Fast EV Charging’s Long and Bumpy Road to Success

What will it take to make electric vehicle recharging as fast and easy as filling up your gas tank? Cutting battery charge times from hours to minutes is a holy grail of EV boosters, since it could erase the “range anxiety” concerns of being stranded with an empty battery at the side of the road.

Early efforts include private networks being built by the likes of Best Buy and NRG Energy, as well as public-private partnerships such as the Department of Energy-backed The EV Project.

But there’s a long and bumpy road ahead for fast-charging, as I point out in my weekly update at GigaOm Pro (subscription required). First of all, fast chargers are much more expensive than their slower, alternating current cousins — Nissan has priced its “Level 3” fast charger at 1.47 million yen, or about $18,000, compared to about $2,000 for the “Level 2” chargers that can be installed in the garages of EV owners. Second of all, high voltage, direct current fast chargers could present safety challenges for casual users, as noted in a July article from CBS’ BNET.

Fast charging systems also face an uncertain road on the way to standardization. Right now, a standard called CHAdeMO, developed by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and a consortium including Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru maker Fuji Heavy Industries, Toyota and more than 150 companies, has a lead in the race, with a host of partners including Aker Wade, Coulomb Technologies, Eaton, Schneider Electric and ECOtality’s Blink system being used by Best Buy. Last week, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported that The EV Project would be installing some 310 CHAdeMO-based fast chargers in the U.S. — a first step in its goal of becoming a global standard.

But that doesn’t mean the standards race is settled. The Society of Automotive Engineers has an alternative to its SAE J1772 standard for Level 1 and 2 chargers — slower chargers that use  alternating current at standard household voltages — that could incorporate Level 3, direct current fast charging in the same plug (PDF). German automakers are pushing another fast charging system from Mennekes Elektrotechnik.

In Texas, NRG Energy’s for-profit car-charging service includes plans for 50 fast chargers in business parking lots that will come from Aerovironment, which uses a proprietary fast-charging system. For more on how these different fast-charging systems may find their way into emerging markets, check out my post at GigaOm Pro.

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Image courtesy of Kevin Krejci via Creative Commons license.