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The arrival of HPC – A flash in the plug or a flash in the pan?

The arrival of HPC – A flash in the plug or a flash in the pan?

Matching supply with customer demand is a similar challenge for traditional electricity network players and those entering the world of eMobility.

Electricity grids are designed to accommodate peak electricity demand so that the lights stay on during that coldest of frosty evenings in mid-winter. At the same time, car companies are exploring how to bring their brand-new electric vehicles to a market where customers expect to drive that one long-distance journey to visit relatives each year without running out of fuel.

Right now, energy grids solve their problems by buying up guaranteed energy supplies, years in advance. So, how do eMobility players meet the demands of their respective customers? In 2019, it centres around a technology called High Power Charging, or HPC.

Discussion on HPC is everywhere. At the Nordic EVs Summit in Oslo, representatives of ABB, Tritium, IONITY and Fortum discussed the merits during different panel sessions. At Everything EV in London, Gridserve launched their solar-powered, ultra-fast charging hub concept. And in April, at in Berlin, utilities, car OEMs and manufacturers were all discussing their latest HPC models and technologies. One car OEM told me "without HPC I cannot sell an electric car".

What is HPC and why is this important to customers?

HPC is becoming the predominant buzz-acronym in EV charging right now. It refers to technologies providing power in excess of 150 kW, with the ambition of 350 kW (and potentially much higher), if your car can handle it. These are considerably higher power ratings than the chargepoints used today (3.7 kW AC to 50 kW DC typically).

What can HPC offer the customer? In short, a transition to electric transport without a necessary shift in behaviour.

In the future, a five-minute charging session could provide you with over 200 km of range. This becomes very similar to topping up with petrol or diesel today. And, this reassures you that the long-distance journey to visit relatives can be carried out without having to wait around for hours to recharge.

And convenience is key. For years, EV education has centred around busting two particular myths to show EV use is more convenient that you might think:

  1. “The range of an EV is insufficient”. In fact, the range of an EV falls well within the distance of most daily journey profiles.
  2. “Charging takes too long”. In fact, most cars are parked, and theoretically could be charging, most of the time.

However, most does not mean all. And, all situations falling outside of these two factors are inconvenient. An HPC solution would reduce this inconvenience as much as possible.

Last year, Delta-ee conducted research into the likely preferences of EV customers. We found that public charging may only occupy 8% of the future charging mix, and HPC only a small portion of that. But, while slender, it was one of the more important solutions; people wanted it to exist, even if they had to pay a considerable premium to do so.

Who is considering HPC and why?

While the benefits to the customer are clear, it is far from an easy solution to invest in. Charging units are expensive, and the installation and electricity grid upgrade costs increase the overall project costs considerably. At the same time, there are only a couple of EV models that can charge at 350 kW charging rates. The uncertainties around utilisation of these HPC assets are considerable.

So, who is investing and how could there be any business model behind this?

Oil majors: For forecourt retailers, this is the most logical continuation of their business model. A five-minute stop might result in an extra 10 euros spent in the shop.

Governments: With increasing climate and clean air agendas, governments are keen to see their regions, countries or continents connected up with EV charging infrastructure. Considerable funding has been made available to kickstart the transition towards zero or low emission transport. But, at what stage should public funding stop, private investment for profit begin?

Electricity suppliers: Here there is a mix of approaches. Some want to run HPC networks, others want to participate as a supplier. But core is kickstarting eMobility because the prize for them is the eMobility customer relationship, which centres on the home and the workplace. But, what if the oil majors have the same thoughts?

Car companies: As this blog discussed at the beginning, the obvious interest here is that HPC is a necessary enabler for their primary business model: building and selling cars. Their focus may be less on making profit from HPC but using HPC to demonstrate their cars are worth the money. If this is the position of all car OEMs, why not co-invest with your competitor?

Could HPC end the transition to home and workplace charging?

Could HPC become so convenient we ultimately move away from private all together and back to forecourt models? This is one school of thought, linked to the fact that a considerable number of car owners lack the ability to charge at home. So, if that option is not open to them, they may stimulate utilisation of public networks, including HPC solutions.

If you can have your needs met by a public forecourt solution, without investing personally into your own chargepoint, maybe this would be a preferred and cheaper option? Perhaps, but remember that convenience is key to the EV customer and convenience may like in charging at home, overnight.

There are numerous hurdles to overcome, including the charging capabilities of the future generation of EVs, which we do not fully understand yet. But, one thing to be certain of: HPC is a flash in the plug that won’t be a flash in the pan.

Are you involved in HPC, public charging or destination charging? We would love to engage with you on our research on public charging models this summer. Get in touch with [email protected]

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