Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Charge Me Up?

800-volt EVs and Charging Systems Promise Multiple Benefits Should you wait for it?

Hyundai’s 800-volt 2024 Ioniq 5. (www.hyundaiusa.com)

Martin Wahl

Most electric vehicles (EVs) today are based on 400-volt battery platforms that require 20 minutes to add about 125 miles range. An 800-volt EV plugged in to an 800-volt charger accomplishes this in about half the time. Right now, only a few EVs have 800-volt architecture, although seven of the largest EV manufacturers are planning to adopt it.

Nothing is simple

It’s a complex story that gets into the weeds quickly, in terms of both technology and marketing. More on the market later.

800-volt vehicles require newer 800 volt charging stations (technically EVSEs, electric vehicle supply equipment) to use the higher voltage’s speed. These vehicles sense whether the supply is 400 or 800 volt and adjust accordingly, without intervention from the operator.

800-volt architecture is likely the future for EVs. While currently more costly to manufacture, other things being equal, they run cooler than their 400-volt cousins, require less copper, produce less heat due to lower transmission loses and are lighter. (See technical box for discussion.) Most of all, the potential for fast charging at 800-volt stations is appealing.

800-volt EVs must do some additional processing to accept a charge from 400-volt chargers. They must use inverters or other technology to boost the incoming voltage to 800, thereby losing efficiency and slowing the charge time. In fact, Porsche Taycan ($99,400 MSRP) provides an optional DC to DC voltage boost converter for $460 to speed up charging from a 400-volt ESVE.

Here’s where things get technical

• Higher voltage allows thinner wires and lighter electronic components to provide the same power with less current (Remember: watts = volts x amps, where watts = power and amps = current) so vehicle weight can be reduced with 800-volt architecture. Lower current also reduces energy lost to heat, thus increasing efficiency and battery life, but higher voltages require increased insulation.

• Higher voltage batteries can provide greater power to the electric drive motor and achieve better regenerative braking, contributing to greater vehicle efficiency.

A Nio battery swap station. (Wikipedia Commons)

So where are these ultra-fast chargers?

There’s the rub: Europe, mostly, for example in Germany with more than 7,500 800-volt ports at charging stations (13% of the country’s total) has trouble meeting demand. In the U.S. right now according to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are more than 62,000 level 2 and 3 charging stations with 165,600 ports, with unspecified output voltage. The Administration’s plan to help establish 500,000 EV charging stations along highways and in communities does not specify voltage or connection characteristics.

Market Factors

Early adopters usually face technological challenges that subsequent customers can ignore. For example, early automobile adopters had to understand stoichiometric ratios, and spark and throttle advance.

Technological innovation is often a double-edged sword. In the case of encouraging the adoption of EVs, the urge to “future-proof” an EV purchase may encourage potential buyers to postpone buying one and wait for more affordable 800-volt versions and the implementation of more 800-volt chargers, meanwhile continuing to drive their greenhouse gas-emitting vehicles. So how much does the 800-volt difference make today?

“Range anxiety” and related concerns about public charging station availability and charging speed, are the most significant impediments to electric vehicle adoption, now that price parity is fast approaching. Tesla realized this early on and, leveraging its enormous market capitalization, invested in proprietary charging stations (there are now more than 2,000 Supercharger station locations with more than 21,000 connection ports in the U.S.). In order to qualify for some of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure law Tesla committed to opening 7,500 of its charging stations to non-Tesla vehicles by the end of 2024.

The Tesla Supercharger stations open to other EVs have a plug adapter, called the Magic Dock, to accommodate industry-standard NACS/CCS connectors. Currently Tesla claims there are more than 15,000 stalls open at their locations in the U.S. Tesla is planning to install Magic Docks at about 37% of its charging outlets, and claims it has a long-term goal of enabling non-Tesla charging at all its stations. Because Tesla charging stations have short cables (due to the location of charging ports on Teslas), some other EV drivers must do creative positioning to hook up. Right now (according to Tesla’s app) models from these manufacturers may utilize Magic Dock-equipped chargers:
Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Lucid, Mercedes , Rivian, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

So, what’s a buyer to do?

Jesse Lore of Green Wave Electric Vehicles in North Hampton, NH, encourages prospective EV owners to consider their driving requirements, and helps customers assess their needs using online maps and EV charger database map providers like PlugShare to determine battery capacity requirements, noting that for most buyers today a Level 2 charger at home supplies sufficient juice for charging a 200+ mile range EV overnight. Installing an 800 volt charger or in fact any Level 3 DC charger at a home is infeasible in any case.

Tellingly, Tesla’s cars and charging stations are all 400-volt based. Its new Cybertruck , which does have 800-volt architecture, incorporates split battery pack technology allowing it to charge at 400-volt stations. GMC’s Hummer EV and the Chevy Silverado EV, also large, costly 800-volt vehicles, utilize split-pack technology as well.

And now for something completely different

Chinese EV auto manufacturer Nio has reached agreements with fellow Chinese auto makers Geely, Chery, JAC Group, and Changan on a standard for replaceable batteries, allowing drivers to swap an exhausted battery for a fully charged one in about five minutes. Especially popular for fleets and taxis, Nio has more than 2200 swap stations, most in China with a growing number in Europe, and now performs more than 60,000 swaps daily. Tesla toyed with the idea of swappable batteries for its Model S in 2013, but elected to pursue its Supercharger charging stations.

It appears that battery swapping is better suited to markets with shorter driving trip requirements than in the U.S., but the jury is out on its long-term success. Stellantis, manufacturer of Fiat and Chrysler automobiles, is partnering with California-based swap station developer Ample, to develop swapping stations in Europe.

After a career in data product management, Martin Wahl has worked in biofuels since 2006, currently with Lee Enterprises Consulting, a large bio-economy consulting group. Dividing his time between California and New Hampshire, he serves on Corte Madera, California’s Climate Action Committee and is a Newfound Lake Region Association member.

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