Charging, Part AAAAGH (Charge IX)

So, you thought VHS versus Beta was bad?  How about mpeg v. WMP v. Quicktime v. DivX v. Flash?

Lots of people want battery charging to shift from overnight to while-u-wait.  Faster charging at home would allow you to run errands all day, even with a small battery capacity in the vehicle.  Faster charging at highway stops would allow road trips.  In particular, there’s a push to get charging below the 30-minute mark.  30 minutes is a mental barrier to lots of people; it’s the length of a fast-food meal, a leisurely cup of coffee and a smoke, perhaps a long bathroom break and a stretch of the legs.

Unfortunately, a solution appears ready technologically, but it’s far from ready business-wise or marketing-wise.  Already, five separate business entities have proposed incompatible fast-charging protocols:

CHAdeMo is a fast DC standard from Nissan/Mitsubishi/Subaru and the Japanese utility TEPCO.  (Toyota has legally signed onto the CHAdeMo organization, but is hesitant to actually sell any compatible products.)  CHAdeMo cars and chargers are deployed and functioning now.

SAE J1772 Combo Plug is also fast DC, backed by GM, Ford, the Audi group (Audi/Volkswagen/Porsche), BMW, and Daimler (“Mercedes-Benz”).  Sounds impressive, until you realize no compatible vehicles are being driven by paying customers, nor are there any charging points in public use.

Tesla Superchargers are actually deployed… in California only.  These fast DC stations can be used… by one Tesla model only, the Model S, and only certain trim levels of the Model S.  Which will total over $60,000.  (The previous Tesla Roadsters can’t use Superchargers in any form.)

It’s conceivable that adapters can let these three interoperate; the differences in actual power are low, though the adapter might need circuit logic to match two protocols.  A smart adapter will cost you.  However, what can’t adapt is:

Renault fast AC.  French automaker Renault has not only developed a standard it claims will be cheaper and more widespread, but the roads of Italy are already signed up.

By using three-phase AC, the Renault standard is much closer to the power protocols now in use by European factories, ports, warehouses, and other major electrical customers.  Without heavy circuitry to convert these power levels, Renault-type charging points will be cheaper, and thus, easier to deploy.  Supposedly, the car end of the connection will also be relatively inexpensive, since it would be very close to the existing equipment already needed for slow and medium charging.  In other words, Renault has planned and demonstrated a way to squeeze fast charging through the stuff resembling today’s slow chargers and vehicles.  That resemblance could mean a win-win situation for both charging vendors and vehicle owners.

-Now add to all this Volvo.  The Swedish company is claiming its own fast protocol, on which details are scarce.  Personally, I don’t see this one getting traction.  Volvo is hardly a player in the global field; their solution would have to be truly breathtaking to beat out all this competition.  But, it isn’t, and it won’t.  What we know is that it’s still slower than CHAdeMO, J1772 Combo, Tesla’s, and Renault’s.

As I mentioned before, I’m glad to be on a bike.  Slow charging works pretty well for me, since my small battery doesn’t take long to “fill” at all compared to a cage.  But I don’t have much patience for these egotists duking it out, instead of working towards what the customers want: a network of locations that will power us, reasonably quick, reasonably cheap.  The problem may not even be solved by these egotists at all…

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9 thoughts on “Charging, Part AAAAGH (Charge IX)

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