Building a fast, flexible EV charging network

In our electric-vehicle future, semiconductor technology will offer grid operators more flexibility to better manage energy infrastructure

08 Feb 2022

The transition to electric vehicles (EVs) looks inevitable as governments around the world commit to sustainability goals and the auto industry plans to invest more than $330 billion through 2025 to advance vehicle electrification.

But what happens when thousands of EVs in a community plug in simultaneously and place unprecedented demands on the electric grid?

EV charging needs to be quick, affordable, safe and robust – and providing a flexible infrastructure to generate, store, transmit and distribute the additional power is crucial for the electrification journey. Semiconductor technology is key to making charging more convenient, affordable and sustainable.

Faster charging to put more EVs on the road

Change often creates uncertainty for consumers until they trust a product. Prospective EV buyers are no different. They need confidence about driving range, availability of charging stations and the time required to power up and get back on the road. Convenience and affordability are critical, as the family car must be ready for a quick drive to the supermarket or a last-minute day trip, and cutting-edge technologies will play a significant role in making that happen. Embedded processing technology, like our C2000™ real-time microcontrollers, works seamlessly with our isolated gate drivers and fully integrated gallium nitride (GaN) power devices to boost charging efficiency.

Size matters when scaling up efficiency – so reducing the size of portable DC chargers, like a DC wallbox, can mean big gains and better cost effectiveness. With its ability to operate at higher switching frequencies in multi-level power topologies, GaN technology is enabling faster and more efficient charging than traditional silicon-based materials. That means engineers can design smaller magnetics into their power systems, reducing the cost of components that use copper and other raw materials. Also, multi-level topologies can be more efficient, which reduces the power required for heat dissipation, or cooling. All of that works together to help reduce the total cost of ownership for EV owners.

image of Matt leaning out of car door

Meanwhile, the DC fast charging stations’ capacity has increased significantly. Where the standard was once 150 kilowatts, we are now looking at capacities of 350 kW and beyond — and the improvements will continue. As a result, EVs will charge faster, which will help ensure chargers are not the bottleneck for getting more EVs on the road.

Technology to take the chore out of charging

On a macro level, optimal power distribution and load sharing is vital to ensure that infrastructure is flexible during peak usage. Smart technology and bi-directional charging will help manage the challenges by gauging consumers’ habits and adjusting in real-time.

Since most people will be at home after work, their simultaneous charging needs will need to be managed. Semiconductor technology can enable more flexibility for managing energy distribution through smart energy metering that takes the chore out of charging.

Improved robustness in current sensing and voltage sensing technology is helping provide connectivity with the grid to optimize energy consumption. Similar to smart thermostats that are sensitive to weather patterns, smart energy metering using Wi-Fi® and sub-1 GHz standards such as Wi-SUN® can track real-time adjustments in energy pricing and make better power-management decisions. In the United States and Europe, solar-powered homes are expected to be a big part of the equation in storing energy and charging EVs.

Image electric charger for car plugged in

Bi-directional charging will allow consumers to send surplus power back to the grid. TI’s energy metering technology can measure power distribution flows between EVs, consumers’ batteries and the grid. Bi-directional charging stations equipped with smart energy metering may be transformational for modern workplaces as EVs sit idle while their drivers work, allowing grid operators to match solar and wind power generation with demand.

A familiar transaction goes electric

Time is at a premium, so shortening the charging process is important. This means reducing charging time on the road and maximizing convenience. Drivers have long been accustomed to gas stations where they can fill up and pay in a swift, simple transaction. Technology can provide similar payment and connectivity convenience for EV drivers. TI’s Sitara processors with Linux software support Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) and the ISO 15118 standard vehicle-to-grid communication interface, which enables seamless transactions and information exchange between EVs, charging stations and utilities.

Ultimately, consumers will value the convenience and availability of charging stations. This will help reduce range anxiety and further drive demand for EVs. Whether improving accessibility, convenience or affordability, our company’s semiconductor technology will be a key part of the charging infrastructure that will power the transition to electrification.

A version of this story was originally published on EDN

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