Electric car charging stations: the infrastructure needed for the green turnaround

December 5, 2023

Electric car charging stations are a key element in encouraging the spread of zero-emission mobility. The widespread presence of charging points on the territory can incentivize the purchase of electric vehicles, overcoming the so-called “range anxiety” and the fear of being stranded with a flat battery.

In Italy, the process of developing charging infrastructure is still in its early stages, but significant progress has been made in recent years. As of today, there are about 13,000 active columns on the national territory between fast, fast and ultrafast recharging. A number that is destined to grow rapidly in order to meet European transport decarbonization goals.

But how exactly does charging an electric car work? And what are the different types of columns on the market today? In this article, we will take a comprehensive look at the operation and features of charging stations for zero-emission vehicles.

electric car charging

Electric car charging stations: how charging works

Charging an electric vehicle is done by connecting the car’s battery to a charging station using a special connector and cable. Electricity is transferred from the grid to the vehicle battery, which is going to recharge it.

Charging times depend on several factors:

  • Vehicle battery capacity;
  • Maximum power supported by the column;
  • Type of charging (slow, accelerated, fast, ultra-fast);
  • The remaining charge level of the battery.

In general, the more powerful the column, the faster the charging process will be. With 350 kW ultra-fast columns, 80% refueling can be achieved in about 15-20 minutes. On the other hand, with low-power slow recharging, such as domestic recharging, it can take up to 8-10 hours.

Types of electric car charging stations

There are various standards and types of electric vehicle charging stations:

  • Slow or normal charging: power up to 22 kW, alternating current. Charging times: 8-10 hours from 0 to 100%.
  • Accelerated charging: power from 22 kW up to 100 kW, alternating or direct current. Charging times: 2-4 hours from 0 to 100%.
  • Fast or fast charging: power from 50 kW up to 150 kW, direct current. Charging times: 30-60 minutes from 0 to 80%.
  • Ultra-speed charging: power up to 350 kW, direct current. Charging times: 15-30 minutes from 0 to 80%.

Slow charging stations are usually designed for home or business use, while fast and ultra-fast stations are designed for quick refuelling during long-distance travel.

The most common charging connectors in Europe are:

  • Type 2, used for AC charging;
  • CCS Combo 2, for DC fast charging;
  • CHAdeMO, another standard for DC fast charging.
  • Electric car columns: deployment in Italy

The situations in Italy

Italy is rapidly gearing up to ensure widespread deployment of charging infrastructure throughout the country.

Several operators are responsible for the development of this network of refueling points:

  • Energy service operators (Enel X, A2A, etc.);
  • Automakers (Tesla, Volkswagen, etc.);
  • Companies specializing in charging infrastructure;
  • Highway companies;
  • Public entities.

Thanks to the huge investments of these players, there were more than 13 thousand public charging points in Italy by the end of 2021, tripling the 2020 figure. The PNRR’s goal is ambitious: to reach 45 thousand active columns by 2025 and 75 thousand by 2030.

The regions with the most infrastructure currently are Lombardy, Lazio, Emilia Romagna and Piedmont. Southern Italy is also catching up, albeit starting from much lower numbers. For example, Sicily had only 34 charging points in 2020, rising to 264 in 2021.
The average range of electric cars is 250 to 500 km on a single charge. Therefore, the presence of fast charging stations along highways and suburban roads allows even very long trips without range problems, with short stops of 15-30 minutes every 2-3 hours of driving.

The average cost for fast charging at public charging stations is around €0.40-0.50/kWh. Recharging a 50 kWh battery thus costs about €20 on average. The price may vary depending on the operator, the power delivered, and any flat rates for unlimited charging.

Electric car columns: how to locate them

In order to take advantage of the public charging infrastructure network, it is necessary to know where the columns are located. There are several tools and apps that make it easy to locate charging points nearby or along a route.

The main platforms available are:

  • Individual operator apps (EnelX, BeCharge, etc.);
  • Apps for electric mobility (Nextcharge, E-station, Plugshare, etc.);
  • Interactive maps on specialized sites;
  • Satellite navigation with points of interest for car columns;
  • Smartphone voice assistant (e.g., “Ok Google, charging stations near me”).
  • Through these apps, it is possible to find out the exact location of the pillar, its real-time availability, the power delivered, the type of outlet and the cost of refueling. Some platforms also allow you to reserve the pillar in advance, then activate charging upon arrival via smartphone.

To travel stress-free with an electric car, it is useful to plan the route by including stops for charging at the most convenient stations along the way. This will help avoid unforeseen incidents and optimize travel time.

electric car charging stations

Electric car columns in apartment buildings

In addition to the public grid, charging stations in apartment buildings also play an important in encouraging the spread of electric mobility. Increasingly, condominium bylaws are being updated to allow the installation of wall boxes and charging columns for electric vehicles in condominiums.

The benefits of condominium charging infrastructure are many:

  • The convenience of charging the car under the house during the night or when it is parked;
  • Guaranteed access is restricted to the condominium owner only;
  • Reduced energy costs due to domestic rates;
  • Increased property value.

Building a condominium charging station requires a resolution of the assembly approving the works and authorizing the use of common areas. The wallbox can be placed in the parking stalls, outdoor areas of the condominium, or in the underground garage.

Installation costs range from 1,500 euros for the simplest wallboxes, up to 5,000 euros for columns with two fast charging sockets. The expense is usually divided among apartment buildings interested in using the service.

Even for refueling at condominium wallboxes, it is possible to use apps that allow managing access, monitoring consumption, and enabling or disabling charging. A useful technological solution for optimizing the use of shared charging infrastructure among multiple apartment buildings.

Conclusions

The widespread presence of electric vehicle charging stations is an essential element in enabling the transition to zero-emission mobility. Thanks to huge investments by energy operators, automakers and institutions, we will see a rapid growth of charging infrastructure throughout the country in the coming years.

Increasing autonomies, reduced “refueling” times, and the spread of columns even in urban and condominium settings will make it possible to overcome any “charging anxiety.” Electric travel will be as convenient as with a traditional car. This ubiquity of infrastructure will thus mark a decisive turning point in decreeing the success of sustainable mobility in Italy as well.

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