Welcome to PowerUP, a podcast show hosted by Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio that brings life to some of the stories on power electronics technologies and products featured on PowerElectronicsNews.com and through other AspenCore Media publications. In this show, you’ll hear both engineers and executives discuss news, challenges, and opportunities for power electronics in markets such as automotive, industrial, and consumer. Here is your host, editor-in-chief of PowerElectronicsNews.com and EEWeb.com, Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio.
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: Hello everyone, and welcome to this new episode of PowerUP. Today, we will talk about the road ahead for e-mobility. Several activity sectors contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases, with energy generation the most significant. Transportation accounts for about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, with road transport accounting for three-quarters of this share. Replacing fuel-combustion vehicles with electric vehicles is one of the best alternatives in order to reduce CO2 emissions. Electric mobility is a crucial driver of the energy revolution, and it is predicted to boost demand for renewable-energy–generated power. Today’s biggest challenge is to recharge the battery in the shortest time. Powering high energy into the grid requires a rethink of how energy is distributed in the grid. Even with sufficient availability of electric vehicles, one of the major factors is the lack of charging points.
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: 大家好，歡迎收聽最新一集的PowerUP。今天，我們將討論電動車的未來之路。一些積極的產業對溫室氣體排放做出了貢獻，其中能源生產最為重要。交通運輸約佔溫室氣體排放量的 20%，其中公路運輸佔四分之三。用電動車代替燃油汽車是減少CO2排放的最佳選擇之一。電動車是能源革命的關鍵驅動力，預計將增加對可再生能源發電的需求。今天最大的挑戰是在最短的時間內為電池充電。向電網供電需要重新考慮能源在電網中的分配方式。即使電動車有足夠的可用性，主要因素之一是缺乏充電點。
In this talk with John de Souza, president and co-founder of Ample, we will discuss the main challenges occurring in e-mobility and the next step. John has a background in electrical engineering and computer science. He founded Ample with Khaled Hassounah.
在與 Ample 總裁暨共同創辦人John de Souza 的談話中，我們將討論電動車面臨的主要挑戰和下一步行動。 John 擁有電子工程和電腦科學背景。他與 Khaled Hassounah一起創立了 Ample 。
Let’s talk with John.
Hi, John. Thanks a lot for the opportunity to have you in this podcast. How are you?
JOHN DE SOUZA: Good. Thank you for having me.
JOHN DE SOUZA: 很好，謝謝你邀請我。
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: So before starting, we will talk about electric vehicles and the role they play in e-mobility. But before that, tell us more about you. Please introduce yourself and your company.
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: 所以在開始之前，我們將討論電動車以及它們在電動交通中所扮演的角色。但在此之前，請告訴我們更多關於您的資訊。請介紹您自己和您的公司。
JOHN DE SOUZA: Well, I was born in Ethiopia and then actually finished my high school in Dubai and then came over to the U.S. to study. I did my undergrad/grad at MIT, then did some research at IBM Watson … I’ve done four different startups, and then the current one I’m working on is in the space of battery swapping for electric vehicles.
JOHN DE SOUZA:
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: Yeah. And you will tell us more about batteries working. So electric transportation is, as you know, revolutionizing mobility in a way that we have never seen before. So for every car on the road to be electric, longer-driving–range electric vehicles should not only be the norm, but batteries should be more affordable and faster to charge. Maybe this will be more important. Infrastructure is also the next challenge we will have to face. So from your point of view, what are the biggest priorities in a radically expanding electric-vehicle–charging infrastructure and related technologies about the powertrain and all of these to meeting and passing our targets?
JOHN DE SOUZA: There’s a lot of things there. I would start off with saying what I think is just a misconception about electric vehicles: People keep on about range anxiety, and I don’t believe people have range anxiety. I actually believe people have charging anxiety. Because when you buy a gas car, very few people know how far the car goes on a full tank of gas. And you don’t have any range anxiety, and this means that when you run out of gas, you know you can get a full tank very easily, so you don’t worry about it. The problem with an electric car, and I would actually proffer that even if you had a battery that went 1,000 km, if when the battery runs out and somebody comes to you and says, “Hey, you’ve got to spend the next 40 to 60 hours charging it,” you have a tremendous amount of charging anxiety. So the thing that you need to solve is how you make it easy. And the solution is not to say, you know, just carry your batteries. That doesn’t solve the problem. It makes the car less efficient and actually makes the full solution less green. It actually goes against it. So I think we need to realize it’s not range anxiety. It’s charging anxiety.
When you think about going to much larger adoption of electric vehicles, I think what we need to realize is that the comparison that people have for it is very good. And what I mean by that, it’s gas. It works remarkably well. You know, it’s very simple. You don’t think about it. And so when you think about buying a vehicle, you’re comparing it to gas and your experience with gas. And so I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal that came out a couple of days ago where the journalist, I think she was driving around on this road trip, and she said she spent more time charging than she did sleeping. And I was thinking, just imagine if we moved the full world over to electric, and that’s the experience. This would be the single biggest destroyer of productivity, where everybody’s scrambling to find chargers, and so it needs to be as simple and as convenient as gas. And I think that’s the metric.
Now in terms of what we need, I think there are a couple of things. You alluded to batteries. We do need batteries that are cheaper, lighter, and can do multiple things. But often we put a constraint on these batteries that is very tough. We want them to have higher capacity. We want them to give you more cycles. We want them at the same time to be able to charge very quickly, and it’s very hard to get all of them at a low cost. So we need to sort of relax those constraints. And one that is very hard is the charging, how we go through an end charger very quickly. So if you realize that, you can get the others. But you need to solve three things. You need to have batteries, and battery technology is moving very quickly. You need to have chargers. The problem with the chargers, when you saw this company eight years ago, people said we’ll have within a couple years 350-, 500-kW chargers. Eight years later, we still don’t have those. So we need to have chargers that are very high speed to make it past probably about a 1-MW charger. You need them to be affordable, and you need a grid that can support it. So those are all things you need to try and solve to get this to work quickly if you want charging to be a solution.
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: So 1 MW is a big challenge, I guess. So you can’t charge the battery in a few minutes, in this case. But this is the goal, because as you say, [people have] charge anxiety … because we don’t have a lot of this fast charging. If we have a lot, the people [would] be happy to buy electric vehicles.
JOHN DE SOUZA: And what’s surprising is if you have 1 MW and you bring a Tesla to it, it will still take you five minutes to charge it. And that’s at 1 MW. But the problem also is with, I think with chargers or with electricity, is that the amount of heat it dissipates is proportionate to the current that goes through it. So if you push a tremendous amount of current through a wire, it dissipates a lot of heat. Now the charging companies talk about liquid-cooled chargers that are very cool and hig- efficiency. But all your cooling does is take energy and throw it in the air. So you have two big problems. Often, if you think of an electric vehicle, a Tesla probably uses about a third of its energy to move its battery around. At the same time, if you fast-charge it, you could be losing another third of the energy at the charger. So in the end, the amount of energy that actually gets translated from the grid to actually moving things around the car is less than 60%. It’s about 40%, which is incredibly inefficient. So we need to solve two things. One, fast charging is a bad idea; it’s going to be inefficient. But the second thing is, you should only carry as much battery as you need. And remember, when you go to Africa, a lot of people there don’t fill their gas tanks to the top, because you don’t want to carry all that weight. So a lot of people will fill it to a third or something and say, “I can get more.” The same thing with batteries. If you’re carrying 600 kgs of battery, that’s not very efficient. If you would bring that down to 100 kgs, the car is a lot more efficient. So I think we need those three. You need to actually figure out, how do you dissipate less heat and lose it in the charges, as well as transmitting to the car. But you also need to figure out how you charge the batteries to your car more efficiently.
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: So some energy analysts have expressed concerns about the impact of increased electrification on the power grid and greater demand for power. What’s your thought?
JOHN DE SOUZA: The grids were never made to be able to deliver spikes of energy at random places on the grid. That was not the design. And mobility brings a really tough thing. Your car shows up suddenly on a part of the grid. You pull out a tremendous amount of power at the same time. And the thing is, you’re taking demand and making it very unpredictable. At the same time, you’re moving to renewable, where the wind blows sometimes and the sun shines, so you’re trying to take two things and make them very unpredictable, which is a tremendous stress on the grid. So how do you do it? We need to add predictability to this. The only way you’re going to build the grid sufficiently is by bringing buffering. And so you’re talking about people adding batteries. Now the one thing that battery swapping does that’s unique is the buffering is built into the delivery system. You have batteries that are naturally buffering, so it makes it very compatible with renewable energy. So we need to solve the grid problem. We need to relax the constraints. And if you add buffering, you’d tremendously decrease the amount of peak power that you need, which makes the grids much easier. People also talk about vehicle-to-grid, which is a tough thing to grasp. When you’re swapping, you have a swapping station to grid. You have the batteries in there. It’s already connected. So it makes it very easy to provide grid services.
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: Yeah, and Ample’s idea, in practice, is to offer a very quickly charged battery for replacement than provide a slower recharge by green energy, while keeping the battery safe for using in other electric vehicles. So what are the challenges in technology to guarantee a fast replacement, but don’t think that the customers are jealous after spending a lot on an electric vehicle to change the battery that will be the major cost, I guess, of a single car? And what about a modular electro-vehicle platform that could have the potential to allow for a completely integrated vehicle and allow a vehicle manufacturer to achieve better production costs and improved specifications in terms of efficiency, which is now the watchword, I guess. So this technology could be also batteries working, for a scooter or a bike, where the battery will be smaller and the replacement easier. So do we need also a standardization for batteries?
JOHN DE SOUZA: So there are a few ideas there. The first is, as you mentioned, essentially provide a gas station for electric vehicles. You drive in, spend a few minutes, we swap your batteries with new ones, you choose how much battery you’re going to move in, and you’re gone. So the first question you asked is what the challenge is to be able to go do that. And when we started this, we looked at the history of battery swapping. There’s actually a taxi fleet in the [forties] that actually had swappable vehicles in Spain. And the issue that battery swapping ran into at that time was that gas was very efficient.
We need to meet efficiency for gas. So what does it mean? You need to swapping stations that can work with different models of cars. You can’t have a swapping station per vehicle. And the second part is, you can’t ask the car manufacturers to redesign all the cars. You’ll never get that done. So those are the technologies and that’s the key part of what we ended up solving to get this, to go through and work there. The second question you asked was, what happens with people who buy a brand-new battery and they don’t want to go through and swap it? So I think in a way, you don’t think about your gas tank when you go through and buy your car. And literally, that’s exactly what your battery is. So what you do is, you actually buy the car without the battery. You pay less for the car, about a third less for the car, because you don’t pay for the battery. And then you just think about it as gas. Every time you go, you get the batteries put into it.
Now it’s just also the concept, I think, because of the history of electric vehicles, people even think about that for a second. But the first time you go through one bad experience with a battery, you’ll be ready to swap it. And I was talking to a person recently who said that he’d gone to a concert with his electric vehicle. On the way back, there were a lot of people charging so he had to wait five hours to get to the charger, but his battery died 20 meters away from the charger, and he only pushed it because the brakes weren’t on. So he had to buy an extension cord and plug it into a wall for an hour to get enough charge so that he could get it to a recharger. And as soon as you go through one of those experiences, you’ll be so glad you could swap out that battery for one that you can charge for a few minutes.
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: Good. So you mentioned also charging station infrastructure. What do you think about wireless charging? Because there are a lot working on research in this field.
JOHN DE SOUZA: I think the fundamental thing about wireless charging is the difficulty of putting your charger into the car. That’s fundamentally, if you think about it, obviously there are reasons why that’s painful. People can forget it. That’s the problem they’re going through and solving. So to an extent that you believe you have a specific situation where charging works, as long as you can work within the power of wireless, it can work for you. For example, forklifts usually spend time at different locations. You can put in wireless. They don’t need to think about plugging in; it goes through. And especially places in which some of that is automated. I’ve seen some bus networks as well, as they’re waiting at certain locations they can go through. So I think there are locations. But it fundamentally has two disadvantages. It has all the disadvantages of charging. It’s slightly also less efficient, with the added disadvantage that it still costs a lot to get it installed if you put it in the ground at different locations. And depending on how you do it, you may need the car manufacturers to make modifications to work with you as well. But again, in specific locations, like a forklift or something else, that could work fine where it’s easy to go through and do it, and then it takes away all the hassle that you have from plugging it in, not plugging it in. Do you go through and forget about doing it?
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: So how do you see the market for electric vehicles currently, but also in the future, when consumers consider electric vehicles for purchase today? What limitations do you think block people from making this purchase? How do you feel this limitation can be overcome so that electric vehicles gain greater acceptance, not only in technology, as you mentioned, but maybe also legislative activities, too.
JOHN DE SOUZA: So I would say that from electric vehicles right now, it works well in certain scenarios. And unfortunately, it works better if you tend to be more affluent, on two different fronts: technology and legislative. For example, it is kind of weird that you get a subsidy if you buy a new electric vehicle, because the people who are buying new vehicles seem to be more affluent than the people who buy used vehicles. So we have regulations in place that actually go through and subsidize rich people buying vehicles. And if you check, a lot of it gets paid on the very expensive electric vehicles. So I think we need to go through and change that.
So right now, if you happen to have a garage, you don’t drive that car that fast, it works really well. Or if you happen to have the luxury of having a second vehicle that’s maybe gas, it works really well. But the only way we get mass adoption is for the person who has one car and relies on that car for their livelihood. You need it to work for that person. And right now, those people are not going to buy electric vehicles. So I think we need to make it really simple and convenient for them to do it. It doesn’t work, and I’ve heard a few people almost saying we should view driving gas like smoking. And that’s not fair, because [we shouldn’t] punish people who can’t or don’t have the option, and they don’t have the time [or] the luxury to [buy electric]. So we need to make it very simple to get the right solutions in place, and then from a legislative perspective, we need to be helping them make the conversion.
Now one thing I’ll just be careful about saying is whenever you think about subsidies, subsidies only work if there’s a part to get rid of the subsidy. So what’s happening right now is people like the subsidies, but many people get the subsidy and then the next vehicle, if it’s their only car, might go back to gas. That doesn’t work. So we need a path to subsidies that get people to stay with electric and doesn’t require the subsidy long term. And right now, we don’t have that in place. So I think that’s the key thing: You can get rid of it if in the end it’s as easy and hopefully cheaper, and you don’t need the subsidies, and you can have them fade away over time.
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: Great. So in conclusion, John, what’s next from Ample? What’s the next news we can find in the next month?
JOHN DE SOUZA: So there’s a lot coming out; we’re currently deployed in the Bay Area. So if you’re going through, you may find our swappable vehicles out there. We’re going to be deploying in Europe soon as well, so that’s going to be around the corner. So there will be a lot more deployments. Our initial focus is with fleets. So we’re going through and we’re doing both the car sharing, ride sharing, but also we’re going all the way to Class Three: last-mile delivery trucks as well. So hopefully over time, you’ll actually have your packages delivered by a swappable vehicle and start seeing it a lot more, and then eventually we’ll get to consumers as well.
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: Great. Thank you, John. It has been a pleasure to have you in this PowerUP episode. Thank you.
JOHN DE SOUZA: Thank you very much.
MAURIZIO DI PAOLO EMILIO: Thank you, John. He doesn’t believe people have range anxiety. You will have charging anxiety, he said. We do need batteries that that are cheaper, lighter, and can do multiple things. According to John, with charges of electricity, the amount of heat dissipated is proportional to the current that goes through it. So if you push a tremendous amount of current through a wire, it dissipates a lot of heat. Now the charging companies are talking about liquid-cooled chargers that are very cool and high-efficiency. But all cooling does is take energy and put it out in the air, according to John.
For John, the only way you can build grids efficiently is by bringing in buffering, and so you don’t want people adding batteries. Now there is one thing that battery swapping does, and that is the buffering is built into the delivery system, so it makes it very compatible with renewable energy. And with buffering, you tremendously decrease the amount of peak power that you need, which makes the grids much easier, according to John.
Innovations in technology and legislative activities will help the adoption of electric vehicles for a wide range of people.
That brings us to the end of this episode. Stay tuned with more news and technical aspects about power electronics. If you are listening to this on the podcast page at EETimes.com or PowerElectronicsNews.com, links to articles on topics we have discussed are shown on this page. PowerUP is brought to you by AspenCore Media, and the producer is James Ede. Thank you everyone for listening. See you next episode. Stay tuned.