The UK Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment association, a trade body that represents suppliers of charging stations and charging station management systems, has written a strongly-worded letter asking a UK charity to cease the promotion of do-it-yourself charging stations.
The letter, which was sent to Zero Carbon World – a UK charity seeking to clear the confusion, bureaucracy and profiteering surrounding decarbonisation – explicitly states that the charity, or the founder, could be held responsible for any negative consequences from the use of DIY charging stations.
DIY charging stations, or charging stations that are assembled by the consumer from components, have been a mainstay in the electric vehicle world for years. From US drivers upgrading their electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) to use more than 120V, to UK drivers wanting to get the full 16/32A when out and about rather than the standard 10A all the way to community projects like OpenEVSE, allowing anyone with electrical knowledge to power their car from any ‘dumb’ socket.
An EVSE, or more colloquially a charging station, is the device the car is plugged into. It ‘talks’ to the car to agree a charging rate that is the fastest and safest rate both the car and the power supply can support.
However the UK EVSE – who is backed by Cenex and whose members include UK charging station infrastructure providers ChargeMaster, Charge Point and Charge Your Car along with EVSE suppliers Rolec, EVEO, Siemens and Electromotive – believe that these DIY solutions are potentially unsafe.
In the letter to Zero Carbon World the UK EVSE states:
Members agree that the promotion of DIY charging points is highly problematic and runs the risk of resulting in inferior and poorly constructed charging points, which in many cases will not have the correct testing and certification required.
Potentially hazardous DIY charging points could result in injury to personnel, fires, or damage to the Electric Vehicle, which is something the industry must avoid.
In the UK, a home charging station installed by an approved supplier can receive a 75% reduction in costs, paid directly to the installer and capped at £1000 under the Government’s Domestic Chargepoint Grant assuming certain conditions are met. These conditions include a data logging device which sends information to the supplier of the equipment and then on to the Government. Many suppliers offer installation for free, absorbing the final 25% cost themselves.
Five members of the UK EVSE are on the approved supplier list for this scheme.
However, if a driver doesn’t want their data logged, or doesn’t have a mobile phone data signal at their house they either have to pay the full cost or go with a DIY solution. But the UK EVSE see these DIY solutions as dangerous.
Robert Evans, Chair of the UK EVSE, told us: “UK EVSE members believe charge points are best supplied as certified, accredited and warranted equipment, installed only by qualified electricians adhering to UK (BS7671) wiring regulations and following the IET Code of Practice for Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment Installation.”
He went on to say: “Members are concerned that a poorly constructed DIY charge point installed at a home or commercial premises could result in injury to personnel, fires, or damage to electric vehicles.”
But proponents of DIY charging stations do not agree that their products are any less safe than commercial charging stations. Chris Howell, founder of the OpenEVSE project – an open source hardware and software EVSE project said: “A charging station is a very simple device, it is basically a smart power cord. Once the conditions are right the switch turns on, if not it stays off… OpenEVSE was the first major and the largest DIY Charging Station project at an estimated 1500 OpenEVSE boards built to date. Safety was the primary design concern, only a few highly qualified people got to see the early schematics and source code. Four versions of the OpenEVSE were designed and extensively tested by professionals before the sources were released to the public.”
We asked him about his views on the safety of DIY charging stations in light of the UK EVSE letter.
“DIY charging stations based on OpenEVSE are not inherently unsafe. OpenEVSE was designed to be as safe if not safer than the state of the art commercial units,” Howell said. “To date there are an estimated 1500+ OpenEVSE devices in the wild, there have been zero reports of damage or injuries to any person or property. OpenEVSE implements all of the required safety checks and strictly conforms to the SAE J1772 standard which ensures safety and compatibility.”
Zero Carbon World, the charity who received the letter, used to sell DIY charging station kits and components through their online shop. This shop closed early this year but the components they sold can be bought from other re-sellers.
We believe the UK EVSE takes issue with a video on their YouTube channel entitled EVSE Build Day. This shows their founder, Kevin Sharpe, along with two other people and a camera man building three 32A portable EVSE chargers. This video has had 2634 views as of today.
Kevin Sharpe, founder and patron of Zero Carbon World, said: “The EVSE Build Day video was produced by four long term electric car owners, educated to PHD level, and with more than 100 years experience in the electrical, electronics, aviation, and the space industries. Safety was uppermost in everyones mind with multiple references to testing and approval of the final product by qualified third parties.
“The EVSE demonstrated contained only CE marked, off the shelf components, from UK EVSE members Rolec and Siemens, together with ITT, Mainpine, and Phoenix Contact. All components are widely used in the UK EVSE Industry and will be found inside the EVSEs in many homes and businesses today.”
We reached out to the electric vehicle drivers association UK (EVDA-UK) an organisation representing electric and plug in drivers in the UK. Matt Beard, Chair of the group, said: “The EVDA-UK supports the principle of competent individuals building electric vehicle related equipment as long as it is done safely and with regard to any relevant regulations. It is accepted in the UK that members of the public are free to buy electrical components from DIY stores and use these to build or modify electrical circuits. There are regulations covering the specifics of how these circuits are connected and tested and it is common practice that the instructions with such components will point this out to the purchaser. I see no reason why EVSE components should be treated differently than other electrical components. I am seriously concerned by the implication that only members of a certain trade body should be allowed to sell these items.”
Projects world-wide are looking into ways people with electric and plug in cars can get the most from charging at home or out and about. Electric Motor Werks, based in Palo Alto, California, successfully funded a KickStarter campaign for their JuiceBox charging station. This sells at $149 which they claim is 3 – 4 times lower than current EVSEs on the US market. At under £100 this makes it less than 10% of the price of current UK Government-subsidised charging stations assuming a company applies for the full £1000 grant (although this doesn’t take the cost of installation into account).
Valery Miftakhov, founder of Electric Motor Werks, Inc, said: “Specifically on the JuiceBox kit: all kits feature all-metal enclosure for superior fire protection unmatched by vast majority of the ‘production’ designs. All electrical safety requirements are met – full interlock per J1772 spec, GFI protection, etc.
“To date, out of several hundred JuiceBox kits, there were no safety issues/incidents reported. In addition, hundreds of factory-assembled JuiceBoxes using the same design are in operation without any safety issues, as well.
“All that said, of course a DIY kit – however good the design quality is – can be sloppily assembled and be a hazard. Every individual builder should honestly evaluate his or her skills before attempting such a project. The level of voltage and power are dangerous and require full respect and attention.”
That sentiment was echoed by a spokesperson at Plug In America who told us: “As electric vehicle supply equipment typically operates at high voltages and at high currents – factors that can lead to risk of electrocution and fires, we feel that consumers should be guided to choose tested and warranted products however, Plug In America supports the freedom of choice that acts as the catalyst for change and, we cannot endorse efforts to restrict the sale, supply or use of DIY kits and components that are clearly documented for safe and reliable use.”
Proponents of DIY charging stations are quick to point out that for a suitably experienced and trained enthusiast, building one is no different to adding electrical wiring to ones home. But they also say they are not the project for a novice to take on.
What do you think? Can the consumer have choice and safety or is safety only possible with the removal of choice? Let us know what you think below. Do you have a DIY charging station? Do you think DIY charging stations are dangerous? Leave a comment.
Disclaimer: Both Mark and Nikki have worked for Zero Carbon World in the past but no longer do. When requested, all interview questions were seen by a member of Transport Evolved who had no connection with the company.
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