A future where households form ‘small energy communities’ that share power with neighbours? That’s the long-term goal of an innovative Romanian start-up, Lektri.co.
With energy costs rising, electric vehicle (EV) public charging is becoming increasingly expensive. This makes home chargers more appealing, especially when combined with solar panel (PV) energy generation.
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The Romanian start-up Lektri.co has the long-term goal of building a future where communities share renewable energy via an interconnected network of personal solar arrays and electric vehicles equipped with bi-directional charging capabilities (Vehicle-to-Grid).
One of its latest innovations is the 1P7K charger, designed to cut energy costs and make EV charging more accessible.
To create the 1P7K, Lektri.co worked with custom parts manufacturer Hubs to source injection moulded components to house advanced electronics. These components were built to weather any conditions.
The 1P7K charger connects to home or office WiFi and can be integrated with any PV system, regardless of its brand or type. The charger also comes with a smartphone app which allows users to charge their car battery not only with excess solar energy but also during low-tariff hours, automatically adjusting the charging power.
The product is cheaper and easier to install than traditional EV chargers, with a sales price of around 499 euros for the standard 1P7K model. Residential installations cost between 300 and 1,000 euros, depending on the location.
According to Oliver Albu, Lektri.co’s sales director, “we knew that no matter how affordable you make the charger, the cost you can’t control so easily is installation.
“It became essential to design and manufacture the 1P7K product so an electrician could install it in 15 minutes.”
‘Slow is fast enough’
Lektri.co was launched in 2018 and is part of a wider group of telematics enterprises, headquartered in Romania, which includes the fleet management company SafeFleet.
After SafeFleet replaced all the vehicles in its sales fleets with EVs, the company reduced fleet costs by nearly 60 per cent. Keeping these vehicles charged soon became a significant issue, however, as there were a limited number of charging stations in Eastern Europe – the majority of which were DC (fast-charging) stations dotted along highways.
“The issue for our fleet was how to charge our vehicles in the most efficient way,” says Albu. “Because we had experience, know-how and hardware and software capabilities, we decided to produce our own EV charging station. This is how we got started.”
Albu and his team observed that most charging sessions for their fleets took place over longer periods when EVs weren’t in use. They soon found that AC (destination charging) was far more efficient, and a better technology fit for their product concept.
To charge an EV, alternating current (AC) provided by the grid must be converted to direct current (DC). Converting from AC to DC power for destination chargers takes place within the vehicle’s onboard charger, but fast chargers have a built-in converter to deliver DC current directly into the EV’s battery.
The issue with faster-charging options (50-300 kW) is that they put a lot of stress on the battery and heat the entire system if used too frequently. This means that DC charging is better suited for quick breaks on the highway, as opposed to home or office use.
“That is why destination AC charging (3.6-22 kW) is preferred in daily city usage scenarios and the better option for when EVs are parked for a longer period of time,” says Albu. “In many day-to-day usage scenarios, slow is fast enough.”
The manufacturing technology
At the same time, the EV chargers that were on the market already were aesthetically lacking, and the Lektri.co team were looking to use new technology to create a sleek and modern design.
The design centres around four LEDs, which light up in various combinations and speeds to communicate the state of the charger.
The key components for the product are the casing that houses the electronics and the cover protecting the four LEDs. Both parts must be robust enough for prolonged outdoors use without obstructing the LED interface.
To build the charger’s case and cover, Hubs used injection moulding technology combined with durable and cost-efficient materials.
“We are proud to be instrumental in bringing one of the most affordable and attractive EV chargers to the market,” says Hubs CEO, Alex Cappy. “Lektri.co’s solutions not only alleviate rising energy costs, but they have also made electric vehicles more accessible”
The EV industry is undergoing rapid transformation and growth. A vast majority of innovations in this space come from start-ups, and not traditional vehicle manufacturers.
While these companies excel at innovation, the inherently low-volume nature of electric vehicle prototyping makes it difficult to compete with established automotive companies which have access to sophisticated manufacturing infrastructure.
Online manufacturing services such as Hubs level the playing field for EV innovators by giving them access to rapid prototyping as well as high-quality manufacturing at smaller production runs.
A broader mission
Lektri.co meanwhile has a broader mission that goes above and beyond cost and energy-saving goals.
The EV charging innovator hopes to increase the usage of EVs and encourage people to share their chargers with others, which would further incentivise more sustainable automotive choices. This is now becoming even more vital in the face of rapidly rising energy prices.
“The first step is to solve this infrastructure problem by making a lot of charging points available,” says Albu.
“The destination charging technology is a major factor here, as it’s far more efficient and cost-effective. Installing fast chargers is very capital intensive, often requiring government funding, and doesn’t have the same return on investment potential as destination chargers.”
According to Albu, this enables the next step. “Once you have an EV and a charger, the next step will be to install PV panels in order to produce your own electricity,” he says. “The charger is designed to work perfectly with PV panels.”
The company’s connected network of chargers may be a stepping stone toward what Albu calls “small energy communities” where households with PV panels can share power with neighbours, meaning that EV owners will be able to use bidirectional chargers in EVs to partially power their homes.
While this future of small energy communities powered by microtransactions, as opposed to monolithic energy providers, may be far off, this is the long-term vision for the Lektri.co team, and is set to be the driving force behind its future innovations.
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