Electric cars arouse a lot of curiosity and create a bit of confusion at the same time: some even think that if you wash them you could get a shock! Jokes aside, it is undeniable that these vehicles are imposing a paradigm shift in driving and in their daily use. Recharging, for example, is quite different from refuelling: it is slower but can be done in many different places, for example at a tire shop.
Let us take it one step at a time and report the impressions of those who have actually driven an EV: many praise their smoothness and silence compared to traditional vehicles, but what happens when you need to “refuel”? The scenario is not very reassuring: re-charging at fast charging columns is fast but rare, especially in Italy. The 22kW alternating current columns, which are much more widespread, are however slower and in one hour you can gain a little more than 100 km of total mileage. The paradigm shift also includes re-charging: with electric cars this should be done mostly when the car is parked and not when it is being used.
Re-charging while parked
The idea is far from being a trivial matter because in the vast majority of cases a vehicle is stationary for most of the day. And we are not just talking about the night, but also when we are at the office and then, albeit for shorter periods of time, in a supermarket’s parking lot, at the hairdresser's or at the tire dealer's waiting to pick up the vehicle after a seasonal replacement. A quick calculation tells us that a 7 kW wall-box could supply, in one hour, about 35 km of mileage compared to an average distance travelled in the city on weekdays of about 28 km (Isfort - Cnel 2019 data). Parking at the tire shop or the hairdresser's or at the mall would therefore allow enough time to guarantee enough mileage for the day. This applies also to Plug-in hybrids that need to recharge not to actually move – as this is taken care for by the Combustion engine even when the battery is flat - but to use less fuel. This type of car has become particularly appealing for motorists, mostly because it falls into an attractive package of government and local incentives.
Last April, 6,673 Plug-in cars were sold in Italy, about twice as many as CNG powered cars, while EVs numbered 4,851. The total number of "plug-in" cars sold last April was therefore 11,524 units, 7.9% of the 146,270 total registrations. It should be noted that manufacturers are giving somewhat misleading messages about Plug-in cars, especially about the possibility of recharging the batteries with the internal combustion engine. This mode is possible but at the price of a notable increase in fuel consumption as the ICE unit must supply the surplus of power necessary for recharging the batteries. On the other hand, tests in specialized magazines have shown that a Plug-in with a fully charged battery can circulate for an hour in city traffic without ever turning on the heat engine. So this type of hybrid, on average heavier due to the presence of two powertrains and a fairly large battery, is particularly efficient with a charged battery. Recharging, given the 10/12 kWh capacity commonly used for these elements, is a fairly quick operation even with a simple 7.2 kW wall-box.
Easy to find
Installing a wall-box or a charging station can be an excellent opportunity for tire dealers and workshops, also because search tools - apps and websites - automatically add charging points to their database. It is quite realistic then that someone driving an electric car or plug-in arrives at a tire shop or garage they have never seen before simply because the vehicle’s navigation system directed them to there. Easy-to-find recharging services will be a winning factor in the future, says Vitaliy Katsenelson, chief investment officer of Investment Management Associates, who foresees radically different charging stations in the future. Charging areas with lots of columns will in fact be only one of the charging options for electric cars. Katsenelson in fact thinks that the best future scenario is one with widespread options, made up of millions of charging points, even of medium-low power, scattered everywhere, with tire dealers and garages in general that can play an important role.
Legislation and tools
Electric car charging points require a fraction of the space - and investment - needed for a fuel pump: just think of the absence of hazardous emissions and the bulky and expensive underground tanks. The legislative framework has already been defined: the most important references are Directive 2014/94/EU dated 22 October 2014 (generally known as AFID - Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive) and Law no. 134 of 7 August 2012, Art. 17 septies, paragraph 1, also known as Pnire - National Infrastructure Plan for the recharging of electrically powered vehicles. The solutions for implementing and managing a charging point are now many and we are pleased that some are proposed by Italian brands. For example, Gewiss, a well-known manufacturer of electrical equipment, created the Joinon line, which provides the charging infrastructure – Wall-box charger - and the management and technical tools necessary for its operation. These include an app for smartphones and tablets and a management software. The operator can decide the tariffs applied and their type, by time or by energy consumption, while the app displays the status of the columns/wall-boxes, the type of socket, the recharging power, the tariffs and provides directions to get there. Similar set-up for the solutions offered by e-Station offers a wide variety of recharging solutions, including fast continuous charging, management, accounting and payment tools.
Startup and mobile services
Another young Italian brand, Silla Industries, offers the Prism wall-box. The Solar version comes connected-ready, and can be controlled remotely and update itself, improving with time. Connectivity allows it to "talk" with other components, such as a Powerwall storage by Silla Industries. Once connected to the Web, Prism becomes a Wi-Fi repeater useful, for example, for Over-The-Air updates, a solution that is destined to become increasingly widespread. In the presence of a photovoltaic system, Prism detects the surplus energy and sends it to the vehicle; in any case it manages the recharge to prevent excessive power withdrawal. The non-connected version, which shares the same energy management against overloads, can switch to Solar by replacing the front cover, which houses the components dedicated to connectivity. A Pro version is also on the way, waterproof, and equipped with an anti-vandalism lock and RFID to allow its use by third parties, for example outside a workshop or a commercial establishment. The possibility of a mobile charging service should also be considered, for example with the Mobi Charger from FreeWire Technologies. This mobile charger for electric vehicles has an 80kW battery and can charge with 11kW of power. Its dimensions and weight (850 kg) is compatible with a van and movement is facilitated by lifting hooks and a built-in electric motor controlled with a handy joystick. If a fast DC recharging service is needed, without having to make a cumbersome adjustment to the electrical system of the workshop, one might look at the Boost Charger, also by FreeWire Technologies.
Fast recharge, slow connection
This is a column that includes a 160kWh battery which allows continuous charging at 120 kW, a very fast recharge. It is connected to the same energy infrastructure of a Mode 2 column, even single-phase, with a saving in the cost of installation estimated to be 40% compared to that of a conventional fast charging point. Having a built-in accumulator allows the FreeWire column to distinguish when to recharge a vehicles or the built-in battery, opting to recharge the latter when the rates are more advantageous. Decidedly simpler, though less powerful, is the e-Station solution, a compact 20 kW DC charging station that connects to a simple 32 amp industrial three-phase socket. The weight is limited to 70 kg, is just over one meter high, has wheels for easy movement and is available with CHAdeMO or CCS Combo connector (Type 2 Mannekes on request). Easy to transport in a station wagon and is particularly suitable for fleet management, including corporate and rental, and for electric car showrooms. The power is not exceedingly high, but DC charging has fewer losses and is faster than on-board chargers, which are often limited to 7/11 kW. Finally, we would like to point out that Tesla is looking for locations that are willing to host its Superchargers: you can apply for a Supercharger on its corporate website and Tesla will take care of installation and assistance.