Fast EV Charging’s Long and Bumpy Road to Success

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What will it take to make electric vehicle recharging as fast and easy as filling up your gas tank? Cutting battery charge times from hours to minutes is a holy grail of EV boosters, since it could erase the “range anxiety” concerns of being stranded with an empty battery at the side of the road.

Early efforts include private networks being built by the likes of Best Buy and NRG Energy, as well as public-private partnerships such as the Department of Energy-backed The EV Project.

But there’s a long and bumpy road ahead for fast-charging, as I point out in my weekly update at GigaOm Pro (subscription required). First of all, fast chargers are much more expensive than their slower, alternating current cousins — Nissan has priced its “Level 3” fast charger at 1.47 million yen, or about $18,000, compared to about $2,000 for the “Level 2” chargers that can be installed in the garages of EV owners. Second of all, high voltage, direct current fast chargers could present safety challenges for casual users, as noted in a July article from CBS’ BNET.

Fast charging systems also face an uncertain road on the way to standardization. Right now, a standard called CHAdeMO, developed by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and a consortium including Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru maker Fuji Heavy Industries, Toyota and more than 150 companies, has a lead in the race, with a host of partners including Aker Wade, Coulomb Technologies, Eaton, Schneider Electric and ECOtality’s Blink system being used by Best Buy. Last week, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported that The EV Project would be installing some 310 CHAdeMO-based fast chargers in the U.S. — a first step in its goal of becoming a global standard.

But that doesn’t mean the standards race is settled. The Society of Automotive Engineers has an alternative to its SAE J1772 standard for Level 1 and 2 chargers — slower chargers that use  alternating current at standard household voltages — that could incorporate Level 3, direct current fast charging in the same plug (PDF). German automakers are pushing another fast charging system from Mennekes Elektrotechnik.

In Texas, NRG Energy’s for-profit car-charging service includes plans for 50 fast chargers in business parking lots that will come from Aerovironment, which uses a proprietary fast-charging system. For more on how these different fast-charging systems may find their way into emerging markets, check out my post at GigaOm Pro.

For more research on electric cars check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Image courtesy of Kevin Krejci via Creative Commons license.

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Nick Chambers

DC Fast Chargers are not equivalent to Level 3 chargers. Until the experts out there correct this in their own minds, the misinformation will continue to propagate.

I’ve had several long conversations on this topic with folks from the SAE and elsewhere in the industry. The following is the actual breakdown of standards that the SAE is working on or has already approved for Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSE):

Two categories of charging, AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current). Three levels in each category as follows:

Level 1: 120 Volt AC single phase. 12-16 amp configuration. 1.44-1.92 kw configuration.
Level 2: 240 Volt AC single phase. ≤80 amp. ≤19.2 kw.
Level 3: TBD, not finalized. Could be single or three phase AC. Not viewed as being necessary yet so it is a lower priority.

Level 1: 200-450 Volt DC. ≤80 amp. ≤19.2 kw. Not totally finalized.
Level 2: 200-450 Volt DC. ≤200 amp. ≤90 kw. Not totally finalized.
Level 3: TBD, not finalized. 200-600 Volt DC?? ≤ 400 amp. ≤240 kw. Meant for rapid charging of large EVs like buses. Not viewed as being critical right now as industry is developing their own systems on a fleet-by-fleet basis.

The CHAdeMO standard that already exists in Japan is the equivalent of combining Level 1 and Level 2 DC. Given that by the time SAE gets around to finalizing the DC charging standards there will be multiple tens of thousands (perhaps more than 100,000) EVs on the road that support CHAdeMO, their hand will likely be forced and they will have adopt the CHAdeMO standard. This is the rumbling I hear from within SAE themselves.

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