How does a fast electric vehicle charging station work?

Electric Vehicle, Smart Grid

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Charge points are becoming increasingly commonplace on our road. But do you know how a fast electric vehicle charging station works?

Times are changing, and the era when combustion vehicles were the only ones to be found on our roads has come to an end. It is now becoming increasingly common for combustion and electric vehicles to live side-by-side. Both the technology and availability of electric cars have grown significantly over the last decade, and their sales now account for 37% of the total market in countries such as Norway (the absolute leader), 1.7% in France, and nearly 1% in Spain and the United Kingdom.

However, charging this type of vehicle is very different from what we are used to. Even though we know perfectly well how to refuel our car, and we are starting to become familiar with domestic charging points, which in fact are very similar to using an ordinary socket, do we know how a fast charging station for electric vehicles works? Let’s get to it.

Firstly, it is important to note that what we know as fast electric vehicle charging station operate with a power of 50 kW or more, i.e. in direct current. That is why we are going to need more elements than we would find in a domestic or low power charger in order to top up our vehicle.

The electricity reaches the charge point via the supplier’s power grid. It is here that we will differentiate between three main elements when charging our vehicle:

  • Transformer substation, including connection to the medium voltage grid.
  • Power converter cabinet.
  • Charging dispenser.
EV CHARGING STATION
EV Charging Station

Let’s start with the first one. The transformer substation will be in charge of connecting the charge point to the medium voltage grid, complying with the regulations required by the utility company in charge of the network, and of converting the medium voltage electricity into low voltage. Why is this point important? Because it guarantees the operability of the rest of the elements that will ensure the electric vehicle’s charge, and because it is, in turn, key from a safety perspective.

Furthermore, the most advanced transformer substations provide operators with remote data on consumption, trends in usage, and the state of the network and its elements, allowing them to operate and maintain their charging stations network more efficiently. All this guarantees that there is always energy available to users.

Now that we have low voltage, it is time for the second element of the equation to come into play: it is the turn of the power converter cabinet. This equipment converts the electricity, which arrives in alternating current, to direct current, as accepted by the batteries in electric vehicles.

Now that we have low voltage and direct current, it is the turn of the most well-known element: the charge dispenser. These dispensers, which are similar in appearance and functions to the pumps we can find at any filling station, transmit the energy –in this case, electricity– to our car.

They also allow us to know how much energy the charge point can supply, the energy our battery is able to absorb, the battery’s temperature conditions, and an approximate charge time, as well as managing payment. In short, apart from providing energy through the cable, they act as a “middleman” to ensure the charge point and the vehicle understand each other, and we can choose the best charging option.

The most powerful charge point in southern Europe, in Bizkaia

Although this type of technology is far from widespread in Spain, the province of Bizkaia is nevertheless home to the most powerful electric vehicle charging station in southern Europe.

This station, promoted by Repsol, is individually capable of delivering up to 400 kilowatts through its four charge points. This ensures all electric vehicles with batteries that support this maximum power will be fully charged within five to ten minutes.

This station, the second one Repsol has opened as part of its service stations network this year, counts on 100% Basque technology, with Ormazabal, a company specialising in smart electrical grids, playing a key role in delivering a complete transformer substation for energy supply. 

How many electric charge points are there in Spain?

Now that we know how these fast charging stations for electric vehicles work, there is another question that needs answering. Namely, do we have enough charging points?

The Guide to Electric Mobility for Local Organisations, published by Red Eléctrica Española, puts the number of electric vehicles circulating in Spain at 63,000, of which approximately 25,000 are cars, barely 1% of the country’s total car fleet, which stands at 24,000,000.

These 63,000 vehicles count on approximately 5100 electric charging stations. The number is much lower than Norway’s 12,000, France’s 24,000, or Germany’s 27,000. It should be remembered, however, that electric vehicles have a higher degree of penetration in these countries, representing a greater proportion of the overall number of cars.

Finally, the number of private electric charge points, i.e. those a large number of users have installed at home, should be taken into account, despite the difficulty in obtaining accurate figures for them.

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