Before buying electric vehicle charging stations, know this

Image credit: Paul Krueger via Flickr

Different charging station standards mean you need to be smart about the station you buy

Maybe you want to put a charging station by your business for customers to use. Perhaps you have a business plan to install a number of charging stations along a popular motorway. Or you might want to install neighborhood or city charging stations.

The first thing you must know is that not all DC (direct current) fast charging stations will charge all electric car models. A Nissan Leaf generally needs a different type of charging station than a Chevy Volt. The main point of confusion is that there are two DC fast charging station standards currently competing for the market: Combo and CHAdeMO. In addition to Combo and CHAdeMO DC fast charging stations, AC charging stations can provide a slower charge to a greater number of vehicle models.

Here’s a visual of several multi-standard charging stations. It illustrates which charging station standard is most likely to match which brand of car.


So that makes three main types of charging station on the market: DC Combo fast chargers, DC CHAdeMO fast chargers and AC chargers. Lastly, one other factor to consider is Tesla, which makes its own charging stations. Tesla cars are only compatible with the company’s own DC fast chargers.

This battle of standards is particularly important for charging station buyers. Without proper planning, different charging station standards could cost you big money.

AC charging stations

Most home charging stations are AC (alternating current)  stations since home electricity outlets provide an alternating current. There are two types of AC charging station.

The first type, called Level 1, basically means charging the car from an ordinary household outlet.  Using a standard home AC electrical outlet, you can charge most electric vehicles. However, this is also the slowest way to charge a car. Charging a Nissan Leaf straight from an electrical outlet in the United States could take as long as 22 hours.

The second type, Level 2 AC chargers, speed up charging considerably. A level 2 AC “semi fast” 20 kW charger can charge a vehicle in several hours. This type of charging station is one of the most common public charging stations. It’s suitable for commercial fleets, urban areas and as an alternative to DC fast charging at service stations. The benefit of a 20 kW AC charger is that most commercial and urban areas would not need to make big changes to their power infrastructure, which is sometimes impossible in historic, protected areas.

SAE Combo DC fast charging stations

For most commercial EV charging station buyers, the confusion about which stations to buy begins when you look at DC fast charging stations.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the organization that sets the standard for aerospace and automotive industry technology, settled on the SAE Combo as an EV charging station standard. The Combo is the charging standard most used by European and North American auto makers. Combo describes a type of DC fast charging station that can give a car an 80% charge in just 15-30 minutes.

However, for a long time the default DC fast charging station in the United States was CHAdeMO, not Combo. Whether this will change over time is still uncertain. The first Combo fast charging station has just been installed in San Diego at the Fashion Valley Mall.

CHAdeMO DC fast charging stations

CHAdeMO, on the other hand, is the standard most used by Asian car manufacturers. Like the Combo, the CHAdeMO DC fast charger can charge a car battery about 80% in just 15-30 minutes.

At this time, the main advantage to buying a CHAdeMO charging station is that there are far more cars on the road that are compatible with CHAdeMO than with Combo. However, with Combo adopted as the standard in North America and Europe it’s far from certain which standard will ultimately be most widely used.

One charging station to rule them all

ABB Terra 53 CJG multi-standard charging station

Fortunately, charging stations are now entering the market that bring together these different standards all in one charging station. Multi-standard chargers can come with Combo, CHAdeMO and AC charging types, or a combination of two of the three.

A nation-wide infrastructure of 200 of these multi-standard EV charging stations, spaced 50 kilometers apart, is now under construction in the Netherlands, following another nation-wide DC fast charging station roll-out recently completed in Estonia.

If you’re in the market for commercial charging stations, it’s also worth knowing that the ABB multi-standard received CE marking last month. The certification demonstrates compliance with the relevant European Union directives for safety.

Installing electric vehicle charging stations can be a great way for existing businesses to win customer appreciation. It’s also an increasingly attractive business model. However, before you buy the stations make certain to know the difference between the DC fast charging station standards. If you have questions about which charging stations are right for your business, contact an ABB representative.

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About the author

Gavin Hudson

Global social media manager at ABB headquarters in Zurich. My background is in blogging and print journalism, covering renewable energy and the environment. At ABB, it's fascinating being surrounded by experts in cleantech and energy efficiency technologies. Outside of work, I enjoy running, swimming, cycling, skiing, and most other outdoor sports. I did the Ironman Zurich in 2012, and have run several marathons. I also enjoy learning and sharing languages.
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