BMW today joined the ranks of automakers demonstrating seriosity about electric vehicles. The way I measure this is if the company is not just building an electric car in significant quantity, but is working to support build-out of electric car charging infrastructure. We have a “chicken and egg” situation between prospective EV buyers and the automakers, and the overall project of adopting electric vehicles will work more smoothly if the automakers directly invest in charging infrastructure. That’s what BMW did today, they have developed an affordable DC Fast Charging unit and will be supporting its installation across the U.S.
The BMW i DC Fast Charger is on display this week at the PlugIn 2014 conference, in San Jose. BMW had it installed curbside and was using it to keep a pair of BMW i3’s charged up for test rides.
It is a small unit, the smallest DC Fast Charger on the market, measuring 31”H x 19”W x 12”D and weighing approximately 100 pounds. All the other DC Fast Chargers on the market are much bigger, similar in size to large refrigerators, and heavier. The BMW unit also utilizes a more normal 240 volt power supply, versus the hard-to-provision 480 volt three phase AC supply required for the larger DC Fast Charging stations. On the other hand the BMW unit only runs at 24 kilowatts while the larger DC Fast Charging stations run at 50 kilowatts, or in the case of the Tesla Supercharger, at 120 kilowatts. Finally, the BMW DC Fast Charger is the lowest cost unit on the market, costing $6,548 for authorized BMW partners.
In other words, the advantages BMW offers is – low cost – easier-to-provision power requirements – small size. These points should make it attractive to potential host sites. The disadvantage is that it runs at a lower power rate, 24 kilowatts versus 50 kilowatts, but that’s not much of a disadvantage, and is even an advantage for host sites. It’s the charging time which counts, not the peak charging rate. Turns out that even at 24 kilowatts the total charging time is maybe five minutes longer – 30 minutes versus 25 minutes, say. This is because the charging rate quickly tapers off from 50 kilowatts, and therefore a 24 kilowatt charger will taper off more slowly.
Host sites will like the lower peak charging rate because the utility companies won’t invoke demand charges while they often do so for the 50 kilowatt charging stations.
“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,” said Robert Healey, EV Infrastructure Manager, at BMW of North America. “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.”
Until now only two of the automakers, Nissan and Tesla Motors, have been directly investing in charging infrastructure. The chicken-and-egg scenario is that prospective EV owners are reluctant to buy EV’s until they see that there’s charging stations in the public. Both Nissan and Tesla have been investing in deployments of fast charging stations. For Nissan that means CHAdeMO stations, while for Tesla Motors it means the build-out of the Supercharger network.
BMW’s DC Fast Charging station is compatible with the third fast charging protocol – the SAE Combined Charging System (CCS).
This means each of the three fast charging protocols – CHAdeMO, Supercharger, and CCS – have at least one automaker backing the deployment of compatible charging stations. This is more than a little crazy-making because at the macroeconomics level we have three parallel systems being installed and a limited amount of cross-use between automakers.
A couple years ago Nissan developed and then began deploying a less expensive lower power CHAdeMO station across the U.S. BMW’s unit is both smaller and cheaper than Nissan’s.
But lets get back to the charging station. I managed to make it over to the PlugIn 2014 conference and take a look at it today.
|AC Power cable was behind the unit,
taped to a street light pole,
and ran into the convention center
It is, as billed, very small, the smallest of the DC Fast Charging stations. BMW had it running on the sidewalk, and powered by a heavy-duty AC power cable strung from inside the convention center. Yes, it’s a heavy duty cable, but it’s a cable that’s much easier to deploy than what’s needed for the larger fast charging stations.
BMW will begin making the charging station available to BMW i Centers across the U.S. starting in August.
eVgo will deploy at least 100 of these charging stations at Freedom Stations in California.
The units are compatible with the ChargePoint network, allowing ChargePoint members to authenticate against the stations. BMW’s press release doesn’t convey a commitment from ChargePoint on how many of these charging stations will be deployed.
A question is whether BMW will limit use of the BMW-branded CCS stations to owners of BMW vehicles. BMW’s press release doesn’t explicitly address that question. However, it does talk about how the CCS standard is being promoted by several automakers, and is an automotive industry standard. It’s a safe assumption BMW isn’t going to pull a dirty trick like that, but will play well with the industry standard story.
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