Closer Look: Beijing Plans 10,000 Rapid-Charging Stations, but They Won't Support Tesla
(Beijing) – Authorities in Beijing released a plan for promoting electric cars on June 27, calling for the construction of 10,000 rapid-charging stations throughout the city by 2017.
But ongoing efforts to revise China's standards for charging technology are plagued with technical disputes, and incompatibilities between those standards and the technology used by Tesla Motors Inc. mean that the charger network won't support the company's electric car models.
According to the plan by the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission, the city will focus its efforts in the short term on building rapid chargers at major transportation hubs including airports and train stations, as well as at public parking facilities, expressway service areas and other public places.
The plan envisions that every spot within the Fifth Ring Road will be within 5 kilometers of a station.
But the focus on rapid-charging systems, which can charge electric cars in as little as half an hour, brings with it a host of problems. According to a source at the state-run electricity distributor, State Grid Corp., which is participating in the development of the national charging standard, the world has not settled on a single solution for rapid charging. China's scheme will join proposals supported by standards bodies in Europe, the United States and Japan – along with a fifth system developed by Tesla.
And while international differences in ordinary electrical outlets can be dealt with using simple converters, the devices may not be a safe solution for charging electric cars.
As the State Grid source explained, "Charging an electric car isn't 'plug and play.' There also needs to be a control circuit and communications protocol to ensure charging safety and interchangeability. One can't simply add a converter and expect it to work."
This means Tesla is caught in a bind. The company's rapid-charge "Supercharger" technology is not compatible with car models from any other manufacturer, and government departments in China won't support the construction of charging stations that don't satisfy the emerging Chinese standard.
And while the company said it will open its charging technology to other electric carmakers who agree to follow its model of no-cost charging for the life of the vehicle, the system is still proprietary and the offer does not affect the drafting process for the Chinese national standard.
The dispute holding back the release of the final Chinese standard centers around the "locking device," an important part of any safe rapid-charging system. A management-level source in a foreign auto company responsible for charging infrastructure said the devices allow the charging system to first confirm the safe insertion of the charging plug, then lock the plug in place. Only after the devices confirm that everything is normal will electricity flow.
A user who wants to stop the charging process must first press a stop button, and both sides will cut power. Only after this power cut is confirmed can the plug be disconnected. But, unsafe systems that allow users to unplug the charging system freely are very common.
So the question is: where should the electronic lock be installed?
The Chinese auto industry hasn't agreed. The Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (SAIC) said it should be installed on the side of the charging station, while BYD Auto Co. Ltd., a leading domestic producer of electric cars, wants it to be mounted on the car. Europe and America put the lock on the car while Japan places it on the station.
Liu Yongdong, the deputy director of the standards center at China's power industry federation, said that "because everyone is standing their ground, we are taking into account everyone's opinions and moving along according to the stipulations of the standardization law. We're about three-fourths of the way there, and by the end of 2014 we will reach a conclusion" on the new edition of battery charging interface standards.
(Rewritten by James Bradbury)
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