EV fast charging connector battles and standards wars might be OK


It's a common lament that because there are so many EV charging plugs (including the 4 fast-charging systems -- Tesla, Chademo, US-CCS and Euro-CCS) that we need a universal standard, so that we can get the goal everybody wants of being able to charge any car anywhere.

That's a great goal, but standards slow down innovation. Tesla's proprietary connector is markedly superior to the two competing "standards" and there is yet more innovation to happen. What's better is to expect things to be different, and make it possible to build adapters, and stock them at the charging stations. Tesla has a Chademo to Tesla adapter, but even though there are perhaps only 200 places it would be useful to have it, they sell it to owners for $450 rather than just putting it in those 200 places.

Here's a rundown of the charging plug standards and the fight among them at:

Cometing Electric Car Charging Standards Can Be Fixed


Seems fine to just have two or three standards. Charging locations not built by car companies can accommodate both/all. We don't see much of that now because stations are currently being overbuilt in order to sell more cars. As building an EV charging location becomes a profitable business, businesses will offer whatever options there is demand for. (The EVgo announcement is a step in that direction.)

Would wireless exchange of data help?

As long as you can be 100% certain you are talking to the car you are plugged into. You would need to exchange an auth token over the cable, so why not exchange the rest of the data, though.

I don't know enough about the protocols and design of the chargers to say. You wouldn't necessarily have to exchange an auth token over the cable, though that might be the easiest solution. Presumably the minimal data needed for safe operation would still be exchanged through the cable.

I was surprised that Tesla sends billing information through the cable. I had always assumed they sent that wirelessly.

In general I'd say that doing the billing over the cable is a bad idea. I can see how it can work for Tesla, but in a world where your payment processor is separate from your car manufacturer and both are separate from the owner of the charging station, it's especially problematic.

Another advantage of wireless is that you can start the conversation before you plug in. The chargers themselves will presumably have a public key published and signed by a central authority.

I have not seen it published, but it has to involve the cable. It has to know what charger you are plugged into, confirm you can pay, and start the power flowing down that cable. They could do a general protocol for payment down the cable, and CCS is going to add that. Presumably something along the lines of "Hey, car, here are the form of payments I accept, which do you offer?"

You could do some of that wireless but once you have the in wire channel why set up another. Before charging yes, you want to be able to do reservation systems, conditioning the battery etc. before connecting.

If you have a general purpose computer running all the time, can easily download over-the-air software updates onto it, and your car knows all your payment information, I can see how it can work.

Some cars likely don't have sophisticated general purpose computers running while charging. Thus the communications needs are kept to things that can be easily coded in hardware or possibly firmware. Asking them to handle arbitrary payment protocols, which are likely to change over the life of the car, is probably not a great idea.

I also don't like my car knowing all my payment information. The car would have to know not just my credit card numbers, but also my CVV codes along with other information, or else payments would be processed as "card not present" transactions. Storing this information would violate the PCI DSS, and I don't think car companies would get away with it unless each of them made a specific deal with Visa/MasterCard/Etc (the credit card behemoths could threaten to surcharge the charging station operators if they don't like the solution). Additionally, there would need to be some way for me to choose my form of payment. I guess I could use my smart phone for this, but why not just have my smart phone talk directly to the charger if I'm going to go through that route? Apple and Google, unlike most car companies, both have their own payment systems that they have gotten the CC behemoths to condone. If people don't have these phones, they can just use traditional payment methods.

As I've said, I see how Tesla can do it. Despite their stated intention, they've built a walled garden around supercharging, and that's advantageous when it comes to these sorts of things. My thoughts were about how to build an open system, where the car manufacturer, the car operator, the payment processor, and the operator of the charging station are all independent except for a standard that changes infrequently.

Your car doesn't need to know old school insecure credit card stuff. By "your payment info" I mean your accounts with the various charging networks. My Tesla doesn't have my credit card, but it does know my account with Tesla. (Or actually, maybe it doesn't know that, and Tesla just knows that "this car gets free supercharging.) Anything like that is also possible.

Typically the way this works is somebody starts by listing what payment systems they use. The other end decides which one to work. As you say, humans may want to choose, so it makes sense the station says, "I take Tesla, and Chargepoint and Mastercard" with different prices. Most of the time your car can figure which one it likes, but sometimes it might ask you.

Tesla built a walled garden on supercharging because, at least until a few years later, they made it free. What they have said is that they are fine if others want to join and let their cars charge at superchargers -- but with the huge caveat that those others must now pay for their share of the cost of building that giant network.

The thing about EV charging is that so far, it's mostly been just about where the charging station is and what it can do, it's not been about selling electricity. Nor may it ever be. The point is that electricity is cheap, compared to gasoline. It won't have the same economics. A large fraction of charging stations you run into are still free, subsidized by various forces. The rest are 2x to 5x the cost of their electricity. Don't think I have seen a charging station that charges the retail cost of electricity plus a reasonable markup, nor will we for a while.

If there are only a very small number of charging companies, sure, you can force everyone to use accounts. As I said initially, the problem is "where your payment processor is separate from your car manufacturer and both are separate from the owner of the charging station."

I would expect, and hope, that there will be much more competition than there currently is. Too many to have an account with every "charging network" you use. (I'm not even sure why we're calling it a "charging network." We don't call a gas station owner a "gasoline filling network.")

An individual might own a single gas station. Why shouldn't an individual be able to open up a single fast charging station?

As far as ever seeing "a charging station that charges the retail cost of electricity plus a reasonable markup," I'm not sure what that even really means. Would that be like a soda machine that charges the retail cost of soda plus a reasonable markup? An ice cream shop doesn't charge the retail cost of ice cream plus a reasonable markup. A car wash doesn't charge the retail cost of water, soap, and electricity, plus a reasonable markup.

Of course the cost of charging at a charging station will have little to do with the retail price of electricity. That doesn't mean there won't be competition on price. So long as the market isn't overregulated, we'll eventually see competition on price.

Payment networks exist of course. Many charging stations let you swipe or tap credit cards to pay just fine. You can own an individual station of this sort. The networks, aside from doing payment, provide apps to find stations, in some cases to reserve stations, and also to let you see charging data on your phone and start/stop from the phone. A universal protocol for that, including billing security, will come in the long run, but probably not today.

I think that, more than range, which is not a problem for most people, what puts many people off of buying an electric car is the work of having 20 or so accounts, PINs, passwords, usernames, cards, etc. Also, the price is not transparent. At a petrol station, I see what the price is before I pull in, and can pay with cash or any major card. Why isn't that possible for an electric car?

Your experience doesn't match mine (with a Tesla.) With a long range car these things are not issues because you very rarely use any charging stations, other than the Tesla superchargers.

I won't say you never use them. I use the free ones which tend to be pretty easy to use, either no billing or they are Chargepoint, which does require you to have their app.

The only question you ask on price is, "free or not?" If it's free, you might take advantage of it if it's in a convenient place. If it's not free, it costs much more than your house, so you don't use it unless you goofed up with your travel or charging. It's an anomaly.

Nobody would ever look at prices and pull in. It just doesn't work that way. It might work that way for short range cars like a Leaf or other earlier cars.

Pretty much every time I've gone to a charging station I've regretted it as a waste of time, except on road trips when I am not in my hometown. And I'm one of the crazy ones who charges at level 1. I would regret it even more if I put in Level 2. I go more as a matter of interest as a journalist, not for myself.

Generally, if you go to one that charges, it's because you need to, in which case the price also doesn't matter as long as it's not obscene. And they know that so they keep the prices pretty high.

This changes a bit with fast charging, particularly for those who can't charge at home. Frankly, I continue to tell such people it's not yet time for the electric car for you yet. But if you do, then you might shop around for charging. Which you do in an app, not by looking at chargers! Nobody wants to shop around by looking at chargers. Once you have driven to a charger you already decided to charge at it.

I agree that the apps need improvement. Plugshare has the most listings but its price listings are spotty. I expect that to improve. The reason they are not very good right now is because there simply is not much demand for shopping on price.

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