Forget electric vehicle charging. Bring on Doc Emmett's flux capacitor

17-01-2017 |   |  By Paul Whytock

Future owners of electric vehicles (EV) may find themselves embroiled in a technology standards war over how they re-charge their cars. And let’s face it; right now one of the major negatives of owning an EV is the time-consuming rigmarole in getting it charged up.

So the last thing EV drivers want is a standards kerfuffle similar to the 1970 VHS versus Betamax wrangle, or more recently the 4G wireless broadband Wimax versus LTE Advanced shenanigans or the Wireless charging standard debacle involving Qi from Wireless Power Consortium versus WiPower from The Alliance for Wireless Power.

I mention this because European car makers BMW, Daimler, Ford, Volkswagen Audi and Porsche intend to build a network of 400 EV rapid–charge plug-in points across Europe.

But guess what; drivers of Tesla EVs will not be able to re-charge at them because they use a system called the Tesla Supercharger.

The proposed European system is the Combined Charging System (CCS) and it will be a quick-charging method delivering high-voltage direct current via an electrical connector derived from the SAE J1772 (IEC Type 1) or IEC Type 2 connectors. As the plug is a combination of an AC connector with a DC option the resulting connector is also known as a Combo Coupler and, just to add to the whole EV charging confusion, the variant with Type 2 is abbreviated as Combo2. Work on implementing the CCS network is expected to begin in 2017 and the charging points will be situated along major roads.

Tesla drivers however are already pretty well catered for when it comes to topping up their batteries. The existing Tesla first-generation charging stations allow Tesla cars to be charged in less than an hour and by the end of 2016 there will be nearly 300 stations across Europe.

 

Charge times versus petrol tank filling

 

Tesla has shown with its supercharger network that fast charging is possible. It now takes about 40 minutes to bring a Model S up to 80% fully charged. However it wants to bring down the charging time further to between five and 10 minutes. Now that in practical terms is about the same time as it takes to fill a petrol driven car.

The whole should-I-shouldn’t-I debate for drivers is that EV charging is the classic chicken-or-egg situation. Few people are likely to replace their conventional cars with electric ones until comprehensive and conveniently located infrastructures exist for charging EVs.

And bear in mind that currently drivers of petrol or diesel powered driven cars have a choice of nearly 100,000 garages across Europe to refuel in.

Current estimates suggest that in two years time there will be approximately 500,000 EVs on Europe’s roads and this is going to need a widespread network of vehicle charging points positioned to suit the way in which EV population develops in different geographic areas.

So the move announced by BMW, Daimler, VW Group and Ford is a very logical one. They can pool their resources and build a network that all their EV vehicles can use. All four manufacturers are investing heavily in the development of electric cars in a bid see off the twin threats of ever tighter exhaust emissions regulations and the giants of Silicon Valley potentially driving into their EV patch.

But can electric vehicles (EVs) ever be as practical as conventional cars?

Obviously it will be of critical importance to EV manufacturers to ensure widespread charging points are available to encourage undecided potential buyers. In fact the publication of charging station network details will be a prime selling point and EV manufacturers would do well not to fall into the trap of being overly economic with the actualité when it comes to providing realistic information about how EV charging networks are progressing and precisely what technical standards are being used.

In the meantime will drivers become ensnared in a charging standards war depending on which EV vehicle they buy and which EV charging points have the broadest network?

I don’t really thinks so. Buying an EV is such a large financial and emotional decision for drivers they will undoubtedly consider the charging network question in some detail and go with what suits them and their geographic situation. That is of course until some genius somewhere finally develops a commercially viable version of the flux capacitor, that core component in Doctor Emmett Brown's time traveling DeLorean made famous in the Back To The Future Films.


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By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is European Editor for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over twenty years. Prior to entering journalism he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

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