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EV Charging Shortcut Gets New Stations Up & Running Faster

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Trying to find an EV charging shortcut is the bane of many EV startups. Here at CleanTechnica we’ve followed the rise and promise, the innovations and dilemmas of the battery supply industry just over the past year. Here’s a sampling.

Now a new EV fast charging station in Weymouth, Massachusetts, has us intrigued due to its EV charging shortcut. It’s a sustainable, low-loss, extremely fast charging infrastructure utilizing lithium-ion battery storage.

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To the eye, it resembles every other charging station, with its reserved parking spaces, thick black charging cables, and information screens. What’s different, however, is the adjacent bank of lithium-ion batteries which consumes a full parking space.

Founded in 2019 by former SpaceX engineers Shawn Ward and Matt Kelcourse, Electric Era is embarking on a plan to revolutionize the world’s EV fast charging infrastructure by making fast charging “ubiquitous and affordable.”

The gray, barrel-shaped transformers, commonly seen hanging off utility poles, are easily available in the marketplace. That’s quite different from the higher voltage ones required for fast charging stations without a battery, like most other EV charging station projects in Massachusetts. In fact, the Electric Era technology is so different that the company was able to build the Weymouth station in only 6 months. The company states that its equipment can be installed in many more locations since it doesn’t require high-voltage connections and avoids reliability problems that have plagued much of the EV charging industry so far.

The vehicle batteries are recharged by conventional (single-phase) transformers, which local utility National Grid added to a pole across the street.

Requirements for building permits and other paperwork in Massachusetts aren’t as bad as some other states like New York, Virginia, and Texas, according to Gary Lavoie, vice president of construction for Inovis Energy, which was Ward and Kelcourse’s contractor, as reported by the Boston Globe. In order to string a wire across the 2-lane state roadway, for example, state and local authorities needed to give their nods of approval. Afterward, a new pole and curb alongside the charging station were installed, and the Weymouth charging station was up and running. Now it’s one of the first in operation for Electric Era and its first in New England.

Electric Era’s blog describes how the EV market is at an inflection point at which electric mobility is accelerating faster than anyone predicted. Ward and Kelcourse see a tremendous opportunity to attract the growing wave of EV drivers by offering onsite charging. They also recognize that it’s an opportunity that comes with its share of complexity. Their solution came about in the face of multiyear backlog for electrical components. Most other EV charging projects in the state are stuck due to a shortage of higher-voltage transformers. Wait times can extend 2 years, which impacts Massachusetts’ strategy to combat climate change that relies on persuading almost 1 million drivers to switch to EVs by 2030.

“One of the challenges with putting in charging stations is right now they are crazy consumers of power and the cost of putting in infrastructure is quite significant,” said Sam Reineman, Electric Era’s chief technology officer. “Basically, we’re using batteries to help solve that problem.”

In 2021, Massachusetts started a program to subsidize construction of 226 privately-owned fast chargers, but almost three years later only 16 were in operation — and 10 of those in a single parking garage in the Seaport. The state is also getting about $60 million for charger installations under the 2021 federal infrastructure law, but hasn’t funded a single station yet. These grid-connected fast charging stations have room for improvement, as they can cause sudden load peaks, hamper generation-demand balance, cause voltage flickers and phase fluctuations, deteriorate power quality, and induce current harmonics and supra-harmonics.

Ward and Kelcourse did not participate in either of the large government subsidy programs, but did get support from National Grid to cover the cost of electric infrastructure upgrades, and tax credits for locating the station in a low-income “environmental justice” community. The aid covered about half of the roughly $250,000 total construction cost, Ward told the Boston Globe. A long term goal for many under-developed and developing areas, where the AC transmission and distribution infrastructure is still in the nascent stages, may similarly realize the advantages of green electrified transportation.

Their approach uses technologies like edge computing, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and FDIR for its PowerNode-OS — all of which optimize the amount of charging sessions per day on a particular site. The company says that PowerNode’s autonomous understanding, load prediction, and real time charging station software control means more drivers, lower electricity bills, and higher reliability for a C-store charging station.

The battery-based approach has not appealed to most other large charging station developers. They’re not convinced battery stations are worth the higher cost and are wary of relying on small startups. Electric Era explains that its system upfront costs are only 20% to 50% more than conventional systems and are cheaper to install and maintain. The battery-powered Weymouth station charges 43 cents per kilowatt-hour of power, similar to other fast charging stations in the area, although a ChargePoint station in Scituate, MA charges 35 cents.

Ward said he is willing to experiment with pricing and hopes to draw more business as EVs become more popular. “I’d love to own a hundred of these,” he said.

Battery systems can also minimize additional utility charges based on the maximum amount of electricity used during a month, known as demand charges. Demand charges are based on the peak demand (maximum rate of electricity consumption in kilowatts (kW)) at your facility each month over a specific time interval, typically 15, 30, or 60 minutes. The higher the peak consumption over the demand interval, the more a company will pay in electric demand charges on its bill.

An Electric Era rival called FreeWire laid off more than 100 workers in May.


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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

Carolyn Fortuna has 1361 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna