Ralph Hoffmeier explains off-grid self-sufficient solar charging as a solution to energy availability issues while contributing to CO2 reduction
Heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for approximately a quarter of CO2 emissions from road transport in the EU. The numbers are similar in the USA, which makes it critical to the transition to e-mobility in the trucking industry as fast as possible.
Even as government mandates increase the number of Electric Vehicles on the road, however, there are three major challenges constraining the adoption of EVs for both passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks across Europe. First, generating the electricity needed to power all the EVs that are coming, secondly distributing that electricity to where it is needed, and thirdly updating the grid to support the shift to renewable power sources.
Current geo-political issues have significantly affected access to natural gas, and many countries are looking at rationing energy in the short term. They are also looking to cut fossil fuel consumption in the long term to meet CO2 reduction targets.
Moving the transportation sector from gasoline and diesel to battery-electric propulsion will exacerbate energy availability in the short term and, unfortunately, will not have a significant impact on CO2 reduction as a majority of Europe’s electricity still comes from fossil fuels. In 2021, 76% of Europe’s energy was made by burning gas, oil, and coal. In addition, the grid itself needs significant upgrades - especially in rural areas - to handle the demands of vehicle charging and manage the growing input of renewable energy at the grid.
One solution to the problem is the deployment of off-grid, self-sufficient charging stations powered by solar energy. While there are many challenges to using solar power to charge vehicles, Energy and Water Development (EAWD) has a patented solution that meets these challenges, specifically for the higher battery capacities in heavy-duty trucks.
Solar energy has long held promise as a primary source of electricity for the world’s nations. In theory, we could power our entire planet with just 1.1 million square kilometers of solar panels to power the whole Earth, less than the area of South Africa. But in practice, the switch to solar has some significant challenges.
One of the first hurdles to overcome in solar vehicle charging has been the required footprint to harvest the energy. EAWD has created a patented design to gather the energy necessary to charge vehicles day and night. This off-grid, self-sufficient charging station for heavy-duty electric trucks generates the required energy and incorporates a comprehensive system to control the charging.
Each system can gather enough energy to operate four 150kW chargers 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Solar glass panels are mounted to a certified static skeletal structure and arranged in a castle-like design to optimise the capture of solar rays without having to move the structure as the sun moves across the sky.
The system has been designed to withstand severe weather, including hurricane force winds, and houses all the componentry necessary to convert the energy gathered by the panels into electricity for vehicle charging. This includes energy management which controls the energy consumption, storage, and distribution of the charging station and provides power to charge vehicles even on rainy days and at night.
The charging station is an off-grid system that contains DC-DC converters to stabilise the voltage coming from the solar glass component with combiner boxes connecting to the chargers. It also includes inverters to allow for AC charging of the 10MW battery storage system. The batteries are Lithium Iron Phosphate which are both widely available, affordable, and offer appropriate energy density for this use case.
There are currently plans to install 40 of these systems along the German Autobahn in 2023, expanding quickly to 150 units throughout Europe by the end of 2024. Each charging station takes just 30 days to deploy and is designed specifically to accommodate large trucks, making it easy for them to pull in and out. The chargers will operate at speeds of up to 300kW and use the CCS2 standard, which is universal for trucks and automobiles in the European Union.
In addition to reducing the strain that charging electric trucks will have on the grid, each charging station will reduce CO2 emissions by 1,000 tonnes per year via the generation of solar energy instead of fossil fuels.
Given the benefits of off-grid charging systems and the increasing improvements in efficiencies of both solar glass and batteries, it’s not a question of ‘if’ we will see widespread adoption of solar powered, off-grid vehicle charging stations but a matter of when.
Ralph Hoffmeier is the chief technology officer at EAWD