Last week at the 2009 SAE World Congress the final plans were bashed out for a new way to charge plug in vehicles. Sadly it’s not an inductive one like the oh-so-simple charge paddles which were used on cars like the EV1 and RAV4EV to name but a few. No, this new standard is a good old-fashioned mechanical plug. You plug your car in and up to 30 Amps at either 120 or 240V flows into your car. Neat.
The latest version of the charging standard, called J1772, will include a five prong plug, capable of allowing communication between the external charger and the car charging. The Volt is rumored to be using it and Tesla have already signed up to make it standard on their cars. But it’ll only be used in the USA. Europe, in it’s own special way, has gone a different route, with a three-prong design capable of up to 80Amps at 240V. Unfortunately, the European standard is three-phase, meaning that it is unlikely to work in most European domestic situations without a complete home re-wire.
Fast charging is great, but does this spell the end for the DIY converter, or those of us who already drive cars with standard domestic plugs? And when you scratch the surface we risk looking at a future where charging plugs are far from standard. With the European standard and US standard finalized, are car companies now going to play nice and only ever use one of two EV charging plugs. What about cross-continent imports? And will those of us with cars now be able to retrofit our cars?
So, with the new standard, we’re hoping that we’ll see an end to the dizzying array of plug in plugs and charger ports that you see from different companies around the world. It’s truly impressive how the simple mechanical need for transferring high current energy from one place to another can be met with so many different designs. Some are familiar, identical to the ones you find at European camp sites. Others are almost the same as a US drier plug. Others are radically different proprietary models, similar enough to the competition when looked at from a different, but subtly different up close. The two new standards should at least put an end to that.
But what of those of us who already own an EV. An EV which charges from a mains outlet. Are the charging points available to us going to diminish? What about those who use the Avcon connectors, or inductive paddle charging systems? Will Yazaki sell consumers adapter plugs? Or will we be forced out of the EV charging bays and into clandestine back alleys, hanging cables out of windows where we can in a good, old-fashioned EVer kind of way? I have a suspicion that the Yazaki corporation won’t be selling one off modules to joe bloggs, converting his old gasoline car to a tyre-screeching EV. And I’m pretty sure that parking stations won’t be providing mains electricity in that old-fashioned, appliance style connectors either. That may mean that grandma and grandpa in their RV might turn up and start running their A/C off the charging bay. No, it’d be more sense for them to provide the J1772 style charger plugs and their European counterpart.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m pleased that there’s a new set of fast charging standards. It’ll mean more people will want to drive a plug in. If it charges faster, then that’s going to be a significant boost to the draw of owning and driving an EV. It’s also going to help quiet the anti-EV crowd who talk about eight or more hour recharges. I’d love to be able to drive up to a charging bay and recharge in 30 minutes. That would be awesome. But if it means that the only way to charge an EV is to require an expensive charging station with an expensive charging lead then I’m not so happy. After all, it costs very little for a business to provide a simple mains outlet for charging cars. I had two installed on the outside of our house a year or so ago for under £200, including certification. I suspect a J1772 charging station isn’t going to be that cheap. And in a recession the cheaper a point can be, the better.
IF J1772 and the European standard turn out to be compatible with standard power outlets, and retro-fittable to custom, home-converted or existing EVs then I suspect, like many other plug in owners, I’ll be happy. Electric vehicles for everyone. Yay! Just don’t leave those of us who adopted early behind, okay?