Charging infrastructure has to keep pace with the growing number of electric cars. If we wanted to charge ten cars at once in ten minutes, say, we would need the equipment capable of supplying a skyscraper with electricity. Expanding and upgrading the existing infrastructure is a difficult and expensive project that will take time.
That is why local energy storage systems are being set up with a view to overcoming these obstacles, at least partly. Chemical accumulators similar to those in electric car batteries can be used for this – but their disadvantage is that frequent charging and discharging shortens their lifespan. That makes it necessary to replace them from time to time. They are usually replaced after three to four thousand cycles, which can be a matter of several years. But in the end, the owner is faced with the problem of recycling or destroying them ecologically, which is a tricky and energy-intensive process. Although the development of Li-ion batteries is still going ahead, with each new generation being longer-lasting than the previous ones, there are already energy storage devices that last many times longer before they have to be replaced – but is that the only path available?
An Israeli start-up called Chakratec — a firm with which ŠKODA concluded a strategic partnership in 2019 via ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab Israel Ltd — is taking a different approach. It’s a really interesting idea. Kinetic Power Booster is a flywheel-based energy storage system without the need for chemical battery cells. This technology makes it possible to charge electric cars with double the charging power the electricity grid could provide. What’s more, it can be used in places where the grid’s capacity falls far short of what’s required for fast charging. Or it can charge two electric cars at “full” speed, whereas under different circumstances they would have to share the available capacity.
Last year ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab, in collaboration with Pražská Energetika (PRE), began pilot operation of the innovative flywheel-based kinetic storage system hooked up to a fast-charging station. You can find it at the PVA EXPO complex in Prague’s Letňany district. It is the first facility of its type in the Czech Republic and the third in the world.
The kinetic storage facility enables fast charging even in places where the local grid would not be powerful enough. The storage system absorbs peak loads in the grid to spin flywheels to high rotation speeds, which stores electricity in kinetic energy form. As soon as an electric car is connected to the storage facility, the Kinetic Power Booster slows down the flywheels again and releases the energy as electricity.
In this way, it can double the charging power for a given time compared to what the grid can provide. This solution is ideal for car showrooms or shopping centres, where increasing the power supply for installing a fast-charging station would involve an unaffordable investment.
One disadvantage of earlier fast-charging stations using chemical accumulators is their fluctuating capacity. Chakratec’s system does away with this – the capacity remains constant. That’s because the technology is entirely mechanical, not chemical. And it lasts for ages: it enables roughly 200,000 charging and discharging cycles. The manufacturer puts its lifespan at twenty years.
The current version of the Israeli firm’s energy storage system consists of ten flywheels, each weighing 150 kilograms. These are housed in special steel cases in a container, where they rotate in a vacuum. When current from the grid is fed into them, their spinning gradually accelerates – conversely, when an electric car is charging its battery, they generate electricity and, logically, their rotation speed gradually falls.
To give you an idea: this energy storage technology would make it possible to charge the accumulators of two ŠKODA CITIGOᵉ iV cars to 80% capacity simultaneously – which is double the power the grid could provide on its own. After they are discharged, the flywheels need a certain amount of time to get back to the required rotation speed – when hooked up to the 50 kW grid connection at the PVA EXPO this takes roughly 45 minutes. And by the way, charging at this station is free until the end of the year!