The New Chargepoint Express Plus Family, Unpacked
Originally published on CleanTechnica.
At CES earlier this month, Chargepoint shook the foundations of the electric vehicle charging industry when it revealed its next generation DC Fast Charging product family, Chargepoint Express Plus. Because the system is so flexible and as such, potentially confusing, I wrote a short summary of the system with plans to unpack it in more detail later. Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is over.
Chargepoint believes that the future of personal mobility will be CASE: Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electrified, and the Chargepoint Express Plus family is the next (huge!) step for the company into the future.
The new Chargepoint Express Plus chargers were revealed to the public with the two standard DCFC adapters, CHAdeMO and CCS, but to Chargepoint, those adapters are just the current standard. I asked about when customers could expect a Tesla adapter on Chargepoint units as Tesla is the only manufacturer with vehicles that currently support charging above 100 kW, and Chargepoint shared that adding a Tesla charging adapter was on the radar but wasn’t really a challenge.
“Express Plus can charge today’s such as Chevy Bolt EV, at their maximum rate [50 kW]; will charge upcoming EVs such as the Tesla Model 3 as fast as possible; and is ready to deliver maximum charging speed to EVs that haven’t been announced yet, as well as electric buses and service trucks.”
The Chargepoint Express Plus solution is really the foundation of the DC fast charging system, operating between the utility and the charging adapter, and the adapter itself is really nothing more than a bolt-on to that foundation. Taking the next logical step, I asked about adding on wireless charging which would, in and of itself, make it possible to charge autonomous vehicles without the need for a complex ‘snake’ charger.
The cables on these new chargers have also been leveled up, and now feature integrated cooling which allows for more current to be cranked through them, supporting speeds of up to 400 kW. Cooling the cables also extends the life of the equipment as high temperatures are tantamount to abuse when it comes to charging cables and adapters.
Chargepoint shared that, as with the Tesla charger, the addition of a wireless charger was not an extremely technical challenge and that the charging stations can easily be upgraded when vehicles with wireless capabilities started being sold. The charging station itself has 2 charging ‘pucks’ on top that feed each charging cable. These pucks can rotate and also pivot. A third puck can be added to support a third adapter per station. Which leads into an important piece of how Chargepoint operates by partnering with auto manufacturers…
Chargepoint shared that the current capability of delivering 125 kW @ 300 amps meets the need for the foreseeable future, though it is in constant communication with auto manufacturers to ensure the Chargepoint network is prepared to meet the needs of customers as they evolve.
Similarly, partnerships are pursued to expand the existing network of chargers in support of manufacturer initiatives. Chargepoint partnered with VW and BMW to build charging corridors like the DC to Boston route and another in the greater Seattle area.
Finally, and maybe more importantly for customers, Chargepoint is working with automobile manufacturers on a common connector and/or common architecture for personal transportation vehicles and transit vehicles. This work is very similar to the work Chargepoint led with the ROEV charging system which was announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show last year and aimed to create a single program for customers to use chargers from multiple systems (i.e., Chargepoint, Blink, evGO, etc.) with just one card.
Failovers, maintenance, etc.
Pulling back the covers on the charging system reveals that each power module has its own connectivity back into the Chargepoint network. This allows for modeling and intelligence to predict future needs across the network at the power module level.
Beyond just big data aggregation, which is in itself extremely powerful, the data feed at the module level enables predictive maintenance, giving Chargepoint the tools and data it needs to more accurately predict the capacity needs of future stations as well as the wear and tear on each module. This ultimately will drive ongoing costs down and system uptime…up.
As it stands today, the chargers and cubes will already automatically fail over to a new blade in the event of the failure of any single blade. With the pooled nature of the system, the impact of a single failed blade would be minimal as loads will be balanced across the remaining blades in the system.
Chargepoint has built in the learnings from the existing charger fleet to make the logic even more robust and manageable.
We shared earlier that the building blocks of the system are power modules that provide 31 kW of power each. In a system with multiple charging stations supported a power cube stocked with power modules, the system can pool the throughput of power modules to deliver up to 400 kW to a single vehicle. This is leaps and bounds faster than currently deployed DCFC charging speeds which typically max out at 50 kW, with Tesla Superchargers operating at ~120 kW.
While there aren’t any vehicles on the road that can handle anywhere near this amount of power, this shows just how forward thinking Chargepoint has been with the system design. Site hosts can install capacity for the current need — perhaps just a pair of charging stations — and can always scale up by adding additional stations and power cubes with more modules in the future as demand continues to grow.
Ironically, even with this extreme flexibility and upgradability, Chargepoint is only stating that these chargers will meet the needs of EV drivers over the next 10 years. If that’s not a testament about how fast EVs will be evolving over the next few years, it’s possible you’re not paying close enough attention. For the full list of what the system can actually do, check out the product data sheet.
All Your Cost are Mine
One of the big hitters for EV charging network operators is demand charges, and Chargepoint is leaning into the future to take the edge off demand charges. In my phone interview with Simon Lonsdale, Senior VP at Chargepoint, he shared that Chargepoint has batteries installed at 3 DC Fast Charging sites in California today.
Similar to what Tesla has done at some Superchargers, the CP team is playing with on-site battery storage to see if they can find the sweet spot between the expensive batteries and the high demand charges.
Demand charges are also being worked in the background with utilities and the respective governing agencies, like the California Energy Commission in California, to similarly find the ideal balance between stress on the overall grid as a result of high draws from DC Fast Charging stations while at the same time keeping costs down for customers.
Chargepoint won another 75 DC Fast Charging sites in California in a recent bid which will include some of the first of the Chargepoint Express Plus Family. It’s not just the government getting in on the action, as Chargepoint is always looking for private investment to fund sites as well.
Coordination with Regulatory Agencies
Chargepoint is obviously excitedly pursuing partnerships with local regulatory agencies to install more sites, such as the 75 DCFC sites in California we mentioned above.
One requirement of new DCFC sites is that they be future-proofed, and while that statement is about as enforceable and unquantifiable as saying new EVs must have “lots of range” to be considered competitive, it would be tough to argue that this new family of Chargepoint DCFCs is not future-proofed, especially in light of the fact that they are leaps and bounds beyond anything else in existence…or even in conceptual form at this point.
Along those lines, Chargepoint is working up and down the full chain to ensure full integration. A future where charging speeds of 300-500 kW per station are considered normal is not that far into the future, and Chargepoint is poised to attack the market. Discussions of drops that would support up to 1 mW (!!!) are being had with utilities, which seems insane considering the vast majority of EV chargers installed around the world only support what now seems a trivial 6.6 kW load.
Let me say that one more time…EV charging stations in the not too distant future will be installed with the capability to pull 1 MEGAWATT of power. This is the future, ladies and gentlemen, and outside of what Tesla is doing and planning for, Chargepoint is the only game in town when it comes to DC Fast Charging, and I’m not upset about it. If this is the future of EV charging, it looks pretty good to me.
For more information about the Chargepoint Express Plus family, head over to the family website (hah!), check out the product brochure for more details, or watch the video below that does a great job nailing the big nuggets in ~2 minutes.
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Reprinted with permission.