How do electric vehicle charging stations work?

Charging your electric car couldn’t be simpler. There are two ways to do it and charging is activated using a card or app provided by the operator

Published on 8 June 2020

How electric vehicle charging columns work | Enel X

One of the main chores for anyone using an electric car is charging its battery.  This can be done at your own home, by plugging into either domestic or industrial sockets, or at a charging station that manages the power delivery, using a cable complete with PWM (Pulse With Modulation), which protects users and keeps them safe during the charging process.

But if you happen to be travelling or are far from home, it is important to be able to find and use charging stations. In most cases, these are activated using either a card or an app provided by the supplier you chose for the service. You use the card or app to start the charging process and then again at the end to finish it. It also helps you keep track of your spending which is normally split between a fixed tariff, which goes to the operator, and a variable fee calculated based on the kW/h you consume.

So far, so simple. But there are certain things you really need to be aware of before using the stations, particularly with regard to the charging method and the type of connector with your vehicle’s socket.

First and foremost, you need to know that these systems must comply with a technical standard, IEC 61851-1, which specifies both safety requirements and connector standards and charging modes.

The standard specifies 4 charging modes, but only two of these, Mode 2 and Mode 3, apply to public stations. Mode 3 is compulsory for all public areas or private areas used by the public, such as car parks in shopping malls and hotels. It is based on the PWM safety standard, as per domestic supplies, and specifies two types of charging both using alternating current (AC), one slow (16 A and 230 V) and one fast (32 A and 400 V). In reality, the duration of the operation depends on a variety of factors such as vehicle type, power available at the charging point, and even the level or state of the battery’s charge.

So-called “Fast DC” stations, on the other hand, use Mode 4 specified by the standard and also direct current (DC) at 200 A and 400 V. This means charging may only take a few minutes, using two standards, one for each of two types of socket: CHAdeMO, used by all Japanese vehicles and some European ones, and CCS Combo, used by most European car makers, particularly German manufacturers.

Generally speaking, electric cars come supplied with two cables, one for Mode 3 charging and the other for Mode 4, which require different types of connectors. So, there shouldn’t be any compatibility problems with stations in Europe but it is always advisable to check the kinds of sockets they have.

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