Recharging instead of Refuelling. How Is Life Going to Change?

Recharging instead of Refuelling. How Is Life Going to Change?

eMobility is not just about electric cars. The building of related infrastructure is crucial for its development. Electric car drivers will put more effort into planning longer trips and this will gradually change their driving habits.

12. 2. 2019 eMobility

The mass expansion of electric cars is still a while away yet, but there is growing interest in them and more and more people are becoming aware of eMobility. However, if eMobility is to expand, it needs to tackle a number of infrastructure and charging challenges.

Škoda Auto, Škoenergo, Evision, elektromobil, nabíjecí stanice

“I often say that electric-vehicle expansion is a kind of fault line for the entire automotive industry. What we’re talking about here is not just the drivetrain and modification of the vehicles themselves, but also user habits and the way people think about how to get around,” says Marián Nič, project manager for eMobility at ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab. He explains that electric car users will gradually become accustomed to the fact that charging works differently from filling up the tank for a combustion engine. When planning trips, electric-car drivers will start to think more about when and where their vehicle can be recharged. According to Nič, we will get used to it in much the same way as we had to get the hang of using mobiles and laptops outside the home or office: “When I pop in to buy something at a shopping centre and there’s a charger available, it’s an opportunity to give my electric car at least a few drops of extra juice, which will increase its current range.”

Marián Nič
Project manager for eMobility at ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab

Nič believes that, as the number of electric cars on roads grows, there will be a rise in the number of charging points and that the charging network will become denser. Looking even further ahead, we will no longer have to worry whether a public charger will be available at our destination, whether it will work, or whether it will be free.


Where will charging be possible?
The assumption is that most people will charge their electric cars at home in their garage. But what about those who don’t have a garage? We need to think about building up a readily accessible public charging infrastructure. Nič outlined the different approaches to its construction: “If we look abroad, we can see that one of the options is to build ‘charge hubs’ – multiple fast-charging stations at a single point with ample power reserved for them. They could be set up by various providers. These hubs will offer plenty of optimally tuned charging points. Another option for some city areas could be a larger number of less efficient charging points, where you can charge your car over a longer period of time, perhaps overnight. Some energy companies already offer recharging at ‘smart’ public street lamps.”

According to Marián Nič, it is important that, when buying electric cars, even people without their own garage or parking space on their own land should have the certainty that they will have a place to recharge them. “I believe that, in smaller towns, we will soon see charging infrastructure being built mainly at authorised car dealers, car service centres and shopping centre car parks. The construction of publicly available fast-charging infrastructure away from larger settlements and major transport routes may well take some time yet,” says Nič as he ponders possible future developments.


What are the possible recharging methods?
In a nutshell, most of today’s publicly available chargers can be divided into two main categories based on the charging speed: slower alternating current, which usually takes several hours, and faster DC power. Depending on factors such as the charger capacity and the parameters of the electric car itself, “fast-charging” stations using DC current are capable of recharging a battery in minutes in some cases. Marián Nič illustrates the difference using the example of a newer type of the Volkswagen e-Golf with a battery capacity of 36 kWh. With an AC charger and 22 kW of power, the car needs approximately four hours to charge, while with faster 50kW DC power it takes only about 40 minutes.

Unlike drivers of purely electric cars powered by battery (BEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) owners will not have to rely entirely on the quality and density of the fast-charging network. PHEV vehicles have both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, so their batteries don’t have to be recharged as often – perhaps just once a week. The electric motor can be used for short-distance trips in urban traffic, while the traditional drive would kick in on longer routes. Consequently, the range of plug-in hybrids will be on a par with ICE vehicles.

ŠKODA AUTO testet intensiv Ladeinfrastruktur am Unternehmenssitz in Mladá Boleslav

Other recharging methods are also projected for electric cars. In November 2018, ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab began testing a mobile charging station called E-MONA. This alternative charging option gives electric-car users greater certainty and planning flexibility. The station can be booked via chat, SMS or phone. “We are currently testing the range to know where and how long it will take to get to a location in various weather scenarios,” says Nič. In the future, it will be possible to track individual couriers on a map and estimate the time of their arrival accordingly. The plan also includes charging via DC current instead of AC current, as this will shorten the recharge time and increase user convenience. “The limitation of this mobile charging method is, of course, the driving distance, as the courier tows the mobile charger behind an electric bike,” says Nič. “That is why we are planning E-MONA as a solution for mobile charging in cities.”

Infrastructure development
The construction of charging infrastructure relies on the modification and development of charging stations in car parks, rest areas, restaurants, petrol stations and related services alongside main roads. This means that, while the vehicle is charging, there is somewhere to eat and drink, or a playground nearby so that the kids can get some exercise. Marián Nič also dismisses worries that electricity distribution systems will be adversely impacted by the potential rapid roll-out of eMobility in some countries: “Most power companies and experts in the Czech Republic and surrounding countries have said that plans for the construction of charging infrastructure pose no real risk that the distribution systems will be overloaded or that there will be blackouts.”

Arguably, the Czech Republic and Poland are the Central European countries that have made the most progress in building up charging infrastructure. “However, compared to the Netherlands or Germany, Central European countries are still lagging behind in the density of the charging point network already up and running, and in the construction of new chargers,” says Nič, adding that this is particularly evident on motorways.

With the INCREASING DENSITY OF PUBLIC CHARGING STATIONS, travelling with and electric car will become much easier. Soon, electric charging points will become as commonplace as petrol stations are today. And then, they will become even more ubiquitous.


Challenges for the present and the future
Marián Nič says that there should be plenty of people interested in charging. “We expect the number of electric-car users to grow exponentially, though some are more sceptical and claim that growth will not be nearly as dramatic.” The rise in the number of electric cars and development of infrastructure may also be affected by various grant schemes. This does not involve just EU countries. Various ways of promoting electric-car sales and developing charging station infrastructure can also be found, for example, in Australia, the United States and the developed countries of South Asia.

With heaps of pressure on user friendliness, we can assume that the speed currently existing in some places for charging high-end electric cars will soon become the technological norm. The question is whether this high-speed charging will be treated as a premium service over other charging methods which often take longer but are not as energy intensive. The IONITY project, which also involves the Volkswagen Group’s brands, is one of the schemes geared towards super-fast charger networks. The project aims to build more than 400 high-speed chargers with an output of up to 350 kWh on the main European motorways. These chargers should provide really fast charging, taking roughly the same time as we currently need to fill up the tank of an internal combustion engine car.


According to some scenarios, future electric cars may replace large-capacity energy battery storage facilities, which are not all that exceptional today. Quite the contrary: electric cars may become a source of electricity for the home or office and, if there is a power outage at peak-load times, cheaper electric energy could be drawn from their batteries. “We are at the stage where we are testing and modelling price savings. Experiments are being conducted to decrease the overall energy loss in this cycle. Several optimistic models for the fast development of electric cars and the growth of battery capacity are targeting the idea that electric cars will become the largest flexible energy source,” says Nič in closing.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that the number of electric vehicles in operation in 2017 climbed by 54% worldwide to approximately 3.1 million. According to the agency, this number will grow to 125 million by 2030. The highest growth is expected in Europe and China, where the proportion of electric cars could be as much as 25% in 2030.