Dr Ben Black, Principal Market Development Manager of Real-Time Test at National Instruments discusses the disruptive technologies associated with vehicle electrification.
Around the globe, governments are announcing mandates that will bring about the demise of the internal combustion engine. China has led the charge by requiring 8 percent of new vehicles on the road to be “new energy” or zero emission in 2018, a huge growth over the current 2 to 3 percent on the road today. Similar strong government regulations limiting the future of the internal combustion engine have passed around the world, and the importance and growth of the hybrid and fully electric automobile industry can’t be overstated. Volvo has possibly taken the strongest stance of the automotive manufacturers by pledging to make only hybrid or fully electric cars by 2019 and committing to sell more than 1 million electric vehicles by 2025.
More Than Just EV/HEV
The move from internal combustion to hybrid and then fully electric power plants represents only the most visible portion of the aggressive growth of power electronics systems in vehicles. Electrification applies just as significantly to vehicle subsystems. As recently as 10 years ago, a fully mechanical coupling between the steering wheel and the front wheels was not unusual. The same applies to other vehicle subsystems.
The explosion of drive-by-wire technology throughout the modern vehicle has changed this paradigm. A sensor, a remote actuator and multiple control systems have replaced the mechanical linkage. As the number of power electronics subsystems in the vehicle grows, the automobile itself begins to look like an electrical microgrid with a common power bus connecting a growing list of sources and sinks of power, each managed by an independent embedded control system.
The impact on infrastructure
The exponential growth in electrification and the impending end of internal combustion engines also represent a radical change in the infrastructure required to support the shift in vehicle power plants. A car with an internal combustion engine requires roughly 10 minutes to refuel for another 300 miles. However, even with a dedicated supercharger, a similar pit stop requires at least an hour for a fully electric vehicle to charge. Even for the slow recharge associated with a daily commute, the required charging hardware needs some thought. For homeowners, installing an overnight charging station might be as simple as putting in a high-current circuit in the garage, but this becomes more complicated in bedsit land. If a car owner happens to live in a city and parks on the street, the concept of a home-charging station might be completely impossible.
Looking at the future of vehicle electrification from the prospective of the electrical utility, the cyclic demands based on the daily workforce schedule combined with the high-load demands of fast charging present incredible new challenges for the electrical grid. If an entire workforce returns home at 5pm and plugs in its electric vehicles, this shifts the timing of the typical peak demand on the grid and refocuses the regional peak consumption from heating or cooling toward transport.
The government-mandated trend of electric vehicles directly leads to growth in the complexity of vehicles and indirectly leads to an immediate need for growth in infrastructure. The future of the automotive industry will drive the future of the grid, which will require smarter control systems. Turning this into reality represents a truly interdisciplinary challenge to build safe and reliable control systems among other needs. To get to market quickly, this will require an increased reliance on real-time test, production test and partners who have expertise building tools using a flexible, open platform. With the right tools, engineers can adapt to the disruptive technologies vehicle electrification will require.