EV Chargers Getting Closer To Mimicking The Gas Station Experience (But Not There Yet)

For EVs to really take off, it’s going to take a massive societal shift in behavior, or technological advances that make it as easy to charge a car as it is to fill it up. A new breed of chargers is getting closer, but are they close enough?

Say what you will about gasoline, but it’s quick and easy to refuel. A tank of gasoline packs an incredible punch. A dozen gallons propels you and a ton of metal for hundreds of miles. A similar ease and speed is needed to refuel electric vehicles if they are to appeal to the masses and the replace internal combustion engines everyone loves so much.

Called Level III charging by car manufacturers, the fast-charge technology is in development around the world. Breakthroughs have made it out of the lab in the last few years, but real stations may arrive sooner then expected in the US. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said this month the company will install a 90 kW "super charger" between Los Angeles and San Francisco, which will take 30 minutes to give Tesla cars enough power to drive 150 miles. Only two similar stations are publicly available in the U.S.: one in Portland, Oregon, and the other in Vacaville, California, according to GreenCarReports.com, although 300 more are planned. (Characteristically, Japan already has more than 530 such charge points).

Others such as Blink charging stations for homes and businesses, created by the firm ECOtality, are already up and running. The company is managing The EV Project which will install 15,000 commercial and residential charging stations in 16 major metropolitan areas in six states and the District of Columbia. The $230 million project is funded with a matching $114.8 million private investment and matching grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. When it’s done, it will have built the energy infrastructure for at least 8,300 grid-connected vehicles—including Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt—at locales from Tennessee Cracker Barrels to the highway corridor stretching from Portland to San Diego. And the Sumitomo Company also recently announced a $9,000 charger for the Nissan Leaf, which will charge the car 80% in 30 minutes, which is expected to hit the market in January 2012.

Of course, all of this is dwarfed by existing energy infrastructure for gasoline and diesel vehicles. The EV revolution, if it ever happens, will demand a concerted to make the transition from pumps to plugs.

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  • Francisco Távora

    I am really perplexed by this line of thinking, yet it is pervasive and delaying the mass adoption of EV's by decades. Charging an EV should be as simple as driving to the (Gas) Station, getting out of the car, pulling out the dead batteries and putting in fully charged ones. That way, all that charging takes place at the gas station while you are somewhere else doing something useful or fun.

    For this to happen, all you need is a standard for EV batteries in terms of size and connectivity. Then, EV battery manufacturers can compete on battery technology. EV makers can concentrate on making better vehicles without having to worry about battery tech. The car buyer can purchase a car without worrying that the battery tech will become obsolete.

    What will the (Gas) Station specialize in? Charging technology and power purchasing. The (Gas) station can buy from the grid, generate it on site (wind, solar, whatever), or even sell back to the grid at peak times if battery demand is low and grid demand is high.

    Further advantages?

    The "range" problem solves itself. If you want to drive 500 miles, pop in 8 batteries. Are you visiting the (Gas) Station every 50 miles? Then drive around with just 2 batteries, with weight AND cost savings. Want to build an electric motorcycle? Make room for just one battery. Want to build an electric Stretch Escalade? Make room for 12 batteries.

    Someone has to explain to me very slowly why EV manufacturers are locking customers in a soon to be obsolete battery technology by building non-replaceable batteries into the vehicles. I am just not understanding it.