A Single Plug for Europe: Specifications and Reactions
It was great news when last month the European Commission said it was backing the Mennekes Type 2 plug. But sadly, it didn't earn a lot of cheers. That was a surprise. Many had complained for years because of the lack of an "official plug," but now that there is one, they are silent. That doesn't make a lot of sense, because everybody has a lot to gain from a standard, especially with the Type 2 plug which is the best in the market today thanks to its Swiss Army knife approach.
Is the type 2 plug, AC or DC? Both, the plug's accepts both currents, and it's rated with a max of 43.5 kW with AC and 38 kW with DC.
Is it 1-phase or 3-phase? Both, up to 63A. Drivers will be able to use their garage's wallbox (AC, 1-phase) or a public fast charging station (AC, 3-phase) with the same plug.
Will it be on the car or on the charger? Both sides, with male and female plugs.
That's the essential idea of standardization. To make the plug acceptable to all, it has to be the most versatile, and the most user-friendly. The driver shouldn't have to know anything. The EV driver just plugs in. There should be electronics in the car and the charging station to handle all the boring communication exchanges between the two before the actual charging process begins.
There's a lot at stake here. If the electric car is to succeed, building nice EVs will not be enough. Infrastructure must be built in every country, and that calls for the prices of charging stations and all their connectors to dramatically come down. That will not happen if there are several different plugs.
Nissan has been financing hundreds of CHAdeMO fast charge stations in Europe, but there isn't a single European car that can use them. Tesla is doing the same thing with its superchargers network, and not even all Tesla cars can use them. If ICE cars had to rely on a specific fuel for each manufacturer, they would have a problem.
The carmakers understood the necessity of a single plug, and their official European voice, the ACEA in Brussels, welcomed the selection of the Type 2 plug. In the words of Ivan Hodac, the ACEA Secretary General: “This represents a real breakthrough in current discussions on the harmonization of charging.” German press and industrial groups also cheered up, since this is a German design. But, of course, there were several critics.
The CHAdeMO group requested that the European Commission consider a dual charging system, since there are more than 600 chargers compatible in Europe right now, and more than 20,000 cars. Then the companies behind the losing Type 3 plug spoke up. Claude Ricaud, head of innovation at Schneider Electric, is still trying to argue that its plug is safer, but neither Mercedes nor Volvo found anything wrong with the Type 2 plug. And there has always been more demand for the Type 2 plug anyway. DBT, the French charging stations leader, has sold more Type 2 plugs than of any other kind last year. Finally, there are people who complain that the new standard is just too slow. Not enough amps with the highest current rated at 43 kW. But Brussels has an answer for that.
The Combo plug, introduced last year at the EVS 26, is still in play, and supported by the European Commission. This Combo, in some respects, is the best with its 170-kW capabilities but it would be more correct to write that it will be the best. Today in Europe, there isn't a single Combo charging station in service, and there would not be many drivers using it even if there was one, since there isn't a single car on the road that can receive a Combo plug. More than that, there isn't a single electric car which can accept 170 kW charging, and most EVs have a battery with less than 40 kWh capacity. So it's a safe bet that for the foreseeable future, 43 kW charging will be fine.
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