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Setting the standard: Australia must choose an electric car charging norm

More electric vehicles (EVs) are hitting Australia’s roads, and more public charging stations are being installed to support them. What is missing, however, is an Australian standard or even a recommendation…

Choosing a plug matters. brx0/Flickr

More electric vehicles (EVs) are hitting Australia’s roads, and more public charging stations are being installed to support them. What is missing, however, is an Australian standard or even a recommendation for charging connectors - the plug that joins the car to the charging station.

When we started Australia’s first electric vehicle trial in Western Australia in 2010, there were no manufacturer-built cars available and we had to use locally built conversions. As of today, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Holden and Tesla offer electric cars in the Australian market. Nearly all international car manufacturers will follow in 2014 and 2015.

Charging networks have been established as well. In Perth we have a public charging network of around 30 stations (7kW AC). There is a similar sized network in Melbourne, but less in other capital cities.

Types of stations

The two most prominent charging station types for AC charging are IEC 62196 Type 1 (aka SAE J1772, used in the US and Japan) and IEC 62196 Type 2 (aka Mennekes, used in Europe). The internal architecture of these station types is largely identical, but Type 1 stations are restricted to single-phase power, while Type 2 stations can provide single-phase or three-phase power, which means at least three times faster charging.

Therefore, Australia’s choice should obviously be Type 2, even more so since three-phase connections improve the grid balance.

The reason behind the two competing world standards is the difference in electric power transmission grid. Australia, like Europe, has a three-phase power grid, while the US and Japan only have a split-phase single phase grid.

Stuart Speidel with a “Type 1” connector and Prof. Thomas Braunl with a “Type 2” connector at the UWA EV charging station. UWA/REV

Isn’t variety good?

Imagine the confusion if there was no standard for petrol car fuel nozzles! The equivalent is now happening for electric cars: Because Australia has not yet adopted an EV charging connector standard, a mix of stations is currently being installed.

Although we are still dealing with a very low number of charging stations overall, they do set a precedent. Whatever happens now will determine Australia’s EV charging future.

The availability of stations will influence car manufacturers when deciding which EV type to export to Australia.

Getting two different types of cars is not helpful for the early adopters of electric vehicles, nor for the operators of charging networks. Remember Beta versus VHS video? Eventually one standard will prevail and non-compliant stations and cars will have to be converted at a significant cost.

Or worse, both standards will remain side-by-side, similar to the situation we have with screw-type and bayonet-type light bulbs in Australia.

If we wait, will things get simpler?

Maybe the already available next generation of fast-DC chargers will solve this dilemma? Unfortunately not. Australia’s first fast-DC charging stations follow the Japanese ChaDeMo standard, which most likely will be obsolete in a couple of years.

That’s because the world’s eight leading automotive manufacturers from the US and Europe have instead agreed to support the new Combo DC-charging standard. Although a common US/European standard sounds great, there are again two different connectors in order to be compatible with slow AC charging: “Combo Type 1” for the US and “Combo Type 2” for Europe.

Maybe inductive charging will finally eliminate the choice by eliminating connectors altogether? We’ll see at the end of the decade.

Join the conversation

7 Comments sorted by

  1. Peter Campbell

    Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

    Whatever standards are adopted for fast charging and public charging stations, the main thing I would want to see retained is a lowest common denominator option to charge from a standard 10A domestic outlet.
    I have been driving my home-converted electric car for four and a half years. I have a standard 15 Amp outlet in my carport although the charger only takes about 10A so it can run on an ordinary outlet. I think most people will be surprised to find that they rarely need more. The advantage…

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  2. Paul Cm

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    Lack of forward planning on this choice could have awkward ramifications in the future I suspect - the 'track gauge wars' and Japan's split frequency come to mind. I hope we choose wisely!

    Thanks for the article Thomas.

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  3. George Michaelson

    Person

    I may mis-remember third-hand stories, but I believe the one most recent intrusion of US derived electrical engineering standards into Australian practice has been judged a bit of a bodge. (it was something around domestic wiring)

    Given how you paint things, and assuming its true, a choice for the US standard would be insanely dumb. We don't use their transmission standard, we source right-hand-drive vehicles from many many different economies worldwide, and we'd want a market neutral plug factor backed by the current best possible charging model behind it.

    If we wind up with the US model because of lobbying, or short-term finding imperatives, its a worse longterm outcome. Please no..

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  4. John Davidson

    Retired engineer

    At the moment electric cars are essentially gas guzzlers that have been converted to electric power guzzlers. For this reason the charging or battery swap arrangements have to designed to move large amounts of energy. For this reason expensive infrastructure based on the assumption that the business will be based on energy guzzlers and existing technology may turn out to be a very expensive white elephant.
    Think for a moment.
    Over 80% of car commutes in SEQ use cars that carry the driver only…

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  5. Dennis Miles

    President of E.V.T.I. (EVTI.org)

    The comment regarding electrical distribution is INCORRECT. All electrical power is generated in three phase. In the USA three phase is distributed to all cities and towns and supplied to all industrial power users , however distribution to homes and offices where only tiny amounts of power is needed is simply and economically accomplished using a single phase per building or home and each building is often on a different phase to even out the load over the three phases. Ocassionally two phases are used instead of 120/240 volts from a single phase transformer, and the voltages are quite different at 120 /208 volts AC and most higher power appliances are rated at 208 to 240 volts AC in the USA. Any three phase system can be used to provide a single phase, therefore the simplicity and universality should not be ignored.

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    1. George Michaelson

      Person

      In reply to Dennis Miles

      We're 50hz you're 60hz. We'd be sensible to be common on DC but for AC I can't see why we'd do anything but the European standard.

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    2. Dennis Miles

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to George Michaelson

      George, Just because 50 Hz is 16% slower affects only old style synchronous motor timed electric clocks. The ripples produced by rectifying AC into DC are smaller with 60 Hz so the filtering in your equipment is rated slightly stronger in your battery chargers. However in practice the two; 50 or 60 Hz, are so similar as to be compatible , in fact even 25 Hz equipment can be used on 50 or 60 Hz also with NO difficulties. Only 440 HZ aircraft equipment won't work and may be damaged on 50 or 60 Hz...My…

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