Brisbane-based Tritium has begun charging, quite literally, into the global market of electric vehicle infrastructure, and this week took another major step forward by grabbing a sizable chunk of US funding from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a non-profit research organisation.
The funding, which totals $US400,000 from the $US3.2 million package handed over to EPRI by the US Department of Energy, will be used to develop extremely fast electric vehicle chargers that can connect directly to a medium voltage grid.
Once developed, these chargers will be able to charge EVs in a matter of minutes.
James Kennedy, Tritium’s engineering director and co-founder, talked to TheDriven about why this funding is so significant, and a potential game-changer, and what it could mean for Australian EV drivers.
He says EPRI’s partners on the project, which will be conducted over 3 years, include Eaton Corporation – a global giant in power management that turns over billions of dollars a year and has a presence in over 175 countries.
What Eaton doesn’t have though, is a presence in the fast-growing field of electric vehicles – but their involvement in this project will change that.
“They are developing the bulk of the work in this grant, which is a direct, connected medium voltage electronics,” Kennedy says in an interview with TheDriven.
Tritium’s involvement is significant however; the company has a presence in both the US, where they have sold units to Chargepoint, and in Europe, where up to 600 of their 475kW Veefil-PK ultra fast chargers are already being deployed in the IONITY network.
The outcome of the project, and where the Tritium fast chargers come in, will be in developing a unit that can connect directly to the medium voltage network – which is able to deliver power at a much, much faster rate than your average household electricity connection (somewhere between 10-30 kilovolts depending on where you are in the world, as opposed to 240 volts in Australian households).
As Kennedy explains, the chargers being deployed in Europe and the US also connect to the medium voltage network – commonly found on industrial and certain commercial sites – but at the moment, they do so using transformers.
“IONITY use a conventional, pad-mounted transformer, but for the new (chargers to be developed), their electronics will run directly (to the network),” he says.
“This reduces the site footprint, which means more opportunity as to where you can install them.”
This is the gamechanger, Kennedy says.
“It opens up opportunity for long distance travel but it also allows people to have the same petrol station mentality with the electric car that they have with the petrol car,” he says.
People who can’t buy an EV right now – for example, those who live in the inner city, and have no carspace, don’t have the option to run an electricity cord out onto the street.
But with the introduction of ultra fast, directly connected chargers, this will all change.
“Combine that with the ability to charge in 8 minutes and it’s a pretty big deal.”
EV owners will be able to charge once or twice a week at an EV charging station, instead of overnight at home – opening up the market to a whole range of people who couldn’t previously consider switching to EV.
In addition to making the units smaller – which means in turn that more charging units can be installed on a site, much like at a petrol station – the direct connection also means no losses in energy, which would normally be experienced when transmitting electricity through a transformer.
No transformer = no losses = more efficient.
The new technology will also be more affordable than current methods using transformers – again, meaning more units can be installed at a fraction of previous costs.
The timeline for commercialisation for this technology in reality is likely to be 10-15 years – but the incentives are there also for utilities to adopt it, Kennedy says.
Such technology also presents opportunities for “interesting things like grid support, and frequency balancing, that utilities are interestid in. It’s no longer just charging infrastructure, it’s now a widely distributed network,” he says, adding that while these things are possible with transformer connected infrastructure, existing methods are bigger and more expensive.
“In 10-15 years time when this stuff is everywhere, the ability to provide these kind of support services will be a pretty key thing,” Kennedy says.
This article has been edited to correct facts regarding Tritium’s presence in the US.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.