China set for electric vehicle charging lead

By Zhang Hongpei in Shanghai Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/18 18:33:40

Companies involved in infrastructure, technology need to catch up

Invispower demonstrates its wireless charging technology during the Shanghai Auto Show on Tuesday. Photo: Zhang Hongpei/GT

A view of NIO's battery swap station during the Shanghai Auto Show on Tuesday Photo: Zhang Hongpei/GT


The boom of new-energy vehicle (NEV) sales in recent years has seen a related improvement in charging approaches and technologies in China, but the infrastructure still needs coordinated efforts by government bodies and enterprises, industry observers and executives told the Global Times during the Shanghai Auto Show.

Feng Shiming, executive director of Menutor Consulting Shanghai, told the Global Times at the auto show on Wednesday that China has the richest charging resources and approaches for electric vehicles (EVs) so far.

The options include alternating current charging, direct current charging, battery swap stations and charging fleets. "Charger owners can share their facilities on an online platform," said Feng.

"The government is taking a welcoming and tolerant attitude toward charging services providers and automakers that are also trying out innovations," he added. 

The total number of EVs in China amounted to 2.61 million last year, up 70 percent from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Public Security. The target sales volume in 2020 is five million.

Having adopted various incentives, China had more than 600,000 traditional charging piles as of 2018. Since 2015, the EV charging sector has witnessed rapid development, driven both by the government's support and market players.

According to a guideline released by the National Energy Administration in 2015, China aims to establish 12,000 clustered charging and battery changing stations by 2020 as well as 4.8 million scattered charging piles. State Grid Corp of China plans to establish a network of its newly launched small charging piles in major cities this year.

A smart charging pile, launched Wednesday by State Grid Electric Vehicle Service Co, a subsidiary of State Grid, was designed based on A4 size paper, much smaller than the traditional charging pile. Dubbed "E-elf", it can be hung on or embedded into a wall, the Xinhua News Agency reported in March.

The company aims to install about 200,000 such smart charging piles in major cities across China by 2020.

Quick charge needed

An industry insider, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the future race for automakers in the NEV sector will focus on battery-charging technologies and related services since research and development (R&D) on batteries has done its part in alleviating drivers' anxiety over driving range.

Top-end versions of US-based Tesla's Roadster can exceed 400 kilometers per hour and offer a range of nearly 1,000 kilometers from a 200-kilowatt-hour battery pack.

"What charging companies should do at the moment is figuring out how to accelerate the speed of charging, making it as convenient as using a traditional internal combustion engine," said Feng.

"Enhancing the battery's driving range is not a process without limitation, and it will encounter challenges and difficulties, so I think it's important to combine the two aspects - battery improvement and charging ability," Shen Fei, vice president of NIO's Power Management, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview during the Shanghai Auto Show on Tuesday.

Chinese EV maker NIO announced Monday at the show that its one-click feature to add electricity services on smartphones has been opened to EV users in China, including Tesla users. It has delivered the services more than 93,000 times since June 2018.

NIO also exhibited its high-cost battery swap station at the show, and has made it a reality in China's first-tier cities where most of its initial customers live. The number of such stations has exceeded 100 across China and the swap process takes three minutes. 

A staff member of NIO told the Global Times that the proprietary technology was developed in Shanghai by its power team.

Currently, the US-listed automaker is the only company that has a mobile charging fleet of more than 500 units, battery swap stations and one-click charging services, said Shen.

In terms of technology, a charging fleet is more complicated than the plug-in model, and battery swap stations require the most complex R&D, according to Shen.

"Big data monitoring and analysis on the cloud computing end also relies on high technology," he added.

Wireless prospects

Amid an increase in EV sales and growing demand for energy-efficient sources, the growth of the global wireless EV charging market has been fueled.

Chinese wireless EV charging start-up Invispower Co, founded in 2015 with R&D team from Tsinghua University, has been accelerating the industrialization of its wireless charging technology for years.

Wang Zhe, CEO and founder of the Beijing-based company, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview  at the Shanghai Auto Show that Invispower's high-power wireless charging technology has been tested on the models of seven to eight auto manufacturers.

It plans to realize mass production next year, so it can be installed on certain models of certain automakers in the production period. 

"From R&D to mass production is challenging, but once that step is achieved, it will become much easier for the technology to be commercialized," said Wang.

Wang said the technology is totally proprietary and its technology route is different from the US.

Via a starter on an electric panel under the vehicle, energy can be wirelessly transmitted at fast speeds. "It is safer than charging piles especially during thunderstorms or on rainy days when high voltage poses higher risks for people," he said.

Besides, through an efficient coupling between the vehicle and charging materials, the efficiency can reach 92-95 percent.

Invispower invested 200 million yuan ($29.84 million) in January in its intelligent manufacturing base in Nantong, East China's Jiangsu Province. The new facility mainly manufactures basic materials for wireless charging.

The start-up's other technology application - in-car wireless charging for smartphones - will be used for more than 80 models of 30 automakers, entering their tier-1 supplier systems and accounting for 60 percent of the market, according to Wang.

The automakers include state-owned BAIC Motor and Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. "Nissan and BMW have also approached us for the technology."

Both international and domestic automakers are going all out for intelligent vehicles that connect with 5G networks and realize autonomous driving. In this sense, wireless charging will facilitate those technologies, according to Wang.

According to a recent report by Allied Market Research, the global wireless EV charging market was worth $21.8 million in 2017 and is projected to reach $1.4 billion by 2025, registering compound annual growth of 22.4 percent from 2018 to 2025.

Newspaper headline: Nation set for EV charging lead


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