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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Yet Another Fast Charge Standard (YAFCS)

As if we didn't have enough confusion and infighting in the EV world already, now there is another charging option. As reported in GreenCarCongress, the Chinese joint venture between Daimler and BYD (called BDNT) is working with ABB to create DC fast chargers for their upcoming battery electric vehicle.

Rather than selecting the CHAdeMO standard used by Japanese auto manufacturers, or the Combined Charging Standard (CCS), aka SAE Combo, used by GM, BMW, and others, Daimler/BYD have decided to create yet another fast charge connector. And it has the very memorable name of GB/T 20234.
Various DC charging couplers. Via UNECE
Shouldn't there be a standard? The beautiful thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.

Woman trying to plug in her non-Tesla car
to an incompatible Tesla charging station

Why does it matter?

I have no plans to drive my car to China, so you might ask why would I care what type of fast charge connector they use? I have no direct concern, they can use whatever they want. However, there are secondary effects to consider.

First, it complicates the landscape. There is already a lot for new EV owners to learn. As the photo to the right shows, when things are not compatible, there will be misunderstandings. I prefer the simple "it just works, plug-n-play" option when possible.

You Shouldn't Have To
Carry All This Around
Just To Plug-In
When you want to plug in and the connector doesn't fit, it is a frustrating experience and makes the entire EV experience less satisfying. If someone in China buys a Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, or Chevy Spark EV and they want to charge it, they have to know where the specific type of charger is or have the right type of adaptor.

If there is roadside signage for fast charging. How would you know which type it is directing you to?

Second, connectors are expensive. Today, EV charging equipment is expensive, in part, because items that are specific to the EV industry such as charging connectors are still low production volume items. China is potentially a huge EV market. If they would have selected an existing standard, it would have meant more volume and lower prices for everyone using these stations and connectors.

Don't Forget Tesla

Tesla Supercharger
This has been done before. Tesla went out on their own with a proprietary fast charge system they called Supercharger. They are building these Supercharger stations coast to coast in the US and in Europe.

Tesla owners are not limited to just Tesla's network. Tesla makes (or will soon make) adaptors to allow Tesla owners to use J1772 and CHAdeMO systems. The adaptors allow Tesla owners to use other networks, but the reverse is not possible. Again resulting in frustrated drivers.

History Repeated

During the second wave of EVs (in the 1990s, the GM EV1 era) there were several connector standards. GM and Toyota used induction charging and there were two different sized paddles. While Ford and others used the Avcon connector.

This made it difficult to deploy public infrastructure. Which vehicle(s) should you support? Should you deploy some of each? This greatly increased the cost of installing public EV infrastructure.

Now, in this generation of EVs, with fast charging, we are making a similar mistake.

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