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By the end of March 2018, there were around 1,700 electric passenger cars registered with the Finnish Transport Safety Agency to drive on the streets of Finland.

Charging an electric car

So why don’t we see them? For electric cars to gain a foothold within the Finnish market, or any other, there must be a reciprocal improvement in the infrastructure used by electric cars. In this article, we will look at the challenges and see how we can best overcome them.

The key driver in helping electric cars gain a foothold is price, but it may take as long as ten years for prices to fall. In the meantime, Finland’s electric car purchase subsidy, which came into effect at the beginning of 2018, will make it easier for people to buy electric vehicles. The subsidy allows the purchaser to either purchase an electric car or receive one on a long lease (until November 2021).

While there are incentives to buy electric cars, these will, however, only succeed if they are matched by changes to the infrastructure that keeps our cars on the road. Currently, that rate of change is slow because local infrastructure is built around the combustion engine. Electric cars require a very different approach because they function on battery power. The battery generates power for acceleration, as well as the vehicle’s electric devices, and therefore the power must be sufficient to allow the car to travel for a specified number of kilometers. Re-fueling an electric car is very different to a traditional car.

The batteries in an electric vehicle are significantly larger than those in a traditional car because they need to carry more energy. SGS’s Tillman Heinisch, the man responsible for environmental simulation tests in Munich, explains: “One charge needs to cover a journey that is 80% of the specified maximum mileage. The amount of remaining power depends on a number of factors, including driving manner, climate, and use of air conditioning and other driving comfort features.”

The number of charging points for electric vehicles are increasing in the developed world and they can now be found in a number of service stations and shopping malls. In addition, people are reaping the rewards of installing charging points at home, allowing them to take advantage of cheaper night-time electricity. Overnight charging also ensures the car receives a full charge.

The scarcity of electric cars, however, means it is currently uneconomic and difficult to install charging points at housing complexes and this is creating a disincentive to buying an electric car. To answer this, housing complexes are looking at ways to introduce communal charging points that will result in people only paying for the electricity they use.

It should also be acknowledged that, as infrastructures changes and electric cars become more common, new safety risks will appear. As more energy is stored in batteries, the more risks there will be related to their use and charging. It is therefore important that stakeholders understand the safety requirements and industry standards that relate to each market as quickly as possible.

Standardizing and testing are used to ascertain that products entering the market remain safe, even during accidents. Tillman Heinisch explains: “For example, type approval for car batteries requires testing and approval for use in all temperatures and vibration environments. At our Munich facility, we test batteries to make sure that they don’t over-charge, overheat while being charged, or cause short-circuits.”

Battery testing is started at the product development stage so that safety issues can be identified before the final product is assembled. The cells inside the battery should be appropriate for the performance required for the specific application. They must also be able to endure the irregularity of operating cycles, as well as mechanical maltreatment and misuse relating to environmental conditions. In addition, there are specific standards for ensuring logistical safety during the transportation of batteries.

To test electric vehicle charging stations, SGS uses its Lauttasaari facility in Helsinki. Energy transmission and control products project manager Sami Hakonen explains the testing process: “Electrical safety is tested with voltage, impact and heat tests, as well as, among others, enclosure class and contact protection tests. They are used to ascertain a number of factors, including how watertight a charge station is and the impact resistance of the station against mechanical stress and even vandalism.”

Charging stations should also be tested for electromagnetic emissions, as they must not interfere with other near-by electric devices, such as pacemakers. Charging sockets must also be tested to ensure they communicate correctly with the car’s batteries, otherwise there is a risk of the battery’s cells not charging up in the correct way and this could cause an accident.

It should also be remembered that different countries will need different installation requirements. For example, a battery in Finland will need better cold resistance than a car battery in Brazil. Additional features also need to be tested. Sami Hakonen explains: “Product standards cover the minimum requirements for the operation of electric devices but, in addition, the manufacturers may want to build in additional features to their products. For example, additional sealing or impact resistance.”

The electric car battery sector is one of constant innovation. Battery energy density and efficiency are improving all the time, and this creates the need for further tests to reduce risk and enhance safety. The world is getting ready for electric cars, but the process is far from over – it has only just begun.

SGS offers a comprehensive range of solutions to help manufacturers understand their electric car components. By testing components, SGS assists clients in the selection of parts for their own products, resale and/or importation. Our experts understand the standards applicable to each product and can perform pre-testing, type testing and auditing, as well as help obtain authorization for products from target markets. We have the expertise required to help you at every stage of a components development – from the drawing board to certification.

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For more information, please contact:

Mika Koivunen
Sales Manager
t: +358 9 6963236