Recent Innovations in Electrical Vehicle Chargers


There is currently a worldwide shortage of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. If countries hope to achieve their ambitious EV adoption targets, they’ll need to roll-out considerable additional spending. 

The UK alone will require 341,000 to 430,000 new charging units, plus 30% annual growth in additional charging infrastructure, in order to keep pace with its 2030 EV goals1. In the US, charging infrastructure deployment will require a growth of 20% per year to meet the 2025 targets across major markets2. There is a clear need for major innovation in EV charging technology however much confusion exists around the appropriate direction of that innovation. 

Development in EV chargers must solve real problems while not creating additional problems, and they should be simple enough for people to understand, use and trust. Here are a few recent innovations in EV charging that look intuitively appealing.

Pop-up chargers

After a successful trial in Oxford, Urban Electric is in the process of installing its UEOne pop-up chargers in two other localities of London4. As per the company, its pop-up chargers would solve the problem of ‘at home’ charging for the 43 percent of the UK households who park their cars on-street5. A pop-up charger pops up from pavements when needed and fully retracts underground when not. 

Pop-up chargers provide charging right on the streets where the cars are parked, without permanently obstructing pavements. Given a large number of on-street parking spaces in Europe alone, there seems a lot of scope for their adoption. However, policy changes like Paris’s plan to remove 72% of on-street parking spaces6, or the UK’s plan to ban pavement parking7 may pose a threat to its success. If ‘car-free streets and pavements’ becomes the new norm eventually, pop-up chargers would be rather short-lived.

Street lamps fitted with EV chargers 

Companies like Ubitricity in association with Siemens, and are converting existing street lamps into EV chargers.8,9 Like pop-up chargers, these slow chargers provide an answer for on-street charging, without changing the streetscape. Moreover, these fittings wouldn’t require additional connections for electric supply, thereby reducing costs. A country, like India, that has vast networks of street lamps but space crunch in all major cities can benefit from this innovation. All the same, streets with high footfall or traffic won’t be suitable for fitting these chargers as that would lead to trip hazards, traffic jams and chaos.

Electrified roads 

The Swedish Government’s EVolution Road Project aims to develop a system that would charge an EV while it’s moving10. In this system, a conductive attachment under the moving EV slides along the rails of an electric road system (ERS) mounted on the roads, and charges the EV’s battery11.The system also includes intelligent wireless communication between the road and vehicles, automated payments and security solutions. This system will eliminate downtime of charging, reduce dependence on bigger batteries, and partly do away with the requirement of charging stations.

Wireless charging 

Companies like WiTricity, Electreon, Hyundai, as well as various academic teams are working towards developing wireless EV charging that could charge stationery vehicles, as well as vehicles on the go12-14 . Wireless charging relies on resonant magnetic induction to transfer energy between a pad on the ground, and another under the floor of a compatible EV directly without the need of any cables. Wireless chargers will be more user friendly than plug-in chargers. However, they come with their own challenges. For example, there are concerns that misalignment may extend the magnetic field beyond the demarcated zones, or there could be a wastage of electricity. Furthermore, to go mainstream, international standardisation of the technology may be required15.

Bidirectional chargers 

Many established big companies like Nissan, Mitsubishi, FCA, as well as relatively newer companies like Nuvve and Octopus EV are developing technologies for bidirectional charging16-19. With bidirectional EV chargers, electricity can flow both ways- Grid to Vehicle and Vehicle to Grid (V2G) or Vehicle to Home (V2H). This allows EVs to charge when the demand is low and give back when the demand is high. In this way EVs act as energy storage systems and help optimise energy consumption. However, acceptance of bidirectional charging is required at two levels. Firstly, collaboration with utilities companies is vital for the deployment of bidirectional chargers. Secondly, additional charge and discharge cycles due to bidirectional charging would shorten the life of batteries, and add complexity in the vehicle’s design increasing vehicle cost20; this might discourage EV owners.  

Charging robots 

Volkswagen Group (VW) has developed a mobile EV charging Robot that can navigate parking areas and power up EVs without any human interaction21. However, there is no timeline for when these will be commercially available. The Chinese company Aiways is also launching a Robotic EV charger named CARL22. VW’s robot picks up an energy storage unit, drops it off at an EV for autonomous charging, and while one EV is charging, the robot can repeat the process for other EVs and collect the storage units when charging is complete. In contrast, CARL has energy storage built in it that has to be recharged by plugging in. So while VW’s one robot can service several EVs at the same time, one CARL can service only one EV at a time.

Gas stations converted to charging stations 

While not a technological innovation, repurposing gas stations as charging stations can be looked at as a marketing innovation, and this is what Hyundai and SK Networks did in Seoul. They converted an old gas station into a charging station with a café and lifestyle store. Hyundai also uses this facility to test drive its EVs23. As EVs become pervasive, many gas stations are bound to become redundant. Given gas stations have ample spaces, and are often positioned in places frequented by the public, they offer a great opportunity for positioning charging stations as a wholesome lifestyle experience for customers.

The future is electric

Despite some challenges, the above innovations look promising and the different solutions may complement one another. However, in the future, when charging infrastructure catches up with the demand, these solutions may also compete with one another. For example, on-street wireless charging might replace both pop-up and lamppost chargers, mobile robotic chargers might overshadow wireless chargers, or wireless chargers on roads might be able to charge moving vehicles, competing with electrified roads. Nevertheless, one thing we can be certain of is that solutions that stay relatively simple, cost-effective and efficient will stay longer.


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