An important year ahead for EV charging technology

TTI transportation sales engineer, Gabe Osorio

Transportation sales engineer at TTI, Gabe Osorio, examines the EV charging infrastructure and what manufacturers in this space should expect in 2021.

This should be a milestone year for electric vehicles, with Ford, Rivian, Lordstown Motors and others bringing new models to market. Though passenger EV charging may be more visible to the everyday consumer, larger-scale EV infrastructure rollouts are taking place now to support work trucks within freight yards and docks. For instance, all-electric Class 8 trucks from Daimler are moving containers from warehouses to the Long Beach Shipyard. Similar installations are planned for other parts of the United States and elsewhere.

When municipalities, and the contractors that service them, begin electrifying their Class 4 to Class 6 fleets (trucks used for garbage, recycling, street maintenance, etc.) we will see a larger wave of equipment selection and infrastructure construction, allowing those vehicles to operate by day and recharge at night.

For now, the status quo is a hodgepodge network of different manufacturers, each creating EV charging stations in the US, Europe and China. It remains to be seen how decisions by Tesla and Rivian to focus on proprietary charging systems will impact their supply chains, or the choices made by other vehicle manufacturers.

From an electronics manufacturing standpoint, the future is going to be driven by the commercial vehicle and freight carrier side of electrification. Yet, questions remain around what types of connectors, chargers and methods will be widely adopted.

For OEMs who want to design charging station infrastructure, there’s no single guideline to necessarily follow. One or more accepted standards will eventually emerge out of this Wild West of competing visions.

Right now, three groups are working to standardize charging infrastructure: CharIN EV, SAE and Electrify America. The Combined Charging System or CCS Type 1 seems most likely to prevail among different charging interface standards for North America, with DC fast-charging options (including liquid-cooled) on the road map for release in 2021.

Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger system is also being widely deployed, though it remains to be seen how much this will impact charging outside of the passenger vehicle space.

For now, we can expect to see a period of multiple standards and interfaces as different stakeholders work to control the customer experience and maintain a profit stream. We’re most likely to see a standardization happening first in the interface itself, most likely around CCS Type 1. This should remain constant and available across multiple charging networks being built across the US, with controller programming software being the main concern for interoperability.

Vehicle OEMs need to stay focused on how charging infrastructure is being built and proliferated and which compatible downstream electronic components can be used: including logic and controllers, filters, HV fusing, contactors, timers, interconnects and more.

Any constraints on components used in BEVs, whether in the vehicles themselves or in charging infrastructure, will impact rates of adoption and the selection of a charging standard.

Also, wireless charging technology may impact passenger vehicles, mass transport, OTR trucking and service vehicles, especially if manufacturers quickly focus on one standard and implement it widely, with government
or private industry support.

The biggest question for buyers at OEMs in transportation and EV charging to consider is whether your company is participating in the discussion. Is your company a member of a group debating the future of EV charging infrastructure? If not, should you be?

The good news is that organizations working to create future standards have high-performing, well-respected suppliers involved in the process. This means it’s vital to choose the right suppliers to partner with today, not only for charging infrastructure designs but the components that will go into them.

Stay informed on new charging standards being agreed to and rolled out by the consortia mentioned here. Follow charging interface trends: the push is there for manufacturers to provide products that can deliver concentrated high power in shorter periods of time.

Also, follow the progress that commercial vehicle owners are making in charging and electrifying their fleets. By the end of 2021, most will have millions of miles of road experience and testing from which to draw learning and experience.

Do your due diligence and choose partners who are participating in developing these standards, or that have a reputation behind supporting the standards that exist today. Looking back from the end of this decade, we may find that 2021 was the critical point when the standards of tomorrow were determined.