December 16th, 2018 by Steve Hanley
Siemens, Porsche, and BMW formed a research group called FastCharge in 2016 with the mission to make EV charging faster. Last week, a Porsche Taycan test vehicle plugged into a new ultra-fast 450 kW charger developed by the group and took on enough electricity to drive an extra 62 miles in just 3 minutes. Using the same charger, a BMW i3 was able to get to an 80% state of charge in just 15 minutes.
Speedy charging is considered essential to getting more people interested in driving an electric car. But there is more to it than just hooking up a charger directly to a generating station and letting the electrons flow. The truth is most of the electric cars on the road today are incapable of charging so quickly.
When a battery charges, it gets hot. All-electric cars have something called a battery management system. One of its tasks is controlling how fast the battery charges to prevent overheating. Porsche says its test vehicle is equipped with an “innovative cooling system.” No further details were provided, so we don’t know what those innovations are, how much they add to the price of a car, how much weight they add to the vehicle, or how bulky they are.
The charger uses the CCS standard and is capable of charging at either 400 or 800 volts. It automatically detects which standard the car it is charging uses. The problem is, there is exactly one such charger in the world and it is located in Germany. Electrify America has one charger in California capable of up to 350 kW of power. A few ultra-high-power chargers in the world are hardly enough to move the EV revolution forward.
There is also the question of whether the electrical grid can handle lots of such high-power chargers at once. The sign pictured above seems to suggest a rather large onsite storage battery is part of the Siemens/Porsche/BMW package to help out with that challenge.
And where does this news leave Tesla? If you focus on the headlines, Tesla appears to be far behind the competition, but is that really true? The company is in the process of upgrading its Superchargers to handle 250 kW of power. It expects the changeover to be largely complete by the end of next year. It is also equipping all Model 3s destined for the European market with a CCS charging port. Tesla is a member of the CCS consortium.
All this theoretical ultra-fast charging technology is great for the future of electric transportation, but it won’t be generally available for years to come. The new Audi e-tron can charge at a maximum of 150 kW, and the Jaguar I-Pace is limited to 100 kW. The LEAFs and Bolts of the world? Far less.
So, which will come first, the cars capable of charging at 350 kW and up or a network of chargers that can deliver such high power? It will be years before we know the answer to that question.