‘88% of Brussels’ grid not suited for fast charging’
While Brussels grid management company Sibelga just stated that it would be capable of coping with charging 20 to 30% of the car fleet being electric by 2030, experts say there is a problem for fast charging. 88% of the streets in Brussels are equipped with 230-Volt cables, while 400 Volt is needed. At least it fuels the debate.
“We are desperately lagging in Brussels,” Alex De Swaef, CEO of charging station specialist EV-Point told newspaper De Tijd. “It’s crucial to have commuters charge their cars in the capital at work, but at 230 Volt, it simply takes too much time.”
Cables not suited for 400V
Several private EV owners and companies were told by Sibelga that a 400V connection isn’t possible in their neighborhood because most of the grid is still 230V, and the copper cables aren’t suited for these higher voltages.
Experts say the latter has a historical background, as Brussels choose for 230V in the twentieth century instead of 400V, while elsewhere, the higher voltage was needed in the first place for companies. The Flanders Region, for instance, has also its ‘blind spots’ of 230V, but it invested in a higher voltage grid for decades, and now 75% is said to be 400V.
Up to 41 hours of charging
And for fast-charging electric vehicles, this makes a huge difference. For an electric car with a heavy battery like the Teslas, the Audi e-tron, or a Mercedes ECQ, that can mean a loading time of at least 12 up to more than 41 hours to charge from zero to 100% at 230V.
Charging the Mercedes ECQ at 2.3 kW when plugged into a one-phase 10A power socket at 230V will keep you busy for 41 hours. At 16A (3.7 kW), it still takes more than 25 hours. The fastest you can get on 230V one-phase and 32A (7.4 kW) is 12 hours and 45 minutes. That means one-hour charging will give you an extra 28 km range on average.
When three-phase 400V is available, it actually makes no difference for the EQC when using AC charging, as the internal converter from AC to DC is limited to 7.4 kW. Things start to be different when using DC charging with a fixed cable wall box, enabling 11 kW (3x16A phases) to 22 kW (3x32A).
At public fast-chargers, mostly used while underway, offering on average 50kW, the EQC will need some 75 minutes to charge from 10 to 80% battery capacity. That’s a range of 200 km per charging hour. At 175 or 350 kW DC charging the EQC which is limited internally to 112 kW, 35 minutes would do.
17 public chargers in Brussels
Total daughter PitPoint, Europe’s third-largest supplier of CNG/Green gas fuel for vehicles and electric fast-charger network provider, was appointed by the Brussels Region to install 100 public chargers. But only 17 were installed so far. According to De Tijd, most locations weren’t suited for fast-chargers as only 230V is available.
While Sibelga is providing the last twenty years 400V for new districts or for new large buildings, it is not planning to upgrade the existing 230V grid when renewal is needed. A full upgrade would cost billions, so only 1% per year is upgraded. At that pace, it will take 80 years to get the job done.
Distribution costs would explode
“We need to move forward step by step,” says Chihi Bekay, advisor at the Brussels’ energy watchdog Brugel. “Otherwise the distribution costs on the invoices of Brussels’ people would explode.”
Sibelga emphasizes that the Brussels grid isn’t outdated, and 230V isn’t an obstacle for a breakthrough of the electric car, pointing at Norway where the grid is mostly 230V too. “In most cases, a 230V connection is sufficient to charge an EV overnight,” says Sibelga spokesperson Erik Hulsbosch. “And for daily commuters, a fully charged battery is seldom needed.”
Who is going to pay?
There is a way through for companies or private persons, to install a converter at their own expense to get 400V. “We have tested such a converter, but that means some 400 euros of extra electricity consumption per year,” says Alex De Swaef from EV-Point. “Several potential clients pulled out when they heard about the extra costs.”
For public fast-chargers expenses for extra converters can mount to 10.000 or 20.000 euros, advice bureau The New Drive calculated. “As long as it is not clear who is going to pay for those extra costs, this functions as a brake on the roll-out of EVs in Brussels,” Arthur Vijghen from the bureau concludes.