It may seem quite simple if you are new to the EV world. You buy a car with a charging cable in the boot and plug it in at charging stations scattered around the area. But, sadly, it’s not that easy.
It looks more like this, you buy an EV but realize there’s no cable in the boot. Even if there was one, the plug looks nothing like the one your TV uses.
To solve this, you use the last of the battery at a public charging station, but their plugs don’t fit either. So then, you take to the apps, but unfamiliar jargon is starting to make you sweat as you sit there in your dead EV, asking yourself, “Why is it so complicated?”
Well, there are many reasons why EV charging is seen as complicated, and in this article, we will explore why this is and what can be done to make compatible chargers the norm and simplify the charging experience.
Understanding EV chargers
When charging your EV, two main options play a part in universal compatibility issues. The choice between the two depends on your charging needs and the availability of charging infrastructure in your area.
Alternating current (AC)
AC is an electrical current that alternates or changes direction temporarily. AC uses a power source such as a wall outlet or charging station to fuel EVs. It’s convenient and widely available, but it takes longer to charge your vehicle than DC.
Direct current (DC)
On the other hand, DC provides rapid charging. It involves dedicated charging stations that provide a direct current to your EV. DC stations are commonly found at public charging stations and along highways, as they are ideal for long trips.
The 3 levels of EV charging
To break this down, we will refer to the three levels of EV charging; the lower the level, the less powerful they are.
Due to the different charging levels, different requirements are needed to accommodate them. So, since the infrastructure for each level is not universally accessible, it can be hard to find the right one as you travel long distances.
level 1: the slowest form of EV charging that uses a standard household outlet
level 2: a faster option that needs a special charging station to produce more power compared to level 1
level 3: also known as DC fast charging, allows for rapid charging by supplying power directly to the EV battery
Types of EV plugs
A charging plug, or connector, is a piece of equipment that fits into the EV charging socket. There are four categories of EV charging speeds; slow, fast, rapid, and ultra-rapid. It depends on the type of cable and plug you have will determine how much power is sent to the EV.
Type 1 (J1772)
They are not as common as they used to be, as they can only slow and fast charge. Typically used in America and Asia, this single-phase plug can charge EVs at a speed of up to 7.4 kW. The connector comprises five pins, two communicating between the charging station and the EV, while the other three carry current.
Type 2 (mennekes)
Since 2013, Type 2 has been Europe’s standard EV charging plug. This connector has seven pins, allowing it to achieve 22kW charging speeds at home and 43kW at public stations, putting it in the category of slow, fast, and even rapid charging. They are known as triple-phase plugs as they have three extra wires to provide more current.
Developed in Japan, CHAdeMO plugs are used for DC fast charging. In 2010, it was the original rapid-charging option for electric vehicles. Those that are compatible can be charged at speeds of up to 250kW with the newest models.
CSS (combined charging system)
This charging system uses slow Type 2 connectors as well as two fast DC power lines, making it compatible with both AC and DC rapid charging. As they are growing in popularity, this makes for a very convenient choice for EV owners. CSS charging is also used worldwide in North America, Europe, and South Korea.
Originally exclusive to Tesla owners, anyone with a compatible EV can use this DC charging plug. Tesla’s network is convenient as it offers fast charging as well as plentiful stations dotted around the UK.
Everyone has a domestic socket as it is the standard one placed all around the house. Most EVs have a charging cable the manufacturer includes with a level 1 connector; these are compatible with domestic 120-volt sockets.
Even though they are convenient, they cannot provide as much power as a level 2 or DC charging station. Using a domestic socket can also cause safety risks, especially if charging for long periods with an extension lead.
Types of charging modes
Charging modes are essentially the amount of power an EV can receive, requiring specific cables. This is another challenge to universal compatibility as there is no singular, strict policy regarding the modes built into EVs by their manufacturer.
This type of charging cable is not considered safe for standard EVs, so it is typically used for scooters, e-bikes, and other small eclectic devices. Mode 1 is banned in the UK, the US, and many other European countries. Mode 1 charging cables connect directly from the AC socket to the vehicle and are used with a standard power outlet at home.
Due to AC and DC currents in this cable, there is integrated shock protection which the mode 1 charging cable does not have. Mode 2 charging cables allow for fast charging speeds depending on the CEE plug type,
There are different versions, one of which is provided with the EV to allow you to charge it at home with a standard socket or wherever else there is a compatible power source.
These are the most popular mode worldwide, and cables go directly from the charging station to the EV. This allows the EV to tell the charging port to stop when it is full, keeping the battery healthy. The wallbox that provides the electricity is fitted into the building’s power supply and therefore is not portable.
Mode 4 charging cables are only used for DC charging because the power needs to be connected before it goes into the EV.
This allows for very fast charging speeds compared to the other cables, but they are not portable. Due to their high currency, they are liquid-cooled and permanently attached to dedicated charging stations.
Why aren’t EV chargers universal?
Surely it’s only common sense to make EV charges universal? Of course, it is, but it is not that easy; the world is big, and doing anything the same is almost impossible, even if it results in a healthier climate. Many obstacles must be overcome; here are just a few.
The main reason why EV chargers aren’t universally compatible is that manufacturers have different charging standards. When you buy an EV, the charger that comes with it is typically designed to work with specific charging regulations.
Changing EV industry
The EV industry is constantly changing as new, innovative technology is embraced. As beneficial as this can be in some aspects, it can lead to a fragmented market, with some regions exploring different charging methods.
Finally, infrastructure is a big challenge when it comes to universal compatibility. To keep up with demand, installing and marketing more charging stations calls for lots of money and collaboration among governments, utility companies, and stakeholders. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible per se, but still time-consuming and prone to roadblocks.
In our survey with Nightingale, when asked about buying an EV, one participant responded, “I really did look into electric vehicles. But I just didn’t feel like the infrastructure was there.” This shows the lack of infrastructure makes people hesitate to invest in EVs.
Problems caused by incompatible EV chargers
EV users experience many problems caused by incompatible chargers, and unless progress is made, the problem will only worsen as EV use continues to rise.
A lack of compatibility creates inconveniences and limits your flexibility as an EV owner. It can cause delays in charging and make it harder for you to plan trips, especially when in a hurry and need to find a charging station quickly.
You may have to spend time searching for a compatible port that wastes a lot of time, energy, and precious battery. Also, hearing others grovel about their EVs doesn’t make for the best advertisement.
If you are new to the world of EVs, you will likely get frustrated to begin with. There is a lot to remember regarding plugs, connectors, and kWs.
Being in a rush or stranded in the middle of nowhere is very frustrating, especially when a perfectly good charging station is on hand with the wrong plugs.
That is probably why only 13% of EV and plug-in hybrid vehicle owners are charged in public spaces, as stated in this study.
As well as this, it can limit your travel plans. What was once a dream location can quickly become a nightmare when your EV isn’t compatible with any surrounding charging facilities. One that is inclusive and accessible for drivers and their vehicles makes for the ultimate EV pit stop.
If you’re not careful, using the wrong connectors can damage your fancy new vehicle. Attempting to force a connection can damage the charging port and the cable, resulting in expensive repairs.
In some cases, EVs can be modified to make them more compatible with chargers as well as other things. This is a bad idea for numerous reasons:
can cause bodily harm due to high voltage
risk of damage to the vehicle
may clash with government EV regulations
EV Market growth restriction
A charging infrastructure that cannot cater to everyone at all times makes many EV owners inconvenienced with the continuous search for a compatible charger.
As well as this, not having a simple charging experience worldwide can lead businesses and property owners to hesitate to invest in charging infrastructure.
This lack of investment can further slow down the growth of the EV market, as the accessibility of the EV lifestyle is a huge driving factor behind making them more common.
Other ways to simplify the EV charging experience
Even though charger compatibility is important, it is just one element of simplifying the overall EV charging experience. There are several measures that the UK is taking to make ownership of these environmentally friendly machines more enticing.
Provide clear charging information
Clear, accurate signs and waypoints are important to notify drivers of the closest charging station and what equipment they have. This ensures that no unnecessary trips take place for incompatible vehicles.
This can also be achieved through apps which there are already many, as seen on our blog. However, looking at your phone is not doable when you are behind the wheel. Therefore, physical signs are the best option for providing information safely.
Support home charging
There are already some incentives by the UK government to encourage homeowners to install home charging infrastructure. But more can be done to offer help and guidance to those just looking into it. 17% of participants said it was ‘somewhat difficult’ to get the information they needed about EVs and infrastructure, as shown in our study.
Improve EV batteries
The battery is one of the biggest factors in whether someone buys an EV. Will it take them far enough? How much will it cost? These are just two of the questions that determine whether it is a viable option or not.
The EV battery is always open to innovation, and recently, lithium iron phosphate batteries have become popular as they charge much faster.
However, a downside to them is that they do not have as much range as traditional batteries. But giving drivers that choice can cater their vehicles to their needs, making it work for them instead of against them.
Progress towards universal charging compatibility
As you can see, owning and running an EV may be good for the environment, but it is not necessarily straightforward. Especially for those who believe there is only one plug and one cable for every situation. This would be the case in an ideal world, but unfortunately, we are a long way off that.
However, common standards are being put into motion by organisations to establish compatible charging stations. For example, the CSS plug has been integrated into Audi, Ford, and Hyundai manufacturing. This allows for a more standardised approach, as CSS is universally compatible with level 1, level 2, and DC charging.
In addition to this, charging networks are continuing to expand across the world. With more options available, it results in a higher chance that the right plug will be in your vicinity at any given time. Wales will have a charging point for every 20 miles by 2025 due to their Charging Action Plan.
As challenging as it is at the moment, positive changes are being made to allow for compatible chargers and an overall simpler EV ownership experience. This is crucial for making people less hesitant to take the plunge and opt for the cleaner way to travel.