Formula E, the electric open-wheel racing series, has pushed back plans to introduce a mid-race 600 kW charging session until next year. The series had planned to have a short charging pit stop during races this year, but supply chain issues have delayed the implementation of the plan.
This year, Formula E introduced a new, faster “Gen3” car, which is lighter and more powerful than last year’s car. The new car includes a high DC charge capacity, which helps to enable stronger regenerative braking but also unlocks the potential of mid-race charging.
The series planned to introduce mid-race charging this year, with cars taking one “pit stop” per race to do a charge of around 30 seconds. While 30 seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time as far as EV charges go, the Gen3 cars have such high charge rates that every second can make a real difference.
At a charge rate of 600 kW, that means a 30-second charge can deliver about 5 kWh of energy, which is 1/8th the size of the Gen3’s 39 kWh battery pack. So the cars can charge more than 10% in just 30 seconds.
Formula E says the technology is all there for these chargers, but the problem has been in supply chains for the ABB charging unit that would be used in the races.
As a result, the plans to introduce charging at the beginning of this season were pushed back to mid-season, and now it looks like the chargers would only be ready for the last one or two race weekends of the season.
At that point, it becomes an issue of fairness – in an already-tight racing season, introducing a change at the very end of the season could swing the championship at the last moment. Some teams objected to that, arguing that changes shouldn’t be made mid-season and that the rules should remain the same all season long. Porsche, which is currently in the lead for both the teams’ and drivers’ championships, has opposed the rule change in particular.
The series now plans to introduce charging at the start of the 2024 season instead and seems confident that supply issues will be worked out by then and that racing teams will be more on board with a full season change.
We’re very excited to see this mid-race fast-charging happen. 600 kW is a lot of charge capacity, and EV drivers should be interested in a proof-of-concept of this type of technology. Sometimes, it can take 30 seconds to even start a charging session at major DC charge networks, and by that time, the Formula E car would have already put more than 10% into the battery.
While 10% may not seem like a lot, Formula E races are optimized down to tenths of a percent of charge. In the nine seasons of its running, teams have gotten good enough at managing their energy use that most cars finish the race with exactly 0.0% battery left, using their regenerative braking on the last straight to put just a little juice into the battery to stay over the minimum battery regulations in the racing rules. So in light of that, 10% gives a lot more wiggle room.
Drivers who have used DC chargers on the road know that sometimes it takes time for chargers to ramp up to speed. So if we can get a proof-of-concept of cars starting these charges rapidly and safely, maybe we could do something about the long ramp-up and handshaking times on public chargers. Or maybe that’s a naive hope, but regardless, I’m still quite interested in seeing these charges happen. Plus, they’ll shake up the racing, which is always good.
Also, these chargers are necessarily temporary – Formula E isn’t installing an additional 6.6MW of electrical capacity (600kW x 11 teams) at each of their venues, especially since most of these venues are temporary street tracks used only for one or two days in the middle of downtown areas or public parks. So, much like Tesla’s temporary mobile superchargers, these can serve as another proof-of-concept for installing super fast temporary charging at events or to help alleviate high traffic scenarios (like crowded chargers on holidays, disaster relief situations, and so on).
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