Analysis & Synthesis

Standards for Fast Charging Are Getting No Closer

While promising advances in battery technology bring hope of seeing a notable reduction in the price of new electric vehicle models over the course of the next five years wide-scale electromobility remains unlikely as automakers clash over charging standards. With several automakers introducing competing charging solutions, sharing a common charge rate of 80% capacity in 30 minutes or less, the need for compromise grows increasingly dire as few of these technologies are compatible with each other. However, automakers seem to be clinging ever more unwaveringly to their own proprietary technologies despite the unifying technologies developed by groups of automakers, including Nissan and Mitsubishi and adopted by several charger manufacturers, such as the CHAdeMO standard.

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A group of major automakers, including Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, joined this fray when they announced the development of a new charging system, dubbed SAE, in May, 2012. The proposed system would be installed in new EVs manufactured by these five automakers beginning in 2013 and would support a single charging standard across European and American vehicles, AC as well as DC charging methods, and would provide a single shared plug standard for all automakers.

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Despite the arguable technical advantages of the proposed SAE standard, the lack of compatibility with the existing CHAdeMO standard, in use since 2008 and installed in at least 1 500 fast chargers, renders this a, largely, lateral move in terms of EV advancement. Many analysts have instead interpreted this move as one primarily motivated by a desire on the part of the controlling automakers to reduce the sales of Nissan’s Leaf EV. To further complicate the charging technology landscape, Chinese automakers have also begun equipping their EV models with chargers based on separate technologies for use on the Chinese market.

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With the situation growing increasingly tense and the likelihood of a compromise being brokered among the automakers themselves, the decision may ultimately be left up to the International Electrotechnical Commission’s technical committee. The committee is reviewing the standards, and in the coming months is expected to approve one or more of the fast charger standards, a decision which many hope will spur automakers into a forced compromise.

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Fortunately, for the sake of the EV market, the operators of several major groups of independent charging stations, including ABB, Eaton, and Schneider Electric, have already studied the prospect of converting stations to support whichever standard wins out in the end and have plans in place to realize this change.

Source: NY Times article on the evolution of the EV charging landscape

Read more: Torque news on the SAE charging standard

The International Electrotechnical Commission

Hanken researchers on the 2nd Low Carbon City Development World Forum

The Second Low Carbon City Develop World Forum, organized by the World Alliance for Low Carbon Cities, took place in Beijing 14-15th of May. Hanken’s Eco-Urban Living research team, Dr. Timo Vuori and PhD students Olga Novikova and Veronika Bashtovaya took part in this meeting. They had various conversations with the participants and took detailed notes throughout the event. Now, two weeks after the event, the researchers have taken a moment to reflect on the meeting and share some thoughts with us.

PhD students Olga Novikova and Veronika Bashtovaya at the Forum

PhD students Olga Novikova and Veronika Bashtovaya at the Forum

The most central aspect of the meeting was, from our point of view, the vast enthusiasm of various organizations and actors from many countries. Several actors are actively trying to make sense of what the low-carbon world of tomorrow will look like and what their role in this world will be. This active sensemaking process was visible in the various presentations that discussed different ways of making greener business for tomorrow. Examples ranged from applications for calculating the most efficient combinations of various means of transportation (Gomi’s presentation from Japan) to development legislation (Chinese authorities) and technical innovation (e.g., Kone).

In addition to serving as evidence of continuous sensemaking, the presentations are also a means for sensegiving. The forms of future low-carbon ecosystems are still uncertain and actors are naturally trying to shape the developments. From a research point of view it was interesting to see the immediate responses to these influencing attempts. It seems that a delicate balance of positive enthusiasm and cold analytical realism is needed for making an impact – and that the optimal balance between the two can vary from one target of influence to another one. Only the accumulation of further empirical evidence over time will show which forms of sensemaking and sensegiving turn out to be the most effective.

We’ll be posting more material from the Second Low Carbon City Development World Forum in the coming weeks here on the website. Remember to follow us on Twitter (@EUL_Finland) and Like us on Facebook (facebook.com/ecourbanliving) to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in Eco Urban Living!

Final reflections on a week with the Think City

While few would dispute that electric mobility is the future of transportation in both the mass and private forms, there is far more uncertainty in attempts to define when this transition to electric vehicles will ultimately take place. Despite the rapid development of electric vehicle technology and the strong confidence and long-term commitment shown by many of the world’s top automakers, the industry has yet to truly spark consumer demand.

Among the factors contributing to the lack of consumer demand are both purely economic considerations, owing to the higher prices which come as a result of implementing recently developed technologies which have yet to reach market saturation, as well as practical. While the, comparatively, high prices of current electric vehicle models will gradually decline as these vehicles become more widespread, the practical reasons keeping consumers from buying electric vehicles are the first, and most significant, hurdle to clear.

The marketplace is the true testing ground for the success of any new technology; as such the ultimate fate of any new technology ultimately lies in the hands of the consumer. Thus, educating consumers on the benefits and value of electric vehicles becomes a key tool in ensuring the spread of electromobility beyond a small advocate group motivated by environmental concerns or scientific curiosity. Rather than merely approaching this task instructionally, an approach which serves an important purpose in making available the information which will ultimately guide consumers in making their final purchases, there is great value to allowing the experiences of individual users reach a wider audience.

To this end, we here at the Eco Urban Living launched in a contest in March to find someone to help us achieve this goal by offering the winner a one-week test-drive of a fully-electric Think City EV. The task was simple; tell us why you should be the one to test drive the Think? From the wide range of entries we received over the course of the next month our expert panel selected as the winner the organizer of the 2012 SELL Student Games. The SELL Student Games were selected for their strong ties to both a local and international student community which brought an opportunity to help spread word of the week’s experiences to this crucial audience of future drivers. Furthermore, the contest panel also saw in the SELL Games an excellent opportunity to increase the environmental benefit of the test-drive week by providing the Games with an all-electric alternative means of transportation during the games.

We first met with the lucky winner, SELL Student Games’ Event Coordinator Timo Häkkänen, a few weeks ago just before Timo and his colleagues at the Games were about to start a hectic week of preparation in advance of the arrival of the competing athletes in a matter of days. We next met with Timo once he’d had an opportunity to drive the car for a few days and get to know it in more detail. Finally, we spoke with Timo after he had spent a full week driving the Think City to see how his impression of electric vehicles had changed over the course of the week.

Timo told us that, first and foremost, his week driving an EV had been an overwhelmingly positive experience. As Timo noted when we last spoke with him his initial concerns regarding the car’s range were quickly laid to rest. In spite of Timo’s long days on the road shuttling back and forth between the Games’ various competition venues, Timo reported never once having to pull over to charge the car’s battery or even to plug it in during a scheduled stop. These concerns, often referred to as ‘range anxiety’ are shared by a great number of people who fear the length of their trips would be limited by an EV’s battery capacity. However, Timo noted that a full battery, following an overnight charge at an ordinary outlet in the Games’ parking garage, proved more than enough to last him through the day and up to 120km.

Once Timo’s range anxiety had been dispelled he began to appreciate the many benefits of driving an EV rather than a gas-fueled car. The most immediate benefit Timo listed was naturally the cost benefit, being able to charge the car overnight and benefit from the electricity already available to him meant that Timo did not have to spend a single cent on the car during the busy week. While the cost of the increased use of electricity will certainly have to be figured into any cost-benefit equation in the long-run, Timo noted that with gas prices as high as they are currently there is little doubt as to which option would come out to be less expensive.

Despite the strong appeal of lower running costs, Timo believes the environmental benefits of electric vehicles are ultimately their greatest and most lasting impact. Far from being alone in his interest in electric vehicles, Timo told us that throughout his week with the EV he was repeatedly asked about the car by people both frustrated by high gas prices and those concerned for the future of the environment.

You can find all of our coverage of Timo’s test-drive here on the blog, including our interviews with Timo, our first interview and our second interview, as well as Timo’s reports from the road which were originally posted on Facebook,facebook.com/sell2012 and facebook.com/ecourbanliving, and Twitter, @SELLstudentgame and @EUL_Finland hashtag #ecourban.

Think City contest in social media

The winner's of our Think City test-drive contest kept a group of eager followers on Facebook and Twitter up-to-date throughout their week with the Think City. Collected below are the Facebook wallposts and tweets from the week.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@EUL_Finland) and Like us on Facebook (facebook.com/ecourbanliving) to stay up to date with Eco Urban Living!

Read more: Think City contest in social media

EVS26 and the state of the EV industry

For four days earlier this month (May 6th – 9th), Los Angeles, California became the center of the international electric vehicle industry. From May 6th to 9th, the city served as host of the 26th International Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS26). The symposium is considered to be the electric vehicle industry’s premier forum, its lectures, presentations and product introductions drawing the participation of the industry’s leading players as well as the researchers driving development of the technology at its core.

The symposium features a series of expert panels and presentations, in which engineers and other researchers present their latest research and the results of recently completed projects, spread out over the course of its four days. In addition to this research oriented perspective, the symposium also provides companies with the opportunity to present their latest products on an expo floor.

Chris Rowell, a researcher from Aalto Universtiy contributing to the Eco Urban Living initiative’s research in stream 5, Market Making Ecosystems, traveled to Los Angeles to attend EVS26 to study the current state of the international electric vehicle industry. Here are some of Chris’s general reflections on EVS26 and what the symposium suggests about the present state of the industry.

EVS26 – General Reflections

EVS26 brought together a collection of people who, by and large, seemed overwhelmingly enthusiastic about EVs. Perhaps the majority of them were from utilities (of which there are around 3273 in the US), many were from OEMs, and the rest from charging infrastructure providers, battery makers, other suppliers, and private EV enthusiasts.

From the discussions with some consultants, it seemed that the attendees who faced the greatest risk were the ones whose businesses depended on the success of EVs. This was consistent with a couple of the presentations that I attended, which suggested that those for whom EVs were not the main business would have greater buyer power within the supply chain. In addition, I met several people who suggested that most of the infrastructure providers present would be out of business in a couple of years.

Overall, the message to participants was fairly consistent: Imploring actors to focus on the customer/end user. This implicitly assumes their existence – something that was only questioned by a couple of people over the course of the convention. The underlying logic that seemed to prevail was that end users simply lacked education, and once they knew more about EVs they would be converted. Steve Jobs (“people don’t know what they want until you tell them”) and Henry Ford (“if I had asked people what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse”) were both quoted routinely to emphasize this point.

Everyone advocated increased information and education, and some participants placed the responsibility more specifically on utilities – perhaps because they could be in the best position to do so (i.e. they stand to gain from EV adoption, and could assume integrative/’face’ role).

For more detailed analysis of what he learned at EVS26 read Chris’s reflections on Utilities, OEMs, Batteries, the Market, and Charging Infrastructure.

Read more: The EVS26 website

A press release from the Electric Drive Transportation Association on the symposium

Photos from EVS26

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