Low-Voltage High-Speed Charging Helps Expand Infrastructure

Laurance Yap
May 10, 2023
Fast charging for electric cars might become much more accessible thanks to a new partnership between Shell and Volkswagen. The two companies have partnered on the Elli Flexpole, an inexpensive fast charger that doesn't require big electrical upgrades.
The Shell charging network that can be found in supermarkets, parking lots, and various businesses

Making Level 3 Charging More Accessible

While most electric car drivers will regularly charge at home overnight, the “what if” scenario about long trips and the associated range anxiety remains an impediment to those considering, but still rejecting, an EV. It’s not just that there are fewer chargers available on our roads than gasoline stations; it’s that Level 3 high-speed charging, which can fill an electric car in minutes instead of hours, remains comparatively rare compared to Level 2 charging. But thanks to a new innovation from Shell and Volkswagen, that may be about to change.

Level 3 fast chargers, which depending on their rating, can fully charge an electric car from 10 to 80 percent in as little as 15 minutes, are expensive to install. That’s because the chargers themselves are costly, but Level 3 charging also requires a very robust electrical supply – which in many locations requires tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional costs. Those costs are also why Level 3 charging is so expensive relative to Level 2 charging, with pricing often on par with gasoline for the amount of range delivered. Some locations off the beaten path, or in historic locations where it’s difficult to upgrade the electrical supply, pose even greater challenges. That’s where the Elli Flexpole high-speed charger comes in.

charging card used for charging network

Fast Chargers Can Be Installed Faster

Elli is a joint venture between Shell Germany and the Volkswagen group, who have been working together since 2019 on innovative charging solutions to help make EV driving more accessible to everyone. The new Elli Flexpole is a high-speed charger that features a unique battery storage system, which allows it to be easily connected to a low-voltage electrical grid. Thanks to this technology, the chargers can be installed in locations that would normally preclude high-speed chargers, allowing quicker expansion of the fast-charging infrastructure. In May 2023, the first Elli Flexpole was installed at a Shell service station in Göttingen, Germany, with further locations to follow across Germany and Europe.

Volkswagen and Shell both see the rapid expansion of the charging network as necessary for enabling the transition to electric mobility. In Germany, the government has set an ambitious goal of having one million charging points available to EV drivers by 2030. While the number of chargers available continues to grow rapidly – at the end of 2022, there were about 80,000 publicly-accessible chargers, a big jump from 21,000 in 2021 – there’s much work yet to be done. Only 13,000 of the available charging points are fast chargers, reducing convenience for drivers, and preventing more rapid growth of the electric car market. The expensive, complex transformers required for high-speed chargers are subject to long delivery times.

The Flexpole, which can be set up almost anywhere without major construction work or upgrades to the electrical infrastructure, makes it easier to set up fast-charging stations. Their integrated battery system obviates the need for large and costly transformers and major construction work, massively reducing installation time and complication. While the Flexpole charging stations aren’t the fastest Level 3 chargers – 150 kW is about average, but far less than the 350 kW available from the fastest chargers – they can still deliver 100 miles of range in about 10 minutes to most electric cars.

“With VW's Elli Flexpole charging stations, we can make an important contribution to the necessary expansion of the charging infrastructure, in locations where it would be otherwise difficult for fast charging,” said Tobias Bahnsen, Head of Shell E-Mobility in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. “Shell is already one of the largest providers of charging infrastructure at home, at work, at on-street lamp posts and at our service stations. We want to do our part to enable customers to switch to an electric vehicles and thus reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector.”

locate the rapid expansion of charging networks on your phone

Rapid Expansion of EV Charging Networks

Shell has been aggressively pursuing its goal of developing diverse charging infrastructure, with a goal of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. In 2017, it bought Europe’s largest charging provider, which has become Shell Recharge Solutions, and began installing fast chargers at its gas across Europe. In 2021, Shell bought Berlin-based Ubitricity, which is installing Level 2 chargers at lampposts on city streets, enabling curb-side charging for those who don’t have a garage or a driveway. It has also partnered with supermarkets, parking lot operators, and other businesses to rapidly expand its charging network.

Together with BMW, Daimler, Ford, and Hyundai, Volkswagen Group (and its Porsche and Audi subsidiaries) has formed a joint venture called Ionity to set up fast-charging stations along highways in Europe, as well. In North America, Volkswagen is a major stakeholder in Electrify America and Electrify Canada.

Front view of a Tesla Model 3 driving through canyon roads

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