Over the past few years, electric vehicles (EV) have been gaining traction in their bid to replace combustion-engine powered automobiles. Big companies like Tesla, General Motors, and Nissan have led the way in making more and more EV options available to the general public. Their recent strides have created the impression that EV technology is still somewhat new, but that’s not the case.
In fact, EV technology has been a part of the automotive landscape since the 1800s, and at one point accounted for almost a full one-third of all vehicles on the road. In the early 1900s, industrial heavyweights Henry Ford and Thomas Edison even came tantalizingly close to making a mass-produced EV a reality. One of the factors that slowed their progress was the poor availability of charging infrastructure to support wide-scale EV use.
Those same problems linger today. It wasn’t until Tesla started to build out its supercharger network that EVs became an attractive alternative to gasoline-powered cars. Their charging network, though, is not the first. On the contrary, EV charging technology has been developing for almost as long as EVs themselves have existed. Here’s a look at the evolution of electric car chargers.
The Electric Stable
As odd as it may sound today, the first EV charging stations were known as electric stables. They were essentially large automobile garages outfitted with specialized equipment for battery charging. That equipment consisted of high voltage electrical service and power converters to provide the necessary DC power used with early EV batteries. For larger fleets, they may have also featured a battery room that allowed for the fast swapping of batteries to eliminate downtime. That was the preferred method to support commercial EVs like trucks and other hauling vehicles. Although primitive by today’s standards, they didn’t look a whole lot different than the charging stations of today.
The Rise of Hybrid EVs
After falling out of favor in the early 20th century, EVs didn’t reappear with any regularity until the introduction of the hybrid Toyota Prius in 1997. While not powered by electricity alone, it featured a battery and electric motor system that greatly increased its fuel efficiency. The internal batteries were kept charged by the Prius’s small combustion engine and the energy recovered while coasting or braking. This internal charging mechanism played an important role in convincing the general public that EV technology could be viable, and was a key milestone in spurring development of future EV charging systems.
The Home Plug-in Charger
The most recent all-electric EVs entered service with an internal power converter that allowed the vehicles to charge by plugging into a standard residential 110-volt outlet. The charging method, which is known as Level 1 charging, is now standard in every mass-market EV in use today. Using this method, and depending on the vehicle, it takes between 8 and 24 hours to fully charge an EV’s batteries.
For those who desire a faster solution, most EVs also have the option of using an external charging unit that connects to a 240-volt outlet, like the kind used for major household appliances. This is known as Level 2 charging and allows for a full charge to be obtained in approximately four hours, depending on the vehicle.
Public Charging Stations
The most recent innovation in EV charging technology has been the deployment of public charging stations, which allow for EV charging while on-the-go. The most well-known of them, of course, is the Tesla Supercharger network, which now boasts 13,344 charging units around the world. For the most part, however, those stations are only capable of charging Tesla EVs.
For drivers of other EV brands, however, there is a large and growing public charger network, too. By the end of 2017, there were already 47,117 EV charging points in the US alone. Together, they represent a network that now makes it possible for current-generation EV owners to travel from coast to coast without running out of power – which is a key step on the road to EVs surpassing gasoline-powered vehicles permanently.
The Future of EV Charging
Judging by the quick pace of development and improvements in EV charging methods and infrastructure, it likely won’t be long until using an EV is as convenient as using a gasoline-powered vehicle. Already, the latest generation of Tesla superchargers can now add 75 miles of range in 5 minutes of charge time, bringing the EV experience ever closer to that of other vehicles. As the technology improves, and solar power augments vehicle charging options – there’s going to be no limit to how far EVs will take us. At that point, we’ll be that much closer to the cleaner, greener future that we all want and need.