China aim to lead in EV standards tough; ANSI aims to have a say in China standards nonetheless
This May, China approached the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) www.ansi.org with a request to hold a workshop on electric vehicle standards in Beijing. The workshop will be held July 23rd and is a stepping stone in China’s plan to be a leader in electric vehicle standards. Success on that front will be tough, not least because it will require more openness from China than it is used to or comfortable with. But the meeting also serves an important purpose for ANSI.
Just a few years ago, China aimed to be the pure electric vehicle production and sales leader. It figured that its dominance in the consumer good lithium-ion battery industry would give it an insurmountable lead in the pure EV industry. http://www.greencarcongress.com/2010/10/12th-five-year-plan-for-chinas-auto-industry-to-make-new-energy-vehicles-priority.html But producing a li-ion battery for an electric car (and all the systems that make the car actually run) turned out to be a lot tougher than making one for a mobile phone. So that plan stalled. Not one to give up on a goal which after all was immortalized in the 12th Five Year Plan (2010-2015) Beijing adjusted. Now it is focusing on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the near term and leaving pure electric vehicle domination as a future goal.
Beijing would still like to be a leader in the EV industry, however, and it sees standards as another possible candidate. To accomplish that, it is wholeheartedly engaging in, and planning, lots of international events related to EV standards, from workshops to conferences. They are useful to learn and, probably as a future goal, lobby participants to support Chinese standards. “Being part active in the international standardization is a big part of the strategy,” Elise Owen, ANSI’s director of international development told me. “But China will be pushing for Chinese technologies and solutions, too.” The meetings are also strategic for ANSI, however.
Chinese participation in the International Organization for Standardization ( ISO) www.iso.org and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), www.iec.ch two international standards bodies, has “catapulted” in the last few years, says Owen. “I have never seen a country get involved so quickly.” And the involvement isn’t low-level technical apparatchiks, it is top-level government official, she says. “Everything starts with high-level blessing and is implemented from there,” says Owen.
That is one thing that makes ANSI’s work in China different from the U.S., says Owen. In the U.S., the top officials get involved after technical experts have fleshed out a policy. In China, because it is official government policy for China to dominate the EV sector, “high level officials are expected to show what they are doing to advance these things. They are involved to a much greater degree than in other countries.”
I call that meddling, but of course Owen didn’t use that word. ANSI does not take a stand on China’s approach, she says. It just accepts the reality and figures out a way to make it work for ANSI members. In the case of China, that means ANSI gets involved in the policy-making process very early-on. It hopes to influence not just those who formulate the policies but the officials who will ultimately okay it. “By the time things hit the international stage, you might have people at very high levels that have decided on a position,” says Owen.
ANSI wants to ensure that its members’ voices are heard as that position is decided upon. So ANSI President and CEO Joe Bhatia makes the rounds of the related agencies and ministries in China at least once a year. He will also address the workshop in Beijing in July. ANSI is asking China to send equally high-level participants. Workshops are one of the most “strongest tools we have in our arsenal” to influence China’s standard-making, says Owen.
Hoping China uses a U.S. map
In April, ANSI released its Standardization Roadmap for Electric Vehicles. http://www.ansi.org/standards_activities/standards_boards_panels/evsp/overview.aspx?menuid=3 Just to give you an idea of how complicated this standards thing is, ANSI has 365 EV standards from 34 different organizations, Jim McCabe, senior director of standards facilitation told me. (That does include some regulations, he added.) To come up with the Roadmap ANSI considered 22 near-term priorities that it wants to address in the next two years. They fall into three main areas: Vehicles, charging infrastructure, and support services.
In Beijing in July, ANSI will give a fairly in-depth overview of the Roadmap and how it was arrived at. ANSI will ask China to do the same, says Owen. (Good luck with that. China hasn’t announced any detailed standardization plans yet and probably won’t get around to it. More wiggle room that way. But I’m just being cynical….)
China should overcome its inherent secrecy and share how it goes about formulating its standards if it aims to be a leader in standard development. Because international standards call for openness and cooperation. And becoming a leader is is the goal. Zhou Rong of the Automotive Standardization Research Institute at the China Automotive Technology and Research Center (CATARC) www.catarc.ac.cn last year in a presentation to a workshop at Argonne National Lab www.anl.gov summarized China’s strategy as: “The strategy of standards development will be transformed from a follower to a leader.” (Okay, that was a first bullet point. But it set the tone.)
China likely won’t be able to be a leader in all standards. For example, leading in plug standards might be a stretch. China already has a Level 1 and Level 2 plug standard. The Chinese standard resembles the German standard, Ted Bohn, a power electronics engineer at the Advanced Powertrain Research Facility in the Argonne National Laboratory told me last year. But the Chinese standard cuts out an interlocking circuit, he said. The circuit is an extra safety measure; without it, the car could not be sold in the United States, said Bohn.
One area where China may be able to lead in standard development is battery swapping, says ANSI’s McCabe. Last summer, China drafted several standards related to battery swapping, he says, and China is forming a work program within the IEC to take up battery swapping standards at an international level. “This seems to be one area where the Chinese seem to have a lead in the market,” says McCabe.
To be sure, both of China’s state-owned utilities are experimenting with battery swapping. Southern Grid www.eng.csg.cn has a project with Better Place www.betterplace.com in Guangzhou, and State Grid www.sgcc.com.cn has said it will also build some swap stations. But automakers aren’t too keen on the idea, and they have to build EVs that are set up for battery swapping. If the central government thinks China can set an international standard for battery swapping, however, I expect some of the larger state-owned automakers to manufacture some enthusiasm for the idea, and maybe even a few EVs with swappable batteries. Oh, wait a minute, Beijing Auto showed an EV with a swappable battery at EVS25 in Shenzhen in November of 2011. http://www.autoblog.com/2010/04/23/beijing-2010-baic-saab-c60-and-c71-and-swappable-batteries/ Wadda ya know.