As the expansion of electric vehicles (EVs) continues to ramp up, the issue of standardizing EV chargers is garnering a lot of attention. Of course, one major hesitation consumers have about transitioning to EVs is the uncertainty of the availability of chargers compatible with their specific vehicles. Standardization of EV chargers would theoretically reduce this anxiety and allow access to a seamless, widespread charging network that would cater to all EVs.
The Rise of NACS Chargers
Tesla, which is commonly thought of as the most well-known EV maker at this time, uses its so-called North American Charging Standard (NACS) plug to charge its vehicles. According to the automaker, the NACS connector “is the most proven in North America, offering AC charging and up to 1 MW DC charging in one slim package.” Tesla further states it is “twice as powerful as Combined Charging System (CCS) connectors,” which are currently used for various vehicles produced by other automakers such as Ford.
Several major automakers including Ford, General Motors, and Volvo have recently announced they have made deals with Tesla to utilize this charging standard for their future vehicles. After announcing the deal with Ford, Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk noted that Tesla “[does not] want the Tesla supercharger app to be like a walled garden.” Regarding the deal with General Motors, Musk stated that it is “an honor” for Tesla and “consumers will benefit greatly” from it.
In addition, charging networks such as EVgo, ChargePoint, and Electrify America have also indicated they will be adding NACS plugs to their chargers.
Of course, the rise of NACS chargers has faced some criticism. Opponents argue that any sort of widespread EV charger adoption limits the boundaries of innovation for automakers and eliminates their ability to develop new and potentially better charging technology. In turn, there are claims this would lead to a lack of competition and therefore no race for automakers to create the best charging solutions. Critics also note the costs that may be associated with updating existing EV chargers to fit universal ones, but proponents indicate long-term benefits for consumers may outweigh the short-term costs.
Alternative Approaches to Standardization
While wireless EV charging is not widespread at this time, developers such as WiTricity and Plugless Power have created ways to charge EVs using electromagnetic induction technology. Theoretically, the platforms allow EV drivers to park their vehicles over the charging platforms and do not require any sort of plug or cable. If all EVs were built to accommodate this charging method, it may increase convenience and flexibility factors for owners.
Many EV owners charge their vehicles overnight, but current charge times using a basic wall plug are often unattractive and many EV owners are not willing to spend the money to get a faster charger at home instead. Offering incentives and expanding charging capabilities in multifamily dwellings (e.g., apartment complexes) could reduce the need for standardization, as owners would be able to use their own equipment at their home at convenience.
To keep more of a sense of competition in the market without full standardization, some analysts are proponents of open standards and interoperability with the best example being the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), which was formed in the Netherlands and is primarily still only used overseas. The ultimate goal of the protocol is to enable different charging networks and manufacturers to communicate together and thus allow EV drivers to utilize any EV charger regardless which charging network they subscribe to.
The United States currently does not follow any sort of similar protocol, as most network providers were allowed to develop their own protocols through grants from the federal government. Regulatory bodies can also heavily influence standardization (or the lack thereof) as they could mandate adoption of a protocol such as the OCPP, which may still allow for different innovations that would still accommodate all EV drivers.
The Role of Standardization in EV Adoption
Of course, the growth of the EV market depends on many factors, but one of the largest ones is charging and charging infrastructure. Standardization undoubtedly plays a critical role in the adoption of EVs as it impacts everyone in the market from automakers to dealers and consumers.
As mentioned, standardization allows for interoperability, meaning EVs can be charged at any charger regardless what brand of car they are or what charging network drivers subscribe to. Many consumers who are hesitant to switch to EVs report being nervous about not having enough compatible chargers nearby, so standardization would reduce this anxiety which may encourage more drivers to make the switch to EVs.
Standardization also impacts infrastructure investments in both the private and public sectors. If there was standardization across the board, stakeholders would be more confident in their investments into charging infrastructure as they would be assured their charging stations would work for all EV owners. This, in turn, could increase investments and therefore put more money into improved charging infrastructure.
Market competition could still exist through standardization, as developers would have a set framework of standards to base their new technologies on instead of everything being self-developed and open-ended. This may lead to new technologies that are more affordable and, of course, compatible with all EVs.
Some industry experts have reservations about EVs due to the aging electric grid in the United States, but standardization may allow for more efficient grid integration. It may also give a better overall view of the optimal charging times and the availability of renewable energy.
Enhancing the Customer Experience
Large amounts of money have been poured into the research and development of EVs and their charging solutions, but in order for EVs to become more mainstream and widely adopted, there must be reasons for consumers to want them.
Standardization could increase the appeal of EVs, as they would give consumers confidence that chargers compatible with their EVs would be available to them regardless where they are. There would be no need for consumers to haul around various adapters or seek out certain charging networks, as all chargers would work for them. This would give access to a broader network of chargers, which provides more flexibility for EV owners and makes longer journeys (e.g., road trips) more attractive as having a larger network would reduce so-called “range anxiety.”
Consumers in the auto industry are ultimately looking for convenience and many are unwilling to switch to EVs until they can be assured they will always have a simple, seamless charging experience. Standardization would mean that EV owners could have the same charging experience at any charger since the standardized protocols would require it.
Lastly, safety is always a critical aspect of any technology. Standardization would mean rigorous, mandatory testing of the charging stations and overall infrastructure. EV drivers would have confidence that the charging stations they use meet safety requirements to minimize hazards and will also lessen the occurrence of the loss of personal data and unauthorized access to EV chargers.
Overall, EV standardization may lead to an increase in consumer confidence and therefore convince many car buyers to transition to EVs, which will in turn help grow the EV industry.