Europe Needs to Plug Hole in EV Charging Standard

By · June 30, 2011

Peugeot Ion

When plug-in electric vehicles become a staple on U.S. highways, one of the unheralded reasons for the successful comeback will be because early on automakers agreed on a plug standard for basic EV charging. The Society of Automotive Engineers—an international group that is heavily influenced by its North American members—developed and passed the J1772 standard that enables any car to plug into any compliant charging equipment.

Now a Nissan LEAF owner who stops for an afternoon tea with a friend who owns a Chevrolet Volt can use the charging equipment in her garage. This standardization has enabled the installation of hundreds and soon to be thousands of compatible residential and commercial charging stations, thus avoiding the travails of the last wave of EVs when public charging was minimal and only compatible with select models.

So do our friends across the pond in the Old World have the same luxury in preparing for the EV invasion today? Not so much. The standards process there is as messy as a preschool pottery class.

Plug-in Vehicle Sales

Europe has yet to agree on a regional plug standard, which has the potential to restrain a market of consumers that are likely even more motivated to buy plug-in vehicles than those in the United States. The International Electrotechnical Commission has been working on a plug standard (to be known as IEC 62196-2 Type 2) for several years. This plug would enable charging at either single phase or three-phase AC power up to 43.5 kW that is available in many parts of Europe.

However, various camps in Germany, Italy, and France are at odds on the specification, and a recent meeting to reconcile the differences proved futile. The German automakers are fairly unified around technology proposed by Mennekes Elektrotechnik as well as the European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association. Despite the lack of a European standard, EV charging infrastructure is currently being installed today, with hundreds of street-side charge spots that are “dumb” outlets that provide the available power from household current without the additional safety or smart charging features that will benefit consumers and utilities in North America.

And it only gets worse. The German contingency also wants a single plug standard that could handle fast direct current (DC) charging as well, which would result in a fairly large connector that some view as too unwieldy for consumers to safely operate. In Japan and the United States, automakers and equipment manufacturers believe that two charge ports on the vehicle, (CHAdeMO for DC charging, and J1772 or an alternative plug for residential charging) is acceptable to consumers.

Of all the continents vying to be the leader in PEVs, Europe, with its many automakers, languages, and household current schemes, needs commonality the most. Driving across borders can be done in many areas and requiring PEV owners to carry multiple adapters could discourage the purchase of electrified vehicles as well as the manufacture of charging equipment. Pike Research forecasts that more than 125,000 PEVs will be sold annually in Western Europe starting in 2013, but without the adoption of a standard soon, this market growth could be negatively impacted.

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