The History and Future of Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment

Blog Post created by bryan.holland on Jan 26, 2017

An article dedicated to electric vehicle charging requirements was added to the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) in the 1996 edition. This would lead some to believe the 1990’s was the origin of the electric vehicle industry.  The true history of the electric vehicle actually dates back to the mid 1800’s and was one of the first markets for the electric motor, storage battery, and distribution equipment manufacturers. 

Between 1834 and 1896, small-scale production of electric vehicles helped develop public interest in the technology. Electric vehicles could outperform both steam and gas powered automobiles of that era.  The first car dealership in the U.S. sold only electric vehicles.  The first auto race in the U.S. was won by an electric vehicle.  By 1900, large-scale production of electric vehicles ushered in the first golden age of the electric vehicle industry.  At the time the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, 40,000+ electric vehicles were on the road from nearly a dozen manufacturers.  The most popular vehicle during this period was the Detroit Electric manufactured by the Anderson Electric Car Company.  Between 1907 and 1939, the company produced roughly 13,000 electric vehicles.

Early manufacturers of electric vehicle motors included General Electric, Lincoln Electric, and Westinghouse Electric. The “slow-speed” type of motor was adopted by the majority of manufacturers.  The 80 volt motors operated at 800 to 900 rpm and could push a 700-pound to 5-ton vehicle up to 30-mph.  There were two storage battery types used during the early development of the electric vehicle.  The first and most common was the standard lead-acid battery.  At least six different manufacturers produced lead-acid storage batteries in the early 1900’s with the largest being the Electric Storage Battery Company.  This battery was marketed under the name “Exide” which was short for Excellent Oxide.  The other popular battery was the Edison Alkaline Storage Battery which cost twice as much as the standard lead-acid battery but also had superior performance.  The Edison Alkaline Storage Battery owned approximately 25 percent of the pleasure vehicle market and 50 percent of the delivery truck and taxi market. Storage batteries of this era had a life of about 9,000 miles through rectified charging methods.  8-12 hours of charging time was needed at a normal rate of use.    

Electric vehicle supply equipment available in the early 1900’s included direct DC charging from a 110-220 VDC source or via AC rectifying from a 500-600 volt source. The most common AC rectifiers in use during this era included motor generators, rotary converters, and mercury arc rectifiers.  There were over a dozen EVSE manufacturers by 1920 with the largest and most popular being General Electric, the Cutler-Hammer Mfg. Co., Westinghouse/Cooper-Hewitt, Allen-Bradley Co., and the Lincoln Electric Company.  700 documented charging stations were in operation in the U.S. at the start of World War I.  Unfortunately, there were also 38 separate charging plug configurations adopted by the Electric Vehicle Association of America at the time.    

Prior to the 1996 edition of the NEC®, requirements for electric vehicle supply equipment were scattered throughout the code.  The earliest editions of the code contained requirements for charging cables, charging panels, storage batteries, and motor generators.  Many of these rules could be found in Article 33 of the code dating before the 1937 edition.  The 1937 NEC® reorganized the code into the Chapter & Article format still used to this very day.  Section 5109 of that edition included requirements for battery charging.  The 1947 NEC® revised the tile to Electric Vehicle Charging and moved the rules to Section 5133.  In the 1953 and 1956 editions of the code, electric vehicle charging could be found in Section 5105.h.  The code format changed again in 1959 placing electric vehicle charging requirement in Section 511-8.  The final location for electric vehicle charging could be found in Section 511-9 of the 1993 NEC®. Article 625 of the 2017 NEC® has four parts, twenty-three articles, and includes twenty definitions. 

Rapid development of the gasoline powered vehicle, the lack of electrical infrastructure outside of cities, and the great depression brought an end to the first golden age of the electric vehicle. Many of the early EVSE manufacturers transitioned into electric power distribution, equipment for premise wiring systems, and away from electrical vehicle supply equipment development.  The electric vehicle industry remained mostly stagnant during the rest of the 20th century with only a few small-scale and concept vehicle productions.

Many electric vehicle enthusiasts would claim we are now in the midst of the second golden age of the electric vehicle. An estimated 570,000 electric vehicles are on the road today utilizing the 70,000+ charging stations available throughout the country.  Advancements in electrical vehicle supply equipment will continue to be the most essential component of the electric vehicle industry.  The availability, speed, and convenience of electric vehicle charging will need to be comparable to fueling gasoline powered vehicles in order for the industry to fully disrupt and overtake the transportation industry.

Forward thinking is required by transportation administrations, community leaders, and property developers. A sufficient number of charging stations will be needed at most public parking lots and garages to accommodate the growing number of electric vehicles being produced and sold each and every year.  “EV-Ready” initiatives are already underway in many states and local jurisdictions, but further progress is needed in every state of the nation.  In an article titled “Seeing Ahead for the Electric Vehicle” written for Electric Vehicles Magazine in the February 1917 issue, Thomas Edison was quoted as saying; “The growth of the electric vehicle has been hindered by lack of charging facilities.  It’s a funny business when so few central stations realize that there is a market for the sale of current for charging electric cars.  The public is in a curious position of wanting to buy something for which there is no place to go.  It is easy to see that we can never expect the electric to come into its own until we have more intelligence and reliability in the places where cars are charged.  Sometimes I think the men who ought to see ten years ahead see only to next week.”  These sentiments hold true to this very day, an entire century since they were first stated.

NEMA represents the manufacturers of EVSE products and assemblies to support the development of the EVSE market by leading efforts to educate the public on the features and value of the electric vehicle supply equipment infrastructure around the world. The Section provides a forum for industry efforts to develop consistent positions for domestic and international codes and standards ensuring safety and interoperability of equipment, to build support for the EVSE market through marketing programs and business information, to organize a unified industry position on legislative and regulatory issues, to develop collaborative efforts, such as training programs with members of the EVSE supply channel, including contractors and installers, to align efforts with major stakeholders in the electric vehicle market, including auto manufacturers, utilities, and the federal government, and to drive business and technology change with global strategies for an EVSE sector.