Range Confidence: Charge Fast, Drive Far, with your Electric Car

By David Herron

Non-standard fast charging limits needed fast charging ubiquity

We want (and need) a ubiquitous fast charging system. Fast charging makes our electric cars more useful, and therefore more valuable, because we can more flexibly travel around when fast charging is available. Fast charging is required for electric car road trips, because it improves effective trip speed. We need all fast charging stations to be usable with out car, so we don't accidentally get stuck with no more electricity in front of an incompatible charging station.

Some companies use a marketing phrase: All the wood behind one arrow. It's meant to claim all their effort is behind propelling one product line.

With electric car fast charging we instead have the wood split between at least three arrows. Speaking allegorically, that is:

  • the wood means the pool of money spent by all charging networks to install/maintain charging stations
  • arrow means the three (at least) types of electric car fast charging - CHAdeMO, CCS and Tesla Supercharger

Put another way, at the Macroeconomic level we have a misallocation of resources in regards to fast charging infrastructure.

There is a pool of money is being spent by the totality of electric car charging infrastructure providers. Each company is making its own decisions, building the infrastructure where it sees fit, with the type of charging station it sees fit. As an open playing field, this is as it should be. In modern democratically-minded countries, there is no central committee dictating the location of fast food restaurants, or gasoline stations or anything. Okay, cities do have zoning requirements and development plans, but beyond that it's up to each player in the market to decide its own direction.

Namely:-

  • CHAdeMO - primarily used by Nissan in the Nissan Leaf. It was first deployed in Japan in 1998.
  • Combo Charging System - pushed by a consortium of German and American car companies, it is in use by cars from General Motors, BMW, Volkswagen, and others
  • Tesla Supercharger - A proprietary system developed by Tesla Motors for the Tesla Model S, Model X and Model 3

This division means the pool of money to build fast charging is split three ways. Fortunately for the most part CHAdeMO and CCS infrastructure goes hand-in-hand because most charging stations will implement both. Therefore the pool is mostly split two ways, into the Standards-Based charging systems, and the Tesla Supercharger.

In Europe the landscape is a little more complex, because of the existence of 3 phase AC fast charging. But we still have the same two-way split, because Eurpoean fast charging stations have 3-phase AC plugs alongside the CHAdeMO and CCS plugs.

What if there was not a two-or-three-way split? What if all fast charging infrastructure could be used with all electric cars?

Macroeconomics of electric car charging infrastructure

Wikipedia defines Macroeconomics as:

Macroeconomics (from the Greek prefix makro- meaning "large" and economics) is a branch of economics dealing with the performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of an economy as a whole. This includes regional, national, and global economies. Macroeconomists study aggregated indicators such as GDP, unemployment rates, national income, price indices, and the interrelations among the different sectors of the economy to better understand how the whole economy functions.

Applying this to the project of electric car fast charging infrastructure, the question is:

  • What is the total money spent by all operators of fast charging infrastructure?
  • Is that total pool of money being spent wisely?

We don't need to estimate the dollar amount being spent on this infrastructure. It's enough to look at these two maps:

These are the count of CHAdeMO+CCS fast charging locations versus Supercharger locations, in North America, in June 2018.

The 797 CHAdeMO+CCS stations plus the 257 Supercharger locations represent the two pools of fast charging infrastructure.

The second pool is usable only by Tesla car owners, while the first pool is usable by everyone else. Except that the Tesla car owners who own a CHAdeMO adapter can use CHAdeMO stations.

That's two pools of money being spent on two incompatible pools of infrastructure.

What would the fast charging network be like if it was not split into two separate pools?

Again - the USA and many other countries is run as an open market, and each company is free to make its own choices. Tesla chose to develop the Supercharger network, taking a different route from the other manufacturers.

At the same time Governments do act to impose order in certain situations. For example there is not a similar problem in gasoline refueling. Instead there is commonality of refueling hoses, and gasoline car drivers can go to any refueling station to buy gasoline. The shape of gasoline nozzles is mandated by a combination of government regulation and Society for Automotive Engineering (SAE) standards.

In other words, there is room for Government and Standards Organizations to impose some order and require a common fast charging standard.

What if ...

Tesla developed the Supercharger as a proprietary standard for a couple of valid reasons:

  • The Combo Charging System (CCS) had not yet been finalized at the time Tesla needed to start building Supercharger stations
  • The CHAdeMO standard requires a very unweildy plug (Elon Musk said the esthetics of both CHAdeMO and CCS plugs was unacceptable)
  • The 50 kiloWatt charging rate for both is - to Tesla's point of view - "slow charging" - Tesla CTO JB Straubl said that to me the one time I talked with him

Between the three points, Tesla had no choice. Today both CHAdeMO and CCS camps are talking about 150 kW or even 400 kW charging rates, five years after Tesla began building the Supercharger network.

The charging rate may be the key point. To achieve road-trip-ability requires an ultra fast charging speed. The current Supercharger implementation started with a 90 kW charging rate, since upgraded to a 120 kW charging rate, offering perhaps 200-300 miles of range per hour of charging. At 50 kW the effective trip speed is much lower, too low for the product Tesla wanted to sell. The 120 kW charging rate Tesla offers is good enough.

What if Tesla's Supercharger network were standards based? Instead of a proprietary Supercharger plug, and proprietary Supercharger charging protocol, it was implemented using a standardized plug, using one of the standard protocols, and anyone with a credit card could use a station?

The 1054 fast charging locations in North America would be one pool of charging equipment, rather than two pools as it is today. Both Tesla and non-Tesla electric car owners would have a larger pool of available charging stations. It would reduce one of the complexities of electric car ownership - the question of which fast charging station is compatible with which electric car.

Didn't Tesla offer the Supercharger network to the other manufacturers?

Yes, Tesla did make that offer. Specifically, the deal offered by Tesla is for other manufacturers to pay for part of the cost of the Supercharger network, and in exchange cars made by those manufacturers could use Supercharger stations. It wasn't said what the usage fee would be.

This plan doesn't seem like one the other manufacturers would find acceptable. Why would another manufacturer (GM, Nissan, Ford, etc) want to give marketing mindshare/power to Tesla?

Under those terms, incumbent manufacturers would be telling their customers to use Tesla's charging equipment. And, why would they do that?

What Tesla could do on their own

Tesla has proved that a fast charging adapter is possible. Tesla sells a CHAdeMO adapater allowing Tesla car owners to use CHAdeMO fast charging stations.

Therefore, Tesla could develop a pair of fast charging adapters, allowing CHAdeMO or CCS car owners to use Tesla Supercharger stations. The adapter would give the required identy data to the Supercharger station, so that the owner of that adapter could pay the charging session cost.

That doesn't solve the macroeconomics problem however. It still maintains the fact of two separated pools of fast charging equipment.


Range Confidence is Copyright © 2016-17 by David Herron

Non-standard fast charging limits needed fast charging ubiquity

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