20th April 2018
Solid-state batteries plus earning money for generating domestic electricity boost electric cars’ appeal
Over the last few days, the UK firm OVO Energy1 unveiled a bi-directional vehicle-to-grid (V2G) electric vehicle charging point that it firmly believes will contribute towards revolutionising not just motoring but also communities and the environment.
Motivated by the way in which more than 90% of cars are parked at any one time, which for EVs means that an awful lot of energy is sat redundant in batteries, OVO envisages two-way electric car chargers becoming the norm. Unneeded energy will be fed back into the national grid at peak times, earning EV drivers a few quid.
Helping to balance the grid as part of the national ‘demand side response’ (DSR) initiative that aims to change how energy is produced, supplied and used to ultimately rebalance the UK’s needs, ‘smart’ chargers are being rolled out in various EV projects just as they are in people’s homes. Apps can be configured to allow charging to be suspended during periods of high demand, while intelligently connecting to the grid at optimum off-peak times will reduce EV drivers’ electricity costs2.
Alongside so-called ‘range anxiety’, one of the other drawbacks preventing more motorists from embracing all-electric vehicles has traditionally been and continues to be slow battery recharging times. While it takes no more than around five minutes to fill up a petrol or diesel car, recharging the latest generation Nissan LEAF, for example, takes 40 minutes using a CHAdeMO rapid charger and as long as 7.5 hours at home using a contemporary 7kW charger3.
For many motorists, such a thought is still understandably off-putting and it begs the question over whether EV drivers may face, for example, waking up on the morning of a pre-planned road trip to discover that their car disconnected overnight and doesn’t have enough juice available.
Tesla Supercharger points have remained the swiftest chargers available, although limited to the American brand’s models. Audi, however, has upped the ante and revealed that its forthcoming E-tron electric SUV will be equipped for 150kWh DC fast-charging and be rechargeable to 80% in 30 minutes4. It’s still not as convenient as fossil fuels’ five minutes, though.
One’s bottom dollar can be bet on a whole host of tech’ firms scrambling to develop car batteries that can be charged much more quickly, and the EV game-changer is likely to be delivered courtesy of ‘solid-state’ drive (SSD) hardware, a term familiar to most people who have recently bought a computer. SSDs have typically been pricier than their conventional HDD counterparts because of their reliance on sophisticated NAND flash memory5 and complex device assembly6.
Having committed £2.5 billion and 400 staff to the project, James Dyson is very serious indeed about developing a much more convenient electric car – and almost half the investment is reported to be focussed on the battery technology. Dyson’s belief is that using solid-state batteries in EVs will enable more compact batteries to provide much longer ranges, be able to charge much more quickly and generally have longer life cycles7.
Traditional lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries tend to last up to 1,500 charges and gradually lose their capacity, so tech’ companies like Fisker along with BMW8 and the world’s largest car brand by volume, Toyota, have also been working on solid-state solutions9. Away from the mainstream market, Porsche and even supercar producer, Lamborghini10, are also tipped to utilise the next generation of solid-state battery technology at the heart of their forthcoming EVs.
Addressing concerns over current EVs’ batteries potentially posing a fire risk, solid-state technology isn’t flammable, presenting another benefit. Downsides still exist, though, from the initial cost and pricing of such cutting-edge technology to difficulties in identifying materials that are suitably conductive and financially viable for mass-production. The breakthrough has come in the form of glass electrolytes11.
Electric vehicles aren’t likely to benefit from the introduction of solid-state batteries for another four years or so, but by the mid-2020s this significant stride forward is anticipated to become mainstream even on superminis. In the meantime, the prospects of being able to earn a few quid from diverting electricity back into the grid, alongside saving on energy bills by ‘smart’ charging, certainly make EV adoption more appealing for many.
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