Which charging standard will win?

by Ernie Hernandez on June 8, 2014

Multi Standard Charger

Will we need to have a winner?

When we pull up to a typical gas pump, we are faced with several hose options – regular, mid-grade, premium, and sometimes diesel. Perhaps this is our electric vehicle (EV) future as well.

A study performed by The EV Project before it imploded last year stated that the vast majority of EVs are charged primarily at home. With over 8,100 vehicles participating in the project over its history back to 2011, the data are reliable, and can be seen at The EV Project’s website. In their last quarterly report dated last August, 74 percent of all Nissan LEAF charging events occurred at home and 80 percent of all Chevrolet Volt charging events occurred at home. So with 20 to 25 percent of all charging events taking place away from home, where are EV drivers charging their vehicles?

As of June 2013, The EV Project had 2,675 publicly accessible Level 2 charging stations available and only 87 publicly available DC quick chargers available. Although outnumbered over 30 to one, DC quick charge events amounted to 26,911 while Level 2 charge events numbered 50,729. In other words, LEAF drivers (the Volt has no quick charge capability) sought out the quick charge stations more than one third of the time when a charge was needed away from home. The study makes for some fascinating reading and can be found here (Q2 2013 Report The EV Project). This is not an exhaustive listing of all Level 3 (quick charge) stations. According to the CHAdeMO Association’s website as of April 22, 2014 there were 592 CHAdeMO DC quick chargers available in the United States. Surprisingly (at least to us), Europe had 1,117. Japan had the most with 1,967, as expected. That is well over 3,500 units installed globally. No competitive standard comes close.

All of this as preamble to the fact that there is no single international standard for an EV owner to obtain a DC quick charge. LEAF drivers show a huge preference to quick charge when away from home, if possible, rather than use the more widely available Level 2 equipment. In the second quarter of 2013 the Level 2 units experienced almost 19 charge events per unit. During this same time frame the quick charge units available supported over 309 charge events per unit. Clearly, we need more quick chargers available. One problem is there is no clear standard as yet which may have slowed the rollout.

With Nissan having sold over 50,000 LEAFs so far in the United States, and over 100,000 globally, the CHAdeMO connector used by Nissan has become the de facto standard. General Motors involvement in the development of the SAE combination connector has effectively tried to shut out the Japanese standard. That said, the SAE combination connector is currently the US standard with few vehicles on the road to support it. In Europe there is yet another standard termed the Mennekes connector after the company that developed it. As if that’s not enough, Tesla has chosen to go their own way with yet another connector. Two in fact. Early Tesla Roadster adopters were left in the cold as Tesla outfitted the Model S with a design that obsoleted the connector used on the Roadster. In fact, the Roadster connector can not accommodate a DC quick charge. Elon Musk talks of his expanding Supercharger network but this network does not support the Roadster owner in any way.

For the foreseeable future, we see the installation of more multi-standard DC quick charge stations. Perhaps multi-standard is too broad a term, as we expect these stations to support only the CHAdeMO standard and the new SAE combination connector. The combination connector will be supported by the recently released BMW i3, Volkswagen e-Golf, and the Chevrolet Spark EV. Then again, with Tesla building out their own Supercharger network Tesla owners (at least Model S owners) need not rely on a broader publicly available standardized network. Will the combo connector and the CHAdeMO standard continue to exist side-by-side into that future? Only time will tell.

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