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The VHS-Betamax war of electric cars is about to be decided

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
More electric vehicles doesn't have to mean more types of chargers.
  • Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate reporter


Earth is a single planet divided by dozens of different electrical plug standards. As world travelers (and device manufacturers) know, there is a frustrating babble of incompatible pins, prongs, and plugs out there. As electrification first spread across the globe in the 1900s, no one paid attention to making them all work together. When a global standard finally arrived in 1986—the Type N—it came far too late: Only Brazil and South Africa have adopted it.

Now the world has a second chance to get it right. The next great electric revolution will put 120 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in the next 10 years. McKinsey, a consulting firm, estimates 40 million chargers will be needed in China, Europe, and the United States to support them, a $50 billion investment. In the age of globalization, the market must escape the same maze of adapters that beleaguered the first wave of electrification.

“EVs are still in early stages of the VHS-Betamax rivalry,” says Ramteen Sioshansi, an engineering professor at Ohio State University. Energy services firm Enel X reports there are now nine major EV connectors around the world, often several in the same country. Each is slightly different.

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