can be set to notify you when your charging session is complete.

How long does it take to charge an EV?

Charging is currently classified as being slow, fast, rapid or ultra rapid, depending on the type of vehicle and the site of charging.

Slow – this is normally rated up to 3kW for charging at home or the workplace. A 3-pin plug will suffice but it will take 8-10 hours to fully charge. This method will be a thing of the past. Home electric charging can be much cheaper but it is necessary to get the right EV electricity tariff.

Fast – rated at 7kW or 22kW and usually found in car parks at local supermarkets, shopping or leisure centres, cinemas, hotels and restaurants. It will take several hours to fully charge using a Type 1 or Type 2 socket. You could charge much of your battery in the time it takes to watch a film, eat a meal or go for a swim. This is the present scenario for most EV users.

Rapid – rated from 43kW this is especially found at dedicated EV charging stations, petrol stations, motorway service stations and warehouse distribution centres. It takes less than an hour to fully charge but is only compatible with rapid charge function EVs. This is the future as EV technology and infrastructure develops.

Ultra-Rapid/Fast – rated at 150kW or above. A network of Ultra Fast Charging (UFC) stations is currently being built across the UK. An ultra-fast charging point rated at 175kW can charge an electric car with a 100 mile range in as little as 10 minutes.

What types of EV charging cables and plugs are available?

The majority of new EVs in the UK come with a 3 pin plug cable to enable you to plug in and charge a vehicle, just like any electrical appliance. Whilst they do allow a vehicle to be charged, the rate of charging is very slow and so not advised. More useful in an emergency if a dedicated socket or plug is not available. Type 1 & 2 cables/plugs on the other hand allow you to charge your vehicle much faster. They are used by the majority of home charging units available on the market, as well as most public charging points.

What type of charging connector you use depends on the vehicle and power rating of the charging point. Here are five charging plugs currently used in the UK.

UK three pin plug

Power rating of 2.3-3kW AC, Single Phase (Standard Charge):

  • Approx 10 miles range per 60 mins of charging
  • Standard UK domestic electricity outlet
  • Not designed for the extended use required to fully charge an electric vehicle
  • Very slow charging with a maximum power output of 3 kW

Type 1 plug

Power rating of 3-7kW AC, Single Phase (Slow/Fast Charge):

  • Approx 24 miles range per 60 mins of charging
  • Only available in single phase
  • Less common in modern electric cars
  • Has no locking mechanism when the car is connected to supply

Type 2 plug

Power rating of 3-42kW AC, Single Phase/Three Phase (Fast Charge):

  • Approx 150 miles range per 60 mins of charging
  • Becoming the standard European charging cable connector type
  • Compatible with both single and three-phase electricity supply
  • In-built locking mechanism when connected to the power supply

CHAdeMO plug

Power rating of 50kW DC, Three Phase (Rapid Charge):

  • Approx 170 miles range per 60 mins of charging, not a lot greater than the Type 2
  • An older type of rapid charging cable connector
  • Compatible with Japanese vehicle manufacturers
  • The most common rapid connector type due to the popularity of the Nissan Leaf

Combined Charging System (CCS) plug

Power rating of 50-350kW DC, Rapid Charge:

  • Approx 170-400 miles range per 60 mins of charging
  • The most versatile rapid charging connector
  • Likely to become the most popular DC connector standard
  • Enables a much higher power rating to support larger ultra rapid chargers

How can Live Electronics support manufacturers of EV vehicles and charging points/posts or stations?

Here at Live Electronics we are continually looking for the best products at the best price to help with modern technologies such as EV charging stations. Our keylock switches will allow you to lock your charging point with an ON/OFF switch. This is the perfect solution for units in exposed areas to give you control on who can charge from the unit. Buzzers and LED indicators can give corresponding audio and visual indication showing when the EV is plugged into the power supply, when charging has started or is complete and whether an error has occurred. We can also offer cable assemblies and wiring harnesses that are custom made to streamline your manufacturing process. We are also a supplier of Degson products meaning we can offer a range of high-end and competitively priced EV chargers and sockets – both alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC).

FAQs

EVs in the UK will have either a Type 1 or Type 2 inlet socket if the charging is non-rapid. Every EV is supplied with a cable that has the plug it requires, and at the infrastructure (charger) end all the cables are compatible.

There are three levels of EV charging; Level 1 (slow), Level 2 (Fast), and Level 3 (Rapid). Level 3 is broken into DC Fast/Rapid Charging and (Tesla) Super/Ultra-Rapid Charging. The higher the level of charging, the faster the charging process, as more power is delivered to the vehicle in a given time.

Type 1 is a single-phase charging cable whereas the Type 2 charging cable allows both single-phase and three-phase mains power to be connected to the vehicle.

The Type 1 plug is a single-phase plug which allows charging power levels of up to 7.4 kW (230 V, 32 A). This standard is mainly used in car models from the Asian region, and is rare in Europe, which is why there are very few public Type 1 charging stations.

The “Type 2” socket is a universal socket for charging electric cars in Europe. It has a power rating of 3-42 kW AC, single-phase/three-phase (Fast Charge): You can charge any type of car from it, so long as you have the appropriate charging cable for your vehicle.

Level 3 chargers – also called DCFC or fast charging stations – are far more powerful than Level 1 and 2 stations, meaning that an EV can be charged much faster with them. However not all vehicles can use Level 3 chargers. It is important to know your vehicle’s compatibility. There are two types: the CHAdeMO plug with a power rating of 50kW DC, three-phase as well as the Combined Charging System (CCS) plug with a power rating of 50-350kW DC, also three-phase.

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