Rapid Car Charger

When cars like the Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi i-Miev launched back in 2010, they brought with them the concept of rapid charging: the idea that if you stopped and plugged in to a dedicated, high-power charging station, you could replenish your car’s battery packs in minutes rather than hours. Conceived as a way of rapidly replenishing the charge stored in an electric car battery pack in order to compensate for the limited-range of most electric cars, rapid charging made it theoretically possible for electric cars to be driven longer-distances for the first time with relative ease, provided there was adequate rapid charging infrastructure en-route.

While the early days of rapid charging weren’t particularly reliable, today we see more rapid charging than ever before, with multiple different rapid charge standards available around the globe catering to a variety of different makes and models of electric car. While rapid charging used to be a rare bonus for plug-in car drivers, it’s now considered a must-have item, with very few cars on the market today not featuring rapid charging capabilities.

But lately, we’ve seen a growing confusion about how rapid charging works, be it the CHAdeMO quick charge standard found on cars from Nissan, Mitsubishi, Kia, Peugeot and Citroen, the CCS standard favoured by BMW and Volkswagen, the AC quick charging standard found on the Renault Zoe, or Tesla’s own proprietary (but open source) Supercharger standard. These include confusion about how the standards work, what to expect of them, and how quickly they recharge.

There are a simple set of rules you can follow to ensure rapid charging is fun.So we’ve decided to help out by giving you a few things you really should know about electric car rapid charging — and how you should behave when rapid charging.

How they work

With the exception of the AC quick charging standard favoured by Renault — which uses the car’s on-board motor inverter to turn high-power, three-phase alternating current into high-voltage direct current to feed into the car’s battery pack — all DC quick charge standards, regardless of their connector, all follow a basic mode of operation: they pump high-voltage, high-current electricity directly into the car’s battery pack.

Using external power electronics, all DC charging standards bypass the car’s built-in on-board charger and connect directly to the car’s battery pack, dumping electricity at a high rate directly into the battery pack. Capable of handling far more power than the car’s on-board charger can handle, external DC charging stations are designed to bring an electric car’s battery pack from near empty to 80 percent full in as quick a time as possible.Common sense comes into play when using rapid charging, whatever the type. How quickly that happens depends on the car you have and the actual power capabilities of the charging station itself, but for most mainstream DC quick-charge enabled cars on the market today, a 0-80 percent charge theoretically takes around 30 minutes.

If you like, you can think of the relationship between a DC fast charger and your car’s charger a little like the difference between receiving an intravenous injection of glucose and eating glucose-rich food. The latter works perfectly fine in most situations, but the former is able to deliver much-needed energy quickly and easily by bypassing your body’s digestive system.

DC charging stations are not only far more expensive than the on-board charger in your car, but also require a much higher power level in order to operate. As a consequence, you’ll usually only find them in places with high-power circuits nearby, like shopping malls, car dealerships and rest stops.

Why they’re not always as quick as you think

It doesn’t matter if you’re using a CHAdeMO DC quick charger or a fancy Tesla Supercharger: rapid charging doesn’t take the amount of time you think it will, and rarely meets with the headline figures quoted by automakers.

That’s because the speed at which a car recharges on a rapid charging station depends on four different things.

  • The power of the charging station
  • The state of charge of the car’s battery pack
  • The battery pack’s age and state of health
  • The weather

While it’s easy to think that all charging stations are created equal, not every public charging station can deliver the same power level. That’s because not every rapid charging site is capable of providing the theoretical maximum power of each charging standard, either because the hardware itself is limited to a particular power output or the physical power lines feeding the charging station require it to be ‘turned down’.

Thus you may find for example, that some CHAdeMO DC quick charging stations will provide the theoretical 50 kilowatts of maximum power most cars are capable of receiving, while others will be limited to 30 or 40 kilowatts.

Rapid charging is far more common than it once was. Charging beyond 80 percent is something of a fool's game. Plan extra time to ensure you've got enough charge. Camping out at rapid chargers is considered bad practice: charge up and move on!

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