Where was I… Electrically, then, CHAdeMO demonstrates the ability to (mostly) charge in 30 minutes. Hence, DC fast charging or quick charging (DCQC). But neither road vehicles nor charging infrastructure are gadgets, peculiar to a lab or your desk. The cost certainly isn’t localized to your wallet, or lab budget.
Ready? A CHAdeMO site costs… tens of thousands of dollars. That’s approaching the cars themselves (and more than motorcycles)- clearly not something for your garage. With its three-phase, high-current power demand and installation (usually a trench, possibly concrete work) it’s painfully obvious: DCQCs are commercial outlays, not consumer tchotchkes. The issue of CHAdeMO deployment and use then turns into marketing, network coordination and optimization, even macroeconomics. Which is not to say it can’t happen… it kinda has already.
Japan, the standard’s home market, has over 1,600 units in the field. Europe has several hundred, while North America has over a hundred. These high-profile charger deployments simultaneously follow EV uptake, and lead EV adoption. At tens of thousands of dollars each, the equation is hairy, and can (has?) become contentious. A CHAdeMO installation costs as much as 2-10 Level 2 units, or maybe a dozen or two Level 1.
Why Japan? Aside from being its home turf, there’s a real reason CHAdeMO took hold. Japan is an island nation, and a mountainous one too. Then add in crowding- the population density is one of the highest in the world. By comparison, the densest US state is New Jersey, and other than “just over the river” from NY or Philly, that’s still not that dense.
Living on an island, it’s harder to piece together a day of epic driving. On a mountainous island, the terrain funnels you into inherent corridors. On a densely-populated mountainous island that’s an industrialized nation, those corridors will be not just developed, but crowded. Hence, something like CHAdeMO makes sense. Most Japanese drivers will readily and often pass “choke points” where a fast-charging site:
-has industrial-type electrical service
-has amenities to fill your half hour- restaurants, shops, cafes, or just convenience marts
-is within range of another choke point
These conditions do not apply to the United States, mostly- we’re too large. (There are exceptions, of course- since we’re so large, it’s impossible to generalize. I’ll have to discuss these later.) I mentioned Tony Williams; he and his daughter took a Nissan Leaf from Tijuana to Vancouver (“BC2BC“- Baja California to British Columbia) entirely on electrons. However, it wasn’t entirely on CHAdeMO electrons, not by a long shot. Sure, the West Coast Green Highway stretches down Interstate 5, in all three states, with chargers, CHAdeMO and otherwise. Yet the Williamses encountered Gap 1, and Gap 2: massive stretches in Central and Northern California (outside the big cities) with no EVSE. Not only were there no CHAdeMOs, but little if any J1772s. They had to use RV parks and hotel outlets, and they still had to slow to under the speed limit in one stretch to make the next stop.
A majority of places have no CHAdeMO at all. It’s easier to list places present: East and Central Oregon and Washington State, urban California, Houston/DFW, Phoenix, Chicago, and the Tennessee Triangle (Nashville/Knoxville/Chattanooga). Indianapolis has three, Toronto has one. Everywhere else? Goose egg, as of February 2013.
A big drawback of the CHAdeMO concept is not from the connectors or chargers themselves. The Nissan Leaf and especially the Mitsubishi i are short-ranged, even by EV standards. Their highway ranges are only 65-80 miles. Site spacings for an EV network (“hops”) should be no wider than that to form a strictly-effective CHAdeMO travel network. (Unless, coincidentally, you live smack in between sites- your home is then one network node.) Since usable vehicle range varies with driver habits, terrain, air temperature, etc., an actual mesh must be finer than that. CHAdeMO units, then, must be surprisingly common before the system reaches a critical mass. If the cars had longer ranges, the necessary sites (and therefore, network cost) would fall. The relationship is geometric; a small gain in vehicle mileage results in a disproportionate fall in chargers. The North-American utility and potential, then, has been hobbled by Japanese luck. (Push comes to shove, a Japanese person can board their ample high-speed train and domestic-airline systems for “long”-distance travel.)
Of course, real deployments are more complex. The presence of Level 1 and 2 infrastructure takes some pressure off Level 3. Your employer may offer charging… but your apartment/condo building might not. Meanwhile any CHAdeMO downtime, and contention at popular sites, adds pressure. And there does exist the possibility of future, longer-ranged vehicles with CHAdeMO capability.
By this logic, one analysis concluded that DC fast charging- and public charging in general- makes little sense for North America. Home outlets make sense, of course, since they’re largely there already, and eight hours of sleep is plenty long enough for charging. But public EVSEs, given their costs, aren’t claimed to be worth it. They must be surprisingly powerful to be worth a stop, and surprisingly common (as described above) to allow highway tripping. Instead, plug-in hybrids are cheaper overall: with a small engine, no public chargers are strictly necessary. Existing gas stations are the “chargers,” and money is saved, while the bulk of road use (local trips) has still been electrified. In other words, Toyota and Ford supposedly have it right- offering Prius Plug-In and various Energi models with 12-21 miles’ electric range.
Do I buy this? A bit. The clear majority of my travel, at least, is within the all-electric range of a Prius Plug-In or Ford Energi. Certainly within the range of my Zero– that’s why I bought it. The number of times I take a road trip, beyond this range yet short of a plane ride, would be a handful per year. Not enough for charging in general, and DC fast charging in particular, to be a deal-breaker for me. Push comes to shove, I’m convenient to trains and airports, as if I’m Japanese.
And yet, I want public charging. First, it gives peace of mind; I might get caught out somewhere and need a charger, even an emergency trickle charger. It’s also easier on the battery pack to fill up a bit while I’m stopped anyway. Second, who doesn’t want another capability? Public chargers might allow some bizarre routing I haven’t even imagined yet. RV parks already existed, with surprisingly-powerful outlets. Third and most important, I’ll readily admit I am not the only customer in the world. Someone else might have perfectly valid demand (i.e., a different usage model) that calls for charge points. Other people’s EVs will benefit, and I’ll then get emergency/supplemental chargers for my own wheels.
That said, I have no use for CHAdeMO per se. Even if my 2012 Zero could take it, I don’t do that kind of riding. With my 6-kWh pack, CHAdeMO sites are ridiculous for me. A good J1772 would be as useful to me, while being a lot cheaper, and thus more common.
After that report came out, a funny thing happened: lower-powered CHAdeMO. Vendors are now building and installing sites that will charge a depleted pack in maybe an hour, not 30 minutes. These “half CHAdeMOs” not only decrease upfront cost, but can be installed at sites that can’t power full CHAdeMOs. (But still not in your house. Not even close.) If you have a compatible vehicle, I’ll guess you won’t turn down the additional support.
Yet, I’m mixed on “half CHAdeMO.” More charging infrastructure of any kind helps, even for peace of mind or as a form of advertizing for the very concept of EVs. But going from 30 minutes to 60 is bigger than it sounds. The public has been sold “30 minute recharges!”; finding that a site will actually take 45-60 minutes may be 30 too many, as well as a marketing/psychological letdown. That’s not a stop any more, it’s a plan to fit within your schedule. Sure, that time might only be the difference between a fast-food restaurant, and a true sit-down restaurant. Yet we only eat so many times a day, particularly going out to restaurants. Half-CHAdeMO alters the usage model significantly, and also takes away resources for Level 2 and possibly some Level 1 sites.
-Mind-bogglingly more powerful than household 5-15, maybe 45x more
-Full charging in 30 minutes is a transformative technology
-Industry support, both vehicle and infrastructure sides (3-5 vendors each)
-Safety features designed for vehicle use and outdoor installations
-Already widely deployed in Japan, less so in rest of world
-“Half CHAdeMO” appearing at lower cost (but lower speed)
-Mind-bogglingly more expensive- no home units, few public ones
-New standard faces rollout issues that old standards reduce or eliminate
-Heating now enough to affect pack life; ~1 charge/day recommended
-Not back- or cross-compatible with others (except low-powered units)
-Biggest connector in vehicle use, now or announced
-Large, complex connector drawing failures in the field
-No separate charger in vehicle, but EVs need a low/med charger anyway
-Expensive chargers displace more, cheaper, less-capable ones
-Many faulty units in the field are from one company, Blink
-CHAdeMO-compatible vehicles are short-ranged (not CHAdeMO’s fault)
-Competitors at Level 3 face many of the same issues
-Low-powered CHAdeMO may alter usage case and dilute “brand”
We are in new territory- Level 3 simply upends usage compared to household connectors. However, the choice has been made by the manufacturers; your part is buying their EV, or not. You can’t buy a home CHAdeMO.