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Charging standards will drive electric cars

It’s possible to buy an electric car these days, but that doesn’t mean they are yet in widespread use.

It’s possible to buy an electric car these days, but that doesn’t mean they are yet in widespread use. The infrastructure to recharge them is still in its infancy, including some of the standards that will help to ensure uniformity.

Some standards have been determined but several still need to be finalized, says Ian Forsyth, director of corporate planning for Nissan, which makes the all-electric Leaf. Most buyers right now will be charging their vehicles at home, but eventually, widespread consumer acceptance depends on being able to top up the battery at public charging stations, the same way conventional cars can pull into gas stations.

“The receptacle on the car for charging is an SAE standard, that’s established,” Forsyth says.

“But the vehicle supply equipment, the interface between the car and the grid — those standards are not resolved. The cord, temperature resistance, the amperage rating of the unit itself, the waterproofness, other overload issues and all of those things are part of it.”

CSA is the lead body for certification in Canada and is working on the standards, but they are not yet complete, Forsyth says.

“There’s no risk (to electric cars) because we know what the standards will be, but they’re not officially out there. It’s one of those odd problems that happens with standards.”

One important decision has already been made: universal plugs on charging stations.

“Every charging station will charge every electric vehicle in Canada,” Forsyth says. When a car is plugged in, the car and station “talk” to each other.

Once it’s determined that the car is plugged in and there is no fault, the power starts flowing.

Standards are being developed for “level 3” quick-chargers, which use direct current to charge a car in less than 30 minutes.

These are already in use in Japan, where a standard has been established, but are very rare in North America. Forsyth believes there is only one in Canada, located in British Columbia.

Setting standards is relatively simple in Canada and the U.S. compared with Europe, Forsyth says.

“Almost every country (in Europe) has a completely different way of connecting to the grid. Their plugs are different from country to country. Standardization not only deals with the car end of it, but the grid end.

“In North America that’s not a problem because the plugs are standardized.”

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