One of the top things I criticize conventional automakers about is EV fast charging — or lack thereof. Well, since automakers and charging companies have adopted the term “fast charging” for rather slow 50 kW charging, what I technically push is “superfast charging” (I know, it’s a great “technical” term. To match it up with industry terminology a bit more, I’ve also termed it Level 4 charging.”) If this is all a bit new to you, here’s a brief summary of the key points as they stand today:
- The fastest non-Tesla EV fast-charging stations out there can charge a ~200-mile electric car like the Chevy Bolt (if it has the capability) from 0–80% in approximately 1 hour, or 30–80% in approximately 35 minutes.
- Driving for a couple of hours, and then charging for an hour, and then driving for a couple of hours, and then charging for an hour, just isn’t a convenient way to take a road trip. The story is probably even less convenient if you are stopping at shorter intervals to charge due to charging stations not being widespread enough to be placed exactly where you want them.
- Tesla Superchargers are up to 120 kW in output capacity, and can thus charge a Tesla approximately twice as fast as the fast chargers noted above.
Exciting as it may be, turning a 6-hour road trip into an 18-hour road trip isn’t likely to win over many people in the mainstream car market.
Faster CHAdeMO & CCS Charging Standards Compete With Tesla Supercharging
We’ve gotten word in the past year that the two open fast-charging standards (CCS and CHAdeMO) have increased their max rates to 150 kW, CHAdeMO doing so as recently as this past month. However, as far as I know, there isn’t a single superfast-charging station out there as part of a network drivers can use (presuming their cars are even equipped to make use of it), and there are no public announcements of companies planning broad superfast-charging networks. So, I contacted our good friends at Fastned, a charging network leader based in the Netherlands, to see if they had any knowledge on the matter that they could share.
The helpful spokeswoman for the company directed me to this recent article on the Fastned blog, which has a number of interesting tidbits in it, and is a great summary on EV fast charging in general.
First of all, it’s worth pointing out that there’s unlikely to be much movement on superfast charging until automakers have cars on the market that can make use of it, and such cars are in the works. Today, the Kia Soul EV is the only non-Tesla electric car that has a charging capacity up to 100 kW (the max is typically 50 kW), but the fully electric Hyundai Ioniq is supposed to have the same, and Volkswagen Group (including Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche) has made announcements that make it clear future electric models should have capability up to or even above 150 kW (the Audi Q6 e-tron planned for 2018 and the Porsche Mission E planned for ~2020, for example). Yes, Volkswagen is particularly popular on vaporware forums, but the plans seem legit, so let’s not be too cynical. Still, these cars are years away, and there’s no strong sign that the automaker is aiming to bring about a genuinely satisfactory superfast-charging network.
Oh yeah, something I don’t recall seeing previously is that the next-generation Nissan LEAF might be able to use 150 kW CHAdeMO superfast charging, but Fastned mentions this in the blog as well. Nissan has been heavily involved in rolling out a somewhat decent (depends who you ask) fast-charging network in the US and Japan, and one would presume that it would work hard to upgrade these stations to provide up to 150 kW.
… But Who Will Build The Superfast-Charging Networks?
Even if Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, Nissan, etc., are planning long-range electric cars with superfast-charging capability, I’m quite skeptical that the automakers will work to develop a widespread, well-planned network that matches the Tesla Supercharger network. In the past, I’ve pushed automakers to simply partner with Tesla (Tesla has welcomed the option with open arms), but there’s no sign they want to cede the victory to Tesla on this matter, even if it means offering their customers less-than-adequate products. Of course, as I wrote the other day, these automakers actually want the transition to electric cars to happen slowly, so this comes as no big surprise.
Fastned and the free market to the rescue? The remaining option is that outside companies will build the convenient, superfast charging networks customers desire. This is a daunting task, as capital expenditures for these high-power charging stations are not at all small, and siting + permitting are also huge challenges. I know many people think that there isn’t a strong financial business case for such an effort. However, Fastned is in this game for the long haul, and it is doing great work to help enable our electric future. From the blog:
“Many Fastned stations are already prepared for 150 kW chargers. We have grid connections that support charging four cars simultaneously at 150 kW. Our other stations can easily be upgraded with a larger grid connection as well. More capacity can be added in the future by introducing on-site battery buffering and/or by further increasing the capacity of the grid connections. The layout of our stations is already designed for maximum throughput of cars.”
Of course, timing is key here. As I said, these are huge investments. You don’t want to put the cash forward 3 years before it’s useful. Also, you need the actual chargers to be available (I’m sure companies like ABB are working on this, but I have no idea how far they are from having a product on the market). On these matters, Fastned adds:
“We expect to install the first 150 kW chargers at Fastned stations in 2017, depending on introductions of cars with 150 kW capability by the car makers and the availability of these high powered chargers.”
So, there’s Fastned, which is based in the Netherlands and expanding into Germany and maybe other countries in Western Europe. But what about the USA? What I’ve heard so far on the matter is … crickets singing.
The fast-charging networks for non-Tesla cars are already criticized quite a lot for the charging stations not being placed in the most convenient locations for long-distance travel (like, on dealership lots far off of the Interstate that are locked up at night) and for pretty bad reliability, meaning that you can’t be that sure a charging station you go to use will actually be in service. Do I have a lot of confidence that superfast-charging stations from the existing networks will be placed in better locations and more reliable? Well, not really.
I would call on automakers to step it up and try to build something akin to the Tesla Supercharger network, but I just don’t see them doing that. I would push the companies behind current charging-station networks to step it up, but I honestly think they are just walking too much of a financial tightrope right now to be able to do much here. I would push Fastned to bring its model to the US, and have done so, but know that’s not an easy solution either, especially financially. We aren’t left with many other options, though, so I will do all of these things, I hope you will do so as well, and I also plan to launch a push for one more potential option already touched on above (but, admittedly, just about as unlikely as any of these solutions). Do you have any other ideas?
Any critical dots I’m forgetting to connect?
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