Charin downplays truck charging standard delays
Industry alliance bogged down in standardisation procedures, but says future payoff is worth the wait
The US electric trucking segment is set to establish a new megawatt charging system (MCS) standard potentially as early as 2024, aiming to bring unprecedented speed and power to electric vehicle charging. But a lack of clarity around timeline is mounting pressure on the industry to bring MCS to market.
MCS is being developed by the Charging Interface Initiative, or Charin, an international industry alliance comprised of over 320 stakeholders, which works to promote standardisation in the field of charging systems. With MCS in the prototype phase, a potentially long wait now looms for the final approval from standards bodies.
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However, after Arizona-based battery technology company NXU left Charin in July, citing its impatience with the organisation’s timeline, how long will industry players be willing to wait?
The new system will charge with a maximum of 1,250V and 3,000A and with a power level of up to 3.75MW, more than ten times the power of DC fast charging, which typically reaches up to 350kW.
The Tesla Semi, for example, a large class eight truck, has a battery capacity of around 900kWh. This means that DC charging at 300kW would take three hours or more to charge the truck fully. The freight industry simply cannot afford these wait times.
The business case for MCS is therefore very compelling, as it will help allow HDVs to charge sufficiently within mandated 45-minute break times for drivers. Charin also says that the charge points will be able to be automated so that drivers will not even need to plug in the connector, which helps it not to be classed as work under labour laws.
MCS is designed to enable charging HDVs of class six and above along highways, as opposed to depot charging, which can be done overnight with far less power.
“The use case is really the heavy-duty truck charging and that contributes most to CO2 footprint,” Charin chairman Claas Bracklo tells EV inFocus. “You have this inner-city delivery, grocery shop stuff but that can easily be handled with the Combined Charging Standard (CCS). But long distance needs these 1MW+ chargers, because the business case is fine if you can recharge while the driver has his break time.”
Charin is aiming for MCS highway charging to be situated in existing truck stops and service stations, although in many cases it will “need a bit more space because the truck is standing longer at the ‘pump’ [charger] compared to today, and that requires a bit more land space and that seems to be really a critical point today”, Bracklo says.
But what about the impact on the grid from demand for several megawatts of power? Bracklo admits that “in principle it sounds unbelievable, these megawatts”. Indeed, 4MW is around the amount of power used by a large commercial building, Garret Fitzgerald, senior director of electrification at the Smart Electric Power Alliance, a Washington-based carbon-free power non-profit, tells EV inFocus.
These buildings typically have much longer planning horizons than roadside charging stations, making it easier for grids to plan their distribution accordingly. With shorter build times that any rapid uptick in demand for highway HDV charging might require, though, it may be harder for grids to be able to plan around the higher-powered chargers that an MCS rollout could facilitate.
Despite the large headline numbers, Bracklo assures that the demand for electricity via MCS chargers “is not a dramatic increase just from the truck side”.
“If we see the number of trucks compared to the expected number of vehicles, we have ten times more passenger vehicles than trucks if they are all electrified. One truck demands ten times more than a passenger vehicle, causing the same [energy demand],” he says.
Charin is aiming to utilise as much crossover technology from its CCS standard to reduce time to market. Conversations are ongoing about certain components, however, and connector hardware has been a bone of contention in Charin, with Bracklo admitting that “with the first prototype with the square shaped MCS connector, we have had some arguments to go to the triangle shape”.
Charin finally unveiled and demonstrated MCS with a triangular connector in June last year. And now that the connector hardware is more settled, Charin members are having no problems rolling out design prototypes.
“We are now in the prototype phase, so in principle it is ready, it is done,” Bracklo says. “And we have 17 charger manufacturers currently building prototypes. We have 18 truck manufacturers building those prototypes. We have 13 cable connector companies and 10 charge point operators.”
And retaining as much as possible from CCS is a key element in spurring user uptake, as well as in speeding up standardisation.
“The cable is a bit thicker, the connector a bit bigger, but that is nothing which is completely new or different or not understandable,” Bracklo says, adding that — once standardisation is complete — buildout of MCS charging “is just a scaling factor, and that is the benefit”.
But the main challenge – and the principal reason for the long-term timeline – is the standardisation process. This requires patience from all involved with the development of MCS – patience that not everyone has had with Charin.
US OEM Tesla, for example, was a member of the Charin MCS taskforce but decided to go to market early, before the finalisation of the standard, with its North American Charging Standard (NACS). Tesla says that NACS can support 1MW charging, which the company’s Semi truck will use.
Similar concerns led to the departure of NXU from Charin in June. NXU also wanted to integrate AC charging into their products, and Bracklo admits that “it could make sense to integrate AC and DC charging […] but within the MCS charging group, the majority said the use case is DC”.
“We need that megawatt charging for long haul transport and there is no use case for AC,” he contends.
This is just one example of the competing interests which emerge within such a large collaborative body. “The challenge is to agree and to align this big community. And so there are sometimes different interests of parties and somebody has an advantage by slowing that down,” the Charin man confesses.
But Bracklo, a veteran of CCS standardisation from his time at German OEM BMW, is sure that — despite occasional competing interests among Charin members — cross-industry collaboration shortens time to market in the long run.
“If you start from scratch, it costs you 8-10 years. And so we have sorted out all of the complications and the standardisation is just for the final step to make a formal standard out of that,” he says. “But nevertheless, all these procedures, they will somehow lead us into the last part of 2024.”
Ultimately, the future applications of MCS and its ability to contribute to the business case of electric freight trucking make the waiting worth it for Bracklo. “What is a year?” he asks, considering the vast benefits of megawatt charging that will be felt across other industries such as shipping, aviation, and mining, as well as automotive.