IEC approves CHAdeMO as fast charging standard, keeping us locked in Beta-VHS phase

The nice thing about Standards Organizations is that there’s so many of them.  If your standard gets rejected by one organization, such as the Society for Automotive Engineers, you can go to another standards committee, like the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), to get ratification.  That’s what has just happened in the electric car fast charging market – CHAdeMO, which was arguably not a standard, has now been approved by the IEC as a standard for DC Fast Charging.

The issue is similar to the old Betamax-versus-VHS standards battle from my youth.  At the video store there was a large section for VHS tapes, and a smaller section for Beta tapes.  Someone had talked me into buying a Beta VCR, meaning I always had the smaller selection to choose from.  Both were eventually replaced by DVD’s and then Blu-Ray.

In the electric car field we’ve had a similar split into two standards for fast charging.  This split creates difficulties for electric car owners because fast charging capability is a huge positive win, but deployment of fast charging infrastructure has been delayed because of the standards battle.  One that just grew a little more complex because both CHAdeMO (until now, not a standard) and the SAE’s Combined Charging System (always a standard) are both standards (through different standards organizations).

CHAdeMO is an electric car fast charging standard developed in Japan, and is used by the Nissan Leaf of which over 100,000 have been sold world-wide.  Despite being backed by an organization, the CHAdeMO Association, it wasn’t a proper Standards Organization.  That led many in the field to argue against deployment of CHAdeMO charging stations, because it wasn’t a Standard.  For example, GM’s Shad Balch said “we
need to make sure, especially because we’re talking about taxpayer
money, that ONLY those standards are installed going forward,” meaning DC Fast Charging systems approved by a proper standards committee.  This wasn’t just an idle comment, but was an official statement by GM at a California State Senate Public Meeting chaired by State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett.

GM’s official position in May 2012 was to delay DC Fast Charging infrastructure installation in favor of a system developed by a proper standards committee.  Which system was that?  SAE’s Combined Charging System, that wasn’t approved by the SAE J1772 committee until September 2012.  And only now are there a significant number of cars entering the market with a Combined Charging System (CCS) plug.

Claiming that CHAdeMO isn’t a standard won’t work any more, now that it has been blessed by a standards organization.  Despite not being a standard, the CHAdeMO automakers have been far more successful at selling electric cars than were the CCS automakers.  That meant CHAdeMO had the weight of numbers behind it, giving it the role of “de-facto standard”.

The CHAdeMO Association worked with the IEC technical committees 61851-23, 61851-24, as well as 62196-3.  After 4 years of expert meetings, in January 2014, the FDIS (final draft international standard) for 61851-23 and 61851-24 were approved by the committees and were finally published on the IEC website yesterday.  (http://www.iec.ch/dyn/www/f?p=103:22:0::::FSP_ORG_ID,FSP_LANG_ID:1255,25%3Cbr%20/%3E)

The results aren’t as good as we might hope, however.  Rather than blessing CHAdeMO over CCS, the IEC committee is supporting all three DC Fast Charging standards.  Taking a look at the picture above will show you the problem.  The committee is supporting not only CHAdeMO, but GB/T (from China) and both variants of the Combined Charging System.

It means we still are no closer to the goal of one plug for DC Fast Charging.

In other words, we’re still in the Beta-vs-VHS phase of the struggle, and haven’t reached the DVD or Blu-Ray phase.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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