The Japanese government plans to ease regulations on the installation of fast-charging electric vehicle stations, aiming to boost Japan’s EV charging infrastructure.
Currently, chargers with an output of more than 200 kilowatts are subject to strict safety measures and other regulations, which can translate to high costs. It takes tens of millions of yen (JPY 10 million equals USD 76,400) in estimated costs to install charging equipment capable of providing 200 kW, and millions of yen each year to operate.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency, which oversees EV charging regulations, plans to amend the relevant ministerial orders by the end of 2023.
“If installation and operating costs become lower, it will make it easier for [fast-charging stations] to proliferate,” said a representative of e-Mobility Power, a unit of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, Japan’s largest power utility.
There are currently no special rules for charging stations with an output of 20 kW or below. Stations that go above 20 kW are required to meet certain safety measures, including those concerning insulation.
Charging stations with an output above 50 kW are subject to additional restrictions, such as mandated distances from buildings. Stations with an output over 200 kW are treated as electrical substations that transform high-voltage currents.
This means 200-kW charging stations installed indoors need to be placed in areas separated by ceilings and walls made of noncombustible material. Depending on the equipment, only certain people are allowed to operate such chargers.
The planned deregulation will place chargers rated at 200 kW and above on the same level as those providing at least 50 kW, pending a determination that the higher output equipment fulfills certain safety requirements. The move is expected to help spur a growing network of fast-charging stations in Japan.
The EV market in Japan has been slow to grow compared with the rest of the world. In November 2022, EVs accounted for just 2% of new vehicle sales in Japan, according to the automotive industry research firm MarkLines. By contrast, EVs accounted for 25% of new vehicle sales in China, 20% in Germany, and 9% in South Korea.
In Japan, EVs enjoy tax incentives and purchasing subsidies that are more generous than other environmentally friendly vehicles. Yet consumers have not flocked to EVs, with the lack of publicly available charging stations among the biggest barriers.
There were roughly 29,000 public charging stations throughout Japan in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). South Korea, which has a considerably smaller population, was home to 107,000 charging stations.
The IEA defines a fast-charging station as one that is capable of outputs above 22 kW. Japan only had 8,000 fast chargers while South Korea had 15,000 stations. China, the world’s largest EV market, had installed 470,000 fast-charging stations.
It takes as many as 10 hours or more to completely charge an EV at home. But Tesla installs 250-kW chargers that can provide 120 kilometers worth of power in five minutes for the Model 3.
The Japanese government hopes to have 150,000 charging stations around the country by 2030, including 30,000 fast-charging stations.
Charging infrastructure is expected to influence the development of EVs themselves. Currently, EV batteries and motors are typically compatible with 400 volts, meaning they may need to be redesigned for 800 volts to be compatible with chargers rated at 200 kW and above.