Public DC fast-charging stations are proliferating around the world at what some might call an alarming rate. In at least 50 countries, EV drivers can top up their batteries in the time it takes to (leisurely) enjoy a cup of tea, or whatever the local beverage may be.
While automakers agree on the importance of fast charging, they have not united behind a single technical standard, nor are they likely to do so any time soon. There are currently at least three DC charging standards in operation in the US, and which one you can use depends on which model of EV you drive (for AC Level 1 and Level 2 charging, all current EVs conform to the same J1772 standard).
Industry trend-setter Tesla has its own Supercharger standard, which is now available at 209 sites in North America, Europe and Asia (it’s not clear how many individual charging stations this represents – for example, Tesla’s 200th installation, in Oxnard, California, has 10). For the moment, only Tesla’s Model S can use the Supercharger, although Elon Musk has said the company is open to making it compatible with other makes. Tesla says that an adapter that will make Model S compatible with CHAdeMO is coming soon.
The newest standard, CCS, which combines both Level 2 and DC charging on the same plug, is supported by the American and German automakers. Cars that use it include the Chevy Spark EV, BMW i3, and VW e-Golf. There are some 435 CCS charge points in Europe (according to a nifty interactive map by a gentleman called Mutwin Kraus), but only a handful in the US so far. However, that may change soon. BMW has a deal with NRG to install up to 100 in California by the end of the year, and when VW starts selling its e-Golf stateside, it’s likely to make a push for more CCS stations.
In terms of sheer numbers, the CHAdeMO standard, championed by the Japanese automakers, has already won the day. There are 4,241 CHAdeMO chargers in the world, including at least one on every inhabited continent. “CHarge de MOve” is used by the industry-leading Nissan LEAF, as well as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the new Kia Soul EV. For a while, some in the EV media were speculating that the European standards agency was going to refuse to recognize CHAdeMO, setting off a destructive standards war, but cooler heads seem to have prevailed, and CHAdeMO and CCS are co-existing peacefully for now. Some charger manufacturers have wisely sidestepped the issue by producing dual-standard chargers.
It’s anyone’s guess what’s going on in China. Theoretically, there is a national standard called GB, but it’s still subject to disagreement among Chinese officials. “Until about 2016 China won’t have a DC standard formalized,” says David Reeck, the former Manager of Electrification Strategy for GM China. SAE is now working with China’s CATARC on a DC standard, and a group of foreign automakers known as the Charging Interface Initiative Asia has been encouraging China to adopt a combined plug standard similar to CCS.