Electric vehicle stakeholders need to choose a charging standard


Iñigo S. Roces

The shift to electric vehicles (EV) in the Philippines is finally picking up steam. Evidence of this are growing sales figures of electric vehicles, new fully-electric models being offered, and charging stations now popping up with more frequency. Commercial establishments are beginning to realize that having one of these on their premises can be an asset, attracting early adopters and a possibly larger market in the coming years.

Yet while we’re still early in the electric vehicle era, it would be prudent to iron out some key details. One thing many may not be aware of is that EV charging systems are not all the same. As my colleague, Boying Soriano — a former auto executive as well as journalist —pointed out, one type of charging station may not be able to charge all EV models.

This is because EVs require large batteries to match the range of conventional vehicles. Charging these batteries with conventional power outlets would take a lot of time; say from 12 hours to as long as 16 hours. That may be fine when charging at home but can be a bit of a problem when an EV is outside the home and with low battery.

To speed up charging time, larger current is needed (larger than a standard wall outlet). As such, to make EVs a far more practical proposition, EV makers have developed fast-charging stations to bring that time down to just a couple of hours or even minutes.

Of course, these fast-charging stations need to be connected to power in a particular way. How they transmit that power to the car also requires a special connection. With carmakers all over the world independently developing electric vehicles, it’s no surprise there are several kinds of charging standards and stations today. Thankfully, many of them have made an effort to collaborate, resulting in the two major charging standards we have today.

Most Japanese-made electric vehicles use the CHAdeMO charging standard, developed through the collaboration of five different Japanese automakers. US and European automakers use the Combined Charging System (CCS), popular among brands like Audi, BMW, Ford, Porsche, and Volkswagen. Unfortunately, these two standards are not quite interchangeable without adaptors. American brand, Tesla, has its own unique standard, but provides adaptors for both CHAdeMO and CCS standards.
For any commercial establishment looking to lure in EV drivers, purchasing and installing two different fast-charging stations can be a costly endeavor. Like it or not, because of the prohibitive costs of fast-charging stations, these commercial establishments are forced to make that decision for us.

Just a few years ago, many of the first fast-charging stations were compatible with the CHAdeMO standard. This is because many of the early EVs being offered were from Japanese brands. Yet more recently, we’re seeing more CCS fast-charging stations, owing to the renewed push from European automakers.

If the EV stakeholders — car brands, energy companies, commercial establishment operators, and even government regulators — were to come together, one standard could easily be chosen. This allows car brands to prepare their vehicles for the chosen standard, or at least provide adaptors. The decision is much easier for locations that want to put up a fast charger. Finally, the decision is easier on the consumer as well, who no longer has to research on charging standards and which is the most widely available. It’s simply a matter of choosing whichever electric vehicle they want.

It's a decision that’s best made by stakeholders sooner rather than later. Some may argue it’s something market forces should decide. That may not turn out so well for everyone.

For those who still remember, do you want to be the schmuck stuck with a Betamax, or would you have bought a VHS from the start? Which one will be which is still hard to tell right now.

(Iñigo S. Roces is the Motoring Editor of Manila Bulletin)