General overhaul of charging stations for e-vehicles

Expert Interview – February 5, 2023

Dipl.-Ing. Wolfram Cüppers, CEO of LADEFIX

The company Ladefix implements the sustainable idea of completely renewing a charging station instead of disposing of it and gives a second life to ageing charging stations. How does this work and what are the challenges involved? Company founder Wolfram Cüppers reveals.

Interview with Wolfram Cüppers, Ladefix

Charging stations in transition: In what parameters do earlier generations of chargers differ from today's - apart from the faster charging performance?

The difference between the older and newer charging stations is that earlier generations were still made up of many individual parts. The power electronics and control electronics are on individual circuit boards that can be replaced if necessary. Today's fast-charging stations, on the other hand, have integrated control units. If something breaks on this device, a completely new circuit board has to be purchased, which can quickly cost 6000 euros.

Replacing a single defective circuit board is of course an advantage when it comes to overhauling charging stations. Surely there are also technical differences that make it necessary to improve old devices?

In future, the German authorities will demand the calibration law. Here, electricity is measured particularly accurately and electricity consumption is displayed via calibrated meters. This makes the charging stations more expensive but also a little more accurate and more transparent for the customer. All charging stations are now being gradually converted to the calibration law and newly installed charging stations must have the calibration law from the outset.

Are there any other innovations?

You can now also pay at charging stations with a bank or credit card. A charging card from the usual providers is no longer mandatory and charging can be spontaneous and uncomplicated.

However, old fast-charging stations do not have this payment function and do not comply with calibration law. Does the principle of second life, which we already know from batteries and electronics, also apply here?

So far, we are probably the first in Germany to tackle this issue. For about a year now, we have been purchasing used 50 kW DC fast-charging stations from large operators who are uninstalling them. These are charging stations that were installed on highways and freeways, but where 150 or 300 kW columns are needed to enable the shortest possible charging time. Of course, this does not mean that they are defective, but only that the location is not ideal. We buy them in large quantities, check them and repair them if necessary. After this general overhaul, they are as good as new again.

Will the charging stations be equipped with a higher charging capacity of 150 or 300 kW after the overhaul or will they continue to be used as 50 kW chargers?

The output will remain at 50 kW, but the location will be changed. For example, they will be located in supermarket parking lots instead of on highways. An ideal opportunity to charge the car while shopping.

Is it also necessary to add functions such as a billing system or calibration law for the new use of the charging stations?

Yes, because the legislator will require this in the future, we are working on this conversion. At the moment, the charging station can still be used without calibration rights, but this will change step by step. Ultimately, the customer will benefit if the all-round refurbishment of charging station drives forward the expansion of the charging infrastructure and also avoids electronic waste. And supermarkets are just one of several options for reusing used charging stations. Hikers' parking lots or parking spaces at ski stations are also ideal for this.

Many fleet operators and haulage companies are switching to electric vans. Here too, a 50 kW device is suitable for fully charging the vehicles overnight. Local transport providers, who are increasingly switching to electric buses, are also interested. The battery size of a bus is between 300 and 400 kW and can easily be fully charged at night with a 50 kW column while the vehicle is stationary.

What is the average age of the charging stations when they are overhauled?

Usually five to seven years, after which they have a life expectancy of around another seven to ten years. As a rule, nothing breaks, only wearing parts such as capacitors or computer fans need to be replaced.

Could wallboxes also be modernized and put back into circulation?

Theoretically, this would be possible, but wallboxes are now available for less than 500 euros, so a general overhaul is no longer worthwhile. A fast charging station with 50 kW charging power costs around 30,000 euros when new. Completely overhauling it after a few years is economical.

What does a refurbished fast charging station cost?

Well under 10,000 euros from us.

In addition to this attractive price, the idea of sustainability is another motive. Can the environmental benefits of refurbishing charging stations be expressed in figures?

That has not yet been calculated. In any case, it is sustainable not to scrap a charging station that has been in operation for five years, but to maintain and reactivate it.

Are there enough opportunities to use the many decommissioned charging stations elsewhere to further expand the charging infrastructure?

For example, it is interesting for small and medium-sized companies that want to switch to electromobility. In addition to the purchase costs for the vehicles, there are also some costs for charging stations. These refurbished, much more affordable charging stations are ideal for charging a fleet overnight. In this way, we are accelerating the expansion of the charging infrastructure and increasing the acceptance of electromobility itself.

Will the charging capacity continue to increase or has the point of possibility already been reached?

The charging capacity will not increase that much. The voltage in the operating systems of the cars will increase to 800 volts, for example, in order to absorb the massive charging power from the fast-charging stations more quickly and thus be able to charge faster. There will be a major development step in commercial vehicles and trucks. Here we are in the area of megawatt charging. This is necessary so that drivers can fill up their large batteries with enough energy during their prescribed rest period to drive the next leg of the journey without charging again.

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