While the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) is snowballing, it has not come without a few challenges such as the need for appropriate charging infrastructure, including EV connectors.
Every new technology has pitfalls, which often include competing standards. This is where each manufacturer wants to prove that their standard is the best. The result is confusion. The same thing has happened with EV connectors, albeit with some sanity in the industry now.
But what are these EV connectors?
Your EV’s charging speed is the sum of various factors: the charging cable, the power source, and the onboard charger.
The most important part of the charging cable is the connector, and therefore a vital part in the working of EVs.
These connectors are what link your electric car with the charging station. They’re the devices that deliver the electric charge to your EV battery from the charging station.
While the connectors are available in various shapes and sizes, each has capabilities and characteristics that’s often different from the other.
The Common Types of EV Connectors
Type 1 (SAE J1772) Connector
Inductive connection, where an electromagnetic connection was used to transmit the current, was the first in the scene. While General Motors EV1 used the method, it quickly disappeared from the scene, mainly because it was not sufficiently effective. But that was then.
Today, there are suggestions of inductive charging making a comeback, and Norway is leading the pack. The inefficiency of inductive charging made room for the development of SAE J1772, and a square plug, a Type 1 charger, for electric vehicles was born in California in 2001.
One of the requirements of the new charger was to establish a connection with the deck and the infotainment system. However, the first Type 1 charger had shortcomings. For example, SAE J1772 was only capable of 6.6 kW. In 2008, a 19.2 kW new J1772 was designed by Yazaki, and it became the new standard for all vehicles in America.
Initially, the original European EVs used this connector, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find a J1772 in older European hybrid models. Europe has since discarded the Type 1 connector in favor of Type 2 connectors, and only America and Japan use it.
So, what’s wrong with the Type 1 connector? Typically, the J1772 can only be used in one-phase connections. The charge is limited to 63 amps, and there’s no support for a built-in automatic locking system.
Type 2 IEC 62196-2 Connectors
European automotive brands were using the Type 1 charger until they decided to find a better solution. They needed a connection that could take full advantage of all the phases. Level 1 chargers are restricted to a single phase.
The Type 2 “mennekes” plug was produced in 2003 after establishing the IEC 62196 standard (the new European standard). It’s called the Mennekes plug after the German company that designed it.
The Type 2 connector uses the same signaling language as Level 1 connectors. This means that car makers can continue producing vehicles the same way as before, and buyers can choose the connector they want. There’s cross-compatibility, and you can change the connector depending on the country you are in. A Type 2 connector also supports a built-in automatic locking system
The European version of the Tesla Model S and Model X have slightly modified versions of the Type 2 plug. Therefore, the Tesla models can charge at the Tesla Supercharger network or any AC charging station.
DC connectors simplify the work for electric vehicles, speeding up the charging process.
The CHAdeMO connector is another term you’ve probably come across in EV circles popular with Japanese auto manufacturers. These EV connectors can deliver huge currents (as much as 62.5 kW of power). As a result, you’ll often find CHAdeMO connectors in DC fast charging stations. These deliver to 80% battery capacity within as little as 30 minutes.
There’s also the CCS connector or the Combined Charging System. The system combines Type 1 and Type 2 and is an excellent solution for fast DC charging. This explains why the CSS connector is currently the most popular DC connector in the US.
The CCS connector is relatively new but growing in popularity as well. CSS delivers 350 kW of power and works with AC and DC charging. This cross capability makes the CSS connector convenient and versatile for EV owners.
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Factors to Consider when Choosing EV Connectors
Since EV connectors are not made equal, it’s vital to do due diligence when choosing. So, how do you avoid choosing a lemon or something incompatible with your electric vehicle?
The last thing you want is a connector you can’t use with your EV. Therefore, choose a connector compatible with your car’s charging port.
But apart from compatibility, the connector’s charging speed is a vital consideration. A CHAdeMO connector will deliver full charge faster than Type 1 and Type 2 connectors. How long are you willing to wait? Can you wait overnight for the full charge?
The charging station you’re using puts a major caveat on how fast you can charge your vehicle. Some charging stations may be capable of delivering so much power than your EV’s battery can handle. This is a recipe for battery damage, and it’s not something you want happening. On the other hand, a charging station that falls short of delivering the needed power may take longer than is necessary. You don’t have all the time to wait.
The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has established specific safety standards and regulations. These standards cover various aspects, such as the materials used in their manufacture, physical design, and maximum power to ensure the safety and reliability of connectors.
There are also particular industry standards EV connectors must abide by (in addition to the safety standards). Among the most popular is the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), a communication protocol most EV charging stations use. The communication protocol is how the charging station communicates with the onboard computer system in your electric car. Your car can therefore charge efficiently and effectively while monitoring and managing the process remotely.
With the rise of EVs, choosing EV connectors has become a necessity. The connectors are available in various shapes and sizes, each with different capabilities. A connector that may be good for your vehicle may not be suitable for another. Check for compatibility, power output, charging speed, and industry and safety standards.