Help Me Learn More About EV Charging In China

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For a couple of months, I’ve been trying to learn more about how EV charging works in China, especially for people who don’t own a Tesla. We’re all familiar at CleanTechnica with Tesla’s China operations, which are impressive. We are also able to see maps of where Chinese superchargers are located. What I’ve been able to gather about the rest of the EV charging scene has been spotty. In this article, I’m going to quickly cover what I know so far and then cover the things I need to learn more about. I’m hoping readers will be able to help me find resources for the missing pieces.

What I Know So Far

In early December, I found some online discussion that Tesla may consider allowing other cars to use the company’s chargers. In that article, I covered much of what I was able to find about Chinese EV charging, but I’m going to review it here really quickly so readers will know what I know and not try to give me those answers.

In the US Supercharger network, vehicles use a Tesla connector that differs from other EVs. Other US electric cars use the J1772 plug for level 1 and level 2 charging, and either the CCS or CHAdeMO plug for DC fast charging. This makes it basically impossible for other EVs to even plug into a supercharger. Adapters exist for another brand’s EVs to plug into Tesla home or destination chargers, but those don’t work on the Tesla Supercharger stations. The destination chargers aren’t very picky about what they’ll charge if they get the right pilot signal, but Superchargers won’t put out high voltage unless they get an authenticated Tesla talking to it.

In China and Europe, charging plugs are more standardized. Newer Teslas have the same plug as other EVs in those places, so Teslas can charge at non-Tesla stations without an adapter. In Europe, they have the European variant of the CCS plug, and in China, they have a GB/T plug. The only thing that prevents other brands’ cars from going to a Tesla station to charge is that the station won’t power a vehicle that can’t prove it’s a Tesla.

I also know that the US is strange in its use of 115 volt electricity for homes. Most homes and businesses have 230 volt or 208 volt coming to the breaker box, but circuits are usually split to only allow half of the voltage to reach the standard wall plug. It’s normal to have 220-240 volts at normal wall plugs in China, and three-phase power is far more common internationally, while the U.S. reserved three-phase power for businesses and industrial sites.

For this reason, you’d need a different EVSE, and level 1 charging is faster in other countries compared to the US. Older EVs charge at 3.3 kW on 208-240 volts in the US while this would be level 1 in many other countries.

I also know that a few years ago it was somewhat common for Chinese EV owners to do janky things like run an extension cord out a window several stories up and down to their car.

I don’t know whether “fly line” charging is still common in some Chinese cities, but it does show that at least at some point demand outstripped infrastructure and led to these sorts of decisions. The same report shows an official map from the Chinese government showing what corridors have EV charging along them, but there’s no information about charging speeds, plug types, or specific locations in the report.

Screenshot from a Columbia University report. Graphic comes from the State Grid Corporation of China.

That map data is also from 2018, and a lot has probably changed in 2-3 years. Also, I know all about the situation with Taiwan, as I lived there for a while in college. Precise information about EV charging spots, types of plugs, and everything else is widely available for Taiwan from sources like the Plugshare app.

I also know that the EV industry is big in China. With air pollution problems, the government made it a big deal to get people to switch. Many articles have been written on this. I know that there are a great number of EVs and charging stations.

The Missing Pieces I’m Looking For

For some of my articles, I use sources like Plugshare and A Better Routeplanner to get an idea of what driving an EV is like in places I haven’t been. I’ve also found those resources extremely valuable for my own idiotic EV adventures, like when I took my Nissan LEAF to the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest.

A screenshot from Plugshare showing data on Chinese charging stations (excluding Tesla)

My usual resources don’t have any data on where the Chinese stations are except for Tesla’s superchargers. They show a few in the belly and neck of the big chicken, but none elsewhere. I couldn’t find the GB/T plug option in Plugshare, and even if they had that, nobody would have added those stations.

The biggest thing I’d like to find are maps of all GB/T charging stations in China. I don’t know if any manufacturer other than Tesla has proprietary GB/T plugs, so that information would be useful if it is available.

The biggest question is what it’s like to own an non-Tesla EV in the country. Are they generally practical like a Tesla, or is it like owning a Nissan LEAF in the US in 2011, with short ranges and basically no charging infrastructure outside of the largest cities?

If anyone knows where I can find maps of stations, owner experiences, and other information on what it’s like to charge an EV in China in 2021, I’d be very interested in that information. I hope to use this to write a few articles I have in mind, as well as to just be better informed when learning new things in the future.

If you know of anything, feel free to leave links and information in the comments. You can also find me on Twitter, and DMs are open 🙂

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1770 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba