E-mobility is the overarching term which encompasses the use of fully electric, conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrid as well as hydrogen-fuelled vehicles. The widespread adoption of electric vehicles is certainly increasing, at an impressive rate. The costs of EVs are now dropping rapidly and a combination of government schemes, tax incentives, fuel efficiency and the lower cost of electricity means that the lifetime cost of an EV may well be lower than that of petrol and diesel cars. As electric vehicle battery technology develops so too does the range that EVs can cover – which was a major sticking point discouraging potential early-adopters.
However, there are issues which are preventing this adoption from increasing at a higher rate – and if these are not properly addressed – full ‘electrification‘ may struggle to be realized.
Driving an e-car currently seems very tedious to many people. The main reason is that charging is complicated, impractical, and unsafe. A study has investigated how charging systems need to function in order to meet the needs of e-car drivers. The key lies in the right combinability, says our resident leading expert on electric vehicles.
Over the course of a year, the charging behaviour of 1,246 e-car drivers in eight European countries was investigated as part of a study by the Swiss provider of charging technologies Juice Technology (Cham, CH). In parallel, the consumers’ wishes were analysed and compared with the charging options actually available today. The aim was to gain new insights into how charging systems must be designed in order for e-mobility to make the breakthrough into the mass market.
(Disclaimer: The author is a member of the company’s Board of Directors)
The impetus for carrying out this study was the observation that by far the most frequently asked enquiries on an “e-driver.net” hotline revolve around electric vehicle charging. It is obvious that drivers of electric vehicles are not being served by the vehicle manufacturers and their dealer organisations in a way that encourages them to feel confident about charging their vehicle. Just imagine this situation with other devices:
“I have a great video camera, but I don’t actually like using it because I don’t have a charger for it and the salesman couldn’t tell me anything about it either.”
An absolute marginal issue takes away the attractiveness and glamour of the product. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. With the study, the charging station provider Juice Technology wanted to find out what the customer really wants. One main problem became apparent: the variety of charging stations. Many compare the charging process with filling up with petrol. If you manage to distinguish petrol from diesel, you’re not doing anything wrong. With e-cars, however, the user suddenly has to know four different charging modes, keep different cables and devices on hand for them, and also understand when they need a wall charging station – a so-called “wallbox” -, how it has to be connected and, if necessary, how it has to be registered with the energy supplier.
On top of this they require a good knowledge of how they control the amount of electricity in their house so that overloads are ruled out. And to complete the complexity, there is also the problem of how – in a typical multi-family house situation, for example – to settle the electricity consumption fairly and correctly with other garage users. Even today, the market for charging stations consists almost exclusively of isolated solutions. Each one fulfils a task on its own. For the customer, however, this means a sheer confusion of offers and applications. The result: uncertainty, endless lines of questioning, doubts about the vehicle. Ultimately, this is a disruptive factor on the path to electrification.
As another study in this field, published in April 2021 by the University of California Davis, has shown, the charging problem described here is not only one that deters first-time buyers from electrification. In their study “Understanding discontinuance among California’s electric vehicle owners” (published in “nature energy” on 26.04.2021), authors Scott Hardman and Gil Tal explore the question of what significance charging technology has for the repurchase rate. They chose the US state of California as the research area, since a high initial willingness to buy has already led to a relatively large stock of e-cars there.
The authors conclude that around 20% of plug-in hybrid owners and 18% of electric vehicle owners do not want to buy an electric vehicle as their next vehicle. The inconvenience of charging is always cited as the main reason. Even public charging stations cannot change this. Particularly remarkable: almost 2⁄3 of respondents state that they do not use public charging stations at all. Why this is the case was not determined, but one indication may be problems with billing systems, which are repeatedly criticised not only in the USA but in practically all countries with public charging infrastructure. In particular, these are:
If you want to reduce complexity, interoperability will always help. Improved cooperation, i.e., combinability of systems, points the right way. Nine out of ten respondents in the JUICE study named as their most important wish that they could use a single uniform charging solution. This is not about the technically identical application, but about the operation feeling the same. The comparison with the equally complex technology of braking systems suggests itself. The average driver does not care whether they brake themselves or whether their assistance systems cooperate. They expect optimal deceleration and always the same interaction with the vehicle – namely by simply pressing the brake pedal. Charging e-cars should feel the same: By plugging in what is actually always the same cable, it should be possible to cover all charging modes, charging strengths and situations. This can be achieved by optimally combining charging systems. Ideally, a single product should be able to solve every conceivable charging situation, think smartphones and laptops adopting a (mostly) universal USB type-C charging cable.