With electrical vehicle (EV) costs dropping, tax incentives rising, and a growing understanding of how vital the decarbonization of transportation is to the future of our planet, electrification has seen some notable growth in the past decade. That said, the tipping point still hasn’t been reached, with EVs only accounting for 6% of new car sales. While the sector has various hurdles still to overcome, the most challenging remains infrastructural: installing EV chargers where the customers need them and ensuring the grid has the power generation and transmission capacity to fuel them.
Those studying the state of the energy sector note that the most notable aspect of these challenges remains transmission. Building new wires to carry power from centralized power plants is expensive, time-consuming, and requires lots of space. When forecasting the future of EVs, this lack of grid capacity to charge EVs, particularly commercial fleets like semi-trucks and urban fleet vehicles like buses and delivery vans, must be overcome. But stakeholders in the EV charging space remain stuck in the box in their thinking.
For any sort of fleet-wide success with EVs, charging needs to be quick, whether for truckers on a cross-country haul or families on a road trip. As such, DC Fast Charging needs to be used, which can save up to three hours over Level 2 charging for a typical EV model and can even fully recharge electric delivery vans during 15-minute pit stops. But while DC Fast Chargers are needed, recent studies have highlighted how much aggregate power capacity they would require on common highway fast-charging stations, as much as the power needed to run a sports stadium or small town, all across the roadways.
Utility leaders continue to look at what’s required for full EV fast charging: instantaneous generation and transmission capacity to go along with dedicated areas to install underground charging infrastructure that allows drivers to plug in for 30 minutes to an hour to recharge to near full range. Facing this reality of the transportation electrification journey alone would be possibly the most significant undertaking for power companies of all time, but combined with current pressures to decarbonize generation, digitize and modernize grids, and more, utility executives have reason for concern.
However, these concerns only persist as a metaphorical roadblock to wider EV adoption when restrained to thinking from inside the box—or rather inside the grid. For the sake of encouraging EV adoption, those pushing electrification have tried to adjust driver expectations about how their new electric ‘refueling’ process in terms of frequency and length of time charging. In an ideal EV world, though, drivers would see their previous experience with the gas station/convenience store model replicated and fit into their routine, as meeting customers at their needs will always work better than convincing customers to change their expectations.
So, how can EVs do just that? All that’s needed is a way to decouple power generation from the time-based constraint of being sent over the grid where it’s needed at a moment’s notice. And the best solution for doing so is a familiar technology: batteries.
By taking electricity from the grid and storing it until a later time, generation can flow when it’s affordably available, stored in a stationary battery, and then deployed when it’s most needed. While such strategies to decouple energy supply and demand using batteries have been deployed to prevent curtailment of renewable energy or offer arbitrage on the energy market, moving forward it can and should be used to reframe the EV charging problem.
Using specialized and strategically placed batteries, mass quantities of energy can be transferred to EVs using established DC Fast Charging technology for a quick boost to range while tapping into electricity that’s been moved and stored to that site over an extended period of time leading up to that point.
Joule Case’s solution boils down to a single twist in the logic of EV charging infrastructure: the large instantaneous power draw required for the DC fast charging of a vehicle doesn’t mean that a large power draw has to come directly from the grid. Instead, a high-capacity battery can be slowly charged over time and then quickly unloaded into the EV when it pulls up and plugs in.
A large-capacity Joule Case stationary (but moveable) battery can be sited at optimal locations where they would then be connected above ground to the point of grid interconnection. With that, large amounts of renewable energy generation can be tapped into to “trickle charge” that battery when is most economically natural (e.g., in the middle of the day when solar energy sources are most abundant and affordable). The batteries would then simply hold onto that power until an EV comes to recharge, at which point it would send the power into the EV at a much quicker rate than it took it in, allowing a quick 5–10-minute stop for the EV driver to refill a notable portion of their car battery.
By building upon the company’s existing patents and industry expertise, Joule Case foresees the opportunity to implement the Atlas battery modules:
Whereas installing typical EV charging infrastructure in dense urban environments requires many years of permitting and construction before becoming operational, these battery-based EV charging solutions can be delivered and put into use in short order directly at the optimal urban center. While EV chargers for hours-long charging sessions can continue to be installed elsewhere, battery-based charging solutions can be effectively placed in the locations drivers expect to refuel and bring the ‘top-off’ refueling back to EV drivers. Further, for long-haul vehicles and constantly running fleets with pre-planned and optimized routes, this new form of fast charging unlocks new possibilities. By reframing the problem from “Where can we fit EV chargers to bring the drivers to us?” to instead asking “Where do people want to charge and where would placement of chargers best enhance fleet and route optimization?” then the transportation and power industries can leapfrog to the next stage of the EV revolution.