This week the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), an influential electrical standards organization, officially recognized the Japanese CHAdeMO fast charging protocol as an international standard. It joins three other DC fast charging standards recognized internationally: Combo 1 (United States), Combo 2 (Germany), and GBT (China). These exist in addition to Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger network that delivers much higher power rates than typical DC fast chargers.
The SAE Combo standard, favored by American and European automakers, requires only a single charge port on the vehicle because it simply adds two pins to the base of the widespread standard J1772 plug for Level 2 charging. The CHAdeMO plug is bulkier and requires an additional charge point on the vehicle, as in the Nissan Leaf. Both are comparable in terms of capability for power delivery; this leaves ease of use and a single vehicle charge port as the only real (yet significant) advantages of the SAE Combo standard.
What does this mean for you? If you own a Nissan Leaf, you will be able to charge up at virtually any DC fast charging station in the country, as CHAdeMO was the first standard to come to the United States along with the Leaf and Mistubishi iMIEV. The Chevrolet Volt is not and will not be equipped with fast charging capability. If you own or plan to own a Chevrolet Spark EV or a BMW i3 equipped with the fast charging option, you’ll have to find SAE combo-equipped stations, of which there currently are few. The first station featuring the SAE Combo plug was installed by eVgo in October 2013, whereas the CHAdeMO infrastructure is far more established. Upcoming and future plug-in models from Audi, Chrysler, Ford, Mercedes, Porsche, and Volkswagen will also use the SAE Combo DC fast charging standard.
Luckily some charging stations, like Blink DC fast charge stations and eVgo's Freedom Stations, are equipped to receive a second DC charger. This was done with the standards war in mind; for example, Blink stations are dual-port so one plug can be swapped out for the SAE Combo plug, and all currently installed Freedom Stations can have the SAE Combo charger added virtually overnight. The current DC fast charging infrastructure is limited to begin with, but it is projected to grow rapidly and future stations will almost certainly be equipped with both plugs.
CHAdeMO has an advantage because it currently has the most vehicles on the road worldwide; however, it is essentially designed for just one model here in the United States, the Leaf. The other automakers are keen on the SAE Combo standard, which appears to be the superior protocol. Beyond 2018, Europe will only install SAE Combo chargers. It will take some time for the SAE Combo protocol to gain momentum, however.
The debate has slowed the deployment of fast charging infrastructure and adds cost and complexity, because stations will likely have to be outfitted with both connectors. Accommodating both standards is more expensive for EVSE providers and these costs will likely be passed on to the drivers using the stations. It would be great if one standard could be agreed upon, but it appears unlikely.
What do you think of the DC fast charging standards war? Leave comments below.