BMW have unveiled their latest BMW i3 fast DC chargers, made by Bosch, available to American users. However, the fast chargers are not exactly great news if you have any other electric vehicle.
At present, there is a bit of a standards battle going on in the fast DC charger arena. Generally speaking, AC is taken care of – slow and widely adopted as a backup for any EV around the world, using the SAE J1772 standard three pin connector. DC on the other hand, is still something that’s being developed and which is best will likely win the day… but with a fairly large caveat.
In Europe, CHAdeMO is the DC fast charging network that has been most widely adopted, used in cars such as the Nissan LEAF. There is of course another which can only currently be used by one single model of car, let alone a brand. That is the Tesla Supercharger network which uses a proprietary system and connector.
With their new fast charger, BMW have opted for the new SAE CCS standard which is an up-and-coming alternative to the branded options of the others. It is likely BMW have chosen this option since the machine is far cheaper than other DC fast chargers on the market. Tesla Superchargers are unavailable to other vehicles (at present, though this may change in the future due to Tesla releasing certain patented technologies) and CHAdeMO is known to be quite costly too.
That’s not to say the new Lego looking SAE CCS chargers are cheap – they’re not – but at $6,548 they are cheaper than alternatives, at least according to BMW. Robert Healey, EV Infrastructure Manager, at BMW of North America, said:
“This is a milestone in the development of the DC fast charging infrastructure. With more than five years of real world experience, we understand that a robust network of publicly available DC Combo Fast Chargers is a key part of the mobility of tomorrow. BMW is offering the BMW i DC Fast Charger at an appealing price point, and more manageable size, to make the convenience of DC fast charging more accessible for BMW i3 owners.”
For those who don’t know the difference between an AC and DC charger, the basics are thus: Batteries are all DC. Electricity is provided as AC. Therefore a converter is needed to convert between the two, which takes up some power and slows the charging process. Usually, this is done in-car and therefore the vehicle must carry around an AC-DC converter for charging. Bypassing this speeds up battery charging, but means that the AC-DC must be done prior to entering the car, which increases the cost of the charging unit and requires the car to have a bypass for fast DC charging too.
As new standards emerge, wide acceptance and adoption are what dictates its success and as such currently there is a small battle taking place amongst EV manufacturers as to which is the best or right one to go for. However, to put it into perspective a little, in principle any EV may be charged from any electrical socket. Electricity is electricity is electricity, after all. However, the equipment and ability to accept high capacities of charge are what dictate whether a car is able to charge from a point or not. In this respect, Tesla are the current market leaders with their Model S, since it is the single most able car to charge from any outlet – with relevant adapter.
BMW’s new fast DC chargers provide energy at 24kW which is enough to charge their BMW i3 electric car from zero to 80% in around 30 minutes, which is certainly acceptable. At present, the BMW is pretty well the only car able to use the SAE CCS charger, but GM, Ford, Chrysler, Daimler, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche have all said they will adopt using the SAE Combo 1 connector – the current North American automotive industry standard for fast charging. As such, cars from these manufacturers, and likely more to follow, will be produced making installation of these new fast chargers something that will likely become commonplace.
Lastly, BMW have announced that use of these fast chargers will be made free and available to current and future BMW i3 owners. The caveat is that this will be available only to participating eVgo Freedom Stations in California throughout 2015.
How will this affect i3 owners in the UK? Put simply, it is unclear. However, BMW are likely to introduce similar schemes across important world markets, including the UK and Europe.
The DC fast charger battle is very much here for the moment though our opinion is that if Tesla are able to open up their charging standards to others, their Superchargers will rule the roost since they are able to provide a hefty 120kW compared to a paltry 24kW with the CCS chargers. In the most simple way, this would reduce charge times by a considerable amount across the board.