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Second-generation Volvo C30 Electric proves practical: AC trumps DC

Let's face it: electric cars can't refuel from empty to full quite as quickly as petrol ones. But because most electric cars on sale today can easily drive between 60 and 80 miles on a full charge -and recharge at night when you're asleep- it's not usually a problem.

While overnight charging constitutes most of your EV's charging however, there are occasions when you need to top up during the day. With DC rapid charging now at various motorway service stations across the UK, you'd be forgiven for thinking that sub-30 minute refuelling is the answer.

But as I discovered this week, availability and practicality sometimes trump speed.

Sensible Swedes

It's Wednesday morning, and I'm sitting in a briefing room at Volvo headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. I, and three other journalists, are being given a quick technical rundown by Volvo engineers on the second generation C30 electric hatchback.

The new Volvo C30 Electric charges up even faster

Started back in 2009, Volvo's all-electric C30 test fleet have covered hundreds of thousands of miles across Europe, providing many of Volvo's business lease customers their first experience with an electric car. Being Swedish, the first generation C30 electric prototypes were also hardy, capable of operating in bitter Arctic weather without batting an electrical eyelid. The Volvo C30 Electric plugged in

Building on the successes of the first-generation prototypes, the 100-strong fleet of second generation Volvo C30 Electrics will have a slightly more powerful motor and power electronics from German electronics firm Siemens, but retain the same battery pack, design elements and winter-ready kit as their predecessors.

What's different however, is how it charges. Unlike the first generation, which was kitted out with a puny 3.3 kilowatt on-board charger, the second-generation cars have a 22 kilowatt on-board charger from Swiss firm Brusa. With the right charging station, it can replenish the C30's battery pack from 30% empty to 90 per cent full in as little as 90 minutes.

Cost

I know what some of you are thinking: "90 minutes? That's slow! Ha! The Nissan LEAF, Citroen C-Zero, Mitsubishi i-Miev, Peugeot iOn and Renault ZOE all charge much faster!"

Volvo C30 ElectricYou'd be right. The first four can charge to 80 per cent full in 30 minutes using a suitable 50 kilowatt CHAdeMO direct-current charging station. The ZOE can do something similar using a dedicated high-power 43 kilowatt AC rapid charging station.

But both DC and AC rapid charging solutions rely on expensive, external charging stations capable of handling the high power (400 Volts, three phase at 64 or 125 Amps) needed to charge an electric car in under 30 minutes. Because of the amount of power involved, these charging stations are normally complicated, time-consuming and expensive to install.

Lower-power charging stations, like the 22 kilowatt, three-phase Type 2 (Mennenkes) units now found at many locations across Europe, are substantially cheaper to build and install. Cheaper means more of them, which not only increases redundancy when things go wrong, but also means less detours just to find somewhere to charge quickly.

It's on-board

Just like the Renault ZOE -- which can recharge at up to 22 kW using regular Type 2 charging stations as well as the more expensive AC rapid charge stations detailed above -- Volvo's latest prototype is completely flexible when it comes to charging.

Feed it 240-volt, 16 amp single-phase power from a domestic charging station and it will charge to full in about 8 hours. Give it a 240-volt, 32 amp single-phase feed and it will charge in 4. Three phase, 11kW charging would take around 2.5 hours to 90 per cent, while the highest 22kW rate just 90 minutes.

All without having to switch between different connectors or cables.

Winning Flush

I'd love to say that the C30 Electric prototype I drove this week blew me away with its driving characteristics, or tell you it's coming to a dealership near you soon. Sadly I can't : the C30 second generation drives and feels like its predecessor, and Volvo has no plans to bring the C30 electric in its current form to market.

Volvo C30 Electric on the road

But the demonstration of 22 kW charging technology has proven to me that it is the sweet spot for EV charging.

While slower than the dedicated, expensive DC and AC rapid charging systems, 22 kW charging makes it possible to stop for lunch and recharge wherever there's a suitable three-phase power supply. Since most places you'll want to stop for 90 minutes -- like pubs, restaurants and malls -- have enough capacity to provide the required power without major rewiring, it's even theoretically possible to use an ad-hoc power source, like those big red, three-phase sockets you sometimes see in commercial kitchens.

For that reason, I'm hoping my next EV has three-phase AC, not DC charging as standard.

Volvo 30 Electric rear

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Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield

Filed under: Volvo, Weekly Column

1 comment

Kashish

Can anyone please tell me the type of RCD being used in China for the Electric charging stations and also the standard for the Chinese Electric car charging station protection devices.

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