Before electric vehicles can truly proliferate to the point where they overtake internal combustion vehicles, one thing must happen: public charging must not only be ubiquitous, but it has to be easy to use and highly reliable.
We're not close to that yet. In fact, here in the US, the state of public DC fast charging is sort of a mess. There are pockets of the country that are vastly underserved, and the chargers that are in the areas that do have infrastructure are often broken, blocked by gas cars, or already in use when someone pulls up needing a charge.
In the US, all major automakers besides Tesla currently use the J1772 connector for AC charging and the CCS1 standard for DC fast charging. It's unclear how the future will play out now that Ford and General Motors have announced the adoption of Tesla's NACS connector starting in 2025, but we still need the existing CCS1 infrastructure to improve and proliferate. We can worry about what cable and connector are attached to the chargers later down the road.
One of the discussion panels at the 2023 CharIN Volt's interoperability conference in Long Beach, California
There are a lot of reasons why the existing high-speed DC fast-charging infrastructure, owned and operated by a variety of networks, continues to experience reliability issues. Problems can span from internal fuse issues to broken CCS1 connectors and failing liquid-cooled cables.
However, behind all the hardware, there's a complicated network of software in the chargers, the apps, the billing systems, and the vehicles that all have to communicate for a charging session to occur.
The problem is, there are dozens of companies making charging equipment, dozens of auto manufacturers each with multiple EVs often operating on unique software, and dozens of different charge point operators each utilizing individual apps and billing software.
The 2023 CharIN Volts Testival in Long Beach, California
People often point the Tesla's Supercharger network as a model of reliability, and they are correct in the respect that most Superchargers work and seem to have very little downtime. However, that's mostly because Tesla is so vertically integrated and up until recently with a few magic dock locations, only had to service Tesla vehicles.
Tesla makes the vehicles and the charging stations and also writes the software that connects the two. They don't have to deal with the dozens of different equipment manufacturers, network operators, and software in the cars written by dozens of different car manufacturers. So while some people may think transitioning to Tesla's NACS connector will solve all the problems we currently see with public charging, unfortunately, it won't.
“Do you want a charger to adhere to the charging standard? Or do you want it to work? If we adhered strictly to the charging requirements, perhaps 5% of the cars on the road would be able to charge at any given CCS DCFC.” - Guest speaker at the Volts Testival
Granted, NACS is a more elegant connector. It's lighter, easier to use, and doesn't have the locking pin on the top of the connector as the J1772 and CCS1 connectors do, which often breaks and forces the station to be taken out of service.
However, NACS doesn't really help with interoperability. For that, testing among all of the stakeholders needs to happen and happen often as new vehicles, equipment, and payment systems are introduced to the market all of the time.
CharIN is also testing interoperability for the new megawatt charging system (MCS)
Here in North America, one of the issues seems to be the CCS1 protocol isn't a narrowly-defined standard, and that leads to different companies interpreting it slightly differently. That's a problem when software from one company needs to talk to the software from another company because the slightest difference can lead to failure. At times, the software is written out of compliance with the standard, leading other companies to do the same, just so it works.
In order to find and eliminate these interoperability issues, testing between all of the companies is required. That's where CharIN plays a role. CharIN is a global association dedicated to promoting interoperability for the CCS standard as well as the new Megawatt Charging System (MCS) for vehicles and charging equipment of all makes. CharIN has more than 320 members including all the major automakers and charging equipment manufacturers.
Initially, CharIN seemed annoyed by Ford's acceptance of the NACS, but after General Motors also announced it will include NACS ports starting in 2025, the organization stated it would offer support for NACS standardization.
We visited a CharIN Testival (a festival of testing) that was held in Newark, California, two years ago, but this year's event was much larger and included the MCS. Because of the sensitive nature of the content in the event, we weren't allowed to take pictures of the vehicles or the testing equipment, but there were dozens of different charging equipment manufacturers there as well as vehicles from every major OEM.
We were, however, allowed to conduct interviews and we were able to get representatives from CharIN, ABB, EVgo, BTC Power, and IN-Charge Energy to talk for a few minutes and explain why these interoperability testing events are so important.