A new type of EV charging station—one with truly rapid fast-charging and cushy amenities—debuts in Atlanta today, the first North American site that's part of the Mercedes-Benz High Power Charging (HPC) network.
This is the start of a planned network of 400-plus stations across the United States that drivers of all brands of vehicles will have access to.
The ChargePoint-supplied fast-charging system can charge at up to 400 kW, according to Mercedes, which is more speed than current electric vehicles can use.
Even experienced electric-car drivers can be perplexed about EV charging rates, let alone the average car shopper. But everyone agrees that faster is better.
Now charging station company ChargePoint has launched the first of a new line of stations that deliver rates so high that no light-duty electric vehicle today can even handle yet. ChargePoint says its Power Link 2.0 DC fast-charging system can deliver up to 500 kW—compare that to the 350-kW rated maximum at some sites operated by Electrify America and other charging networks. Today, only a handful of EV brands (Porsche was the first) can even charge at rates up to 350 kW, let alone 400 kW and up.
The Power Link 2.0 debuts today at the newly opened first North American location in the Mercedes-Benz High Power Charging (HPC) network announced in January. The Mercedes HPC site, in Atlanta, is one of three opening today: the others are in Chengdu, China, and Mannheim, Germany. Ultimately, the luxury maker expects to have 10,000 stations open globally by 2030.
The new network points the way to the future of EV charging, with amenities coming that include canopies, security cameras, bathrooms, and onsite staff to ensure safety. That's a far cry from most of today's high-speed charging sites, which tend to be located in huge parking lots at big-box stores or retrofitted into interstate travel plazas.
Charging Rates: Remember the “Up To”
Mercedes says that in practice, charging at the HPC sites will run at up to 400 kW, depending on region and charging standard: CCS or NACS (Tesla) for North America; CCS2 for Europe; and GB/T for China.
But it's not hard to imagine that advances in battery architecture and more real-world experience with charging might let EV makers with 800-volt architectures boost peak charging rates in current and future vehicles under optimal circumstances. Note that, in the same way that "your mileage may vary," actual charge speed varies based on a huge variety of factors: remaining battery charge (lower is better for faster charging), battery temperature, ambient temperature, and of course the ability of the station and its power supply line to deliver sustained high rates via liquid-cooled cables. The Express Plus system can charge two vehicles simultaneously at high rates from the same station, though the company didn't define how high those speeds are.
The system is made up of what ChargePoint calls a Power Block, housing up to five Power Modules that can be shared among the different vehicles charging. Current is dynamically allocated among the vehicles, which will be at different stages along their charging curves, meaning not every one will require the maximum rate. Mercedes adds that intelligent charge management will let each vehicle charge at its highest capable rate, cutting the time a driver spends plugged in.
Mercedes-Quality Charging Has a Nice Ring to It
While the first of the new Mercedes HPC network sites is located at the company's North American headquarters in Sandy Springs, Georgia, it says it will open more sites across the Southeast and into Texas before the end of this year.
The key differentiator for the luxury carmaker is "a pleasant and safe customer experience," which has been a pain point for EV drivers—including Tesla drivers, though that company has worked to site charging stations near businesses that offer bathrooms and refreshments of some sort. Mercedes says its locations are located both at its dealers and at "main traffic areas," with nearby amenities that include refreshments, snacks, and restrooms. Canopies at "select" Charging Hubs will offer protection against weather (but why not all, as in gas stations?), and it will install surveillance cameras for safety.
All EV drivers will be able to use the company's HPC charging hubs, but Mercedes drivers can pre-reserve a charging slot via the company's "me Charge" service to eliminate any waiting. As in other brands, the EV's navigation system will plan routes via suitable high-speed charging stations. As it does today, Mercedes will continue to offer the Plug & Charge protocol that allows a driver to plug in and walk away, without having to initiate a charge session before it can start. Validation and payment is handled seamlessly on the back end—just as Tesla has done since the start of its Supercharger network a decade ago.
User Experience Will Only Get Better
Amenities at EV fast-charging sites seem set to become a future competitive advantage as new networks arise. In particular, the upcoming high-speed charge network funded by seven EV makers that was announced in July plans to offer amenities similar to those at airline lounges. Thus far, we have no further details about that entity—even its name—or its plans.
While EV early adopters may have been happy to sit in the middle of a grimly lit Walmart parking lot or alongside another big-box store, or park behind a gas-station hut to use a fast-charger, that experience won't suffice for mass adoption of electric vehicles. Recent JD Power data shows a rise in failed charging attempts this year and lower EV driver satisfaction. So carmakers have reluctantly and belatedly had to realize that unless new EV drivers can have a charging experience at least as pleasant and reliable as what they'd get at a large gas station, they won't sell cars.
Mercedes-Benz is one of a few carmakers setting up its own EV charging network. Tesla, of course, is the giant on that front, with its global Supercharger network—soon to welcome drivers of non-Tesla cars, starting sometime next year. Rivian is setting up its own network as well, and Jeep has said it will install charging stations at trailheads and other remote sites frequented by its drivers.
So the German carmaker is futureproofing its new sites, by choosing ChargePoint hardware that can charge at faster speeds than its EVs can handle today. That's unquestionably smart. The seven years between now and 2030 is a long time in EV evolution.
Meanwhile, we welcome any comments from EV drivers around Atlanta who journey to Sandy Springs and test out the HPC network.
You Might Also Like