• DC fast charger opens in San Diego
  • Charged a BMW i3 completely in 30 minutes
  • More DC fast chargers coming

Although many electric vehicle (EV) models give drivers enough battery life to complete their daily commutes and errands, limited range remains an obstacle that keeps would-be EV drivers in conventional vehicles. Of course, fear of being stranded without a charge wouldn't be an issue if charging were improved in two ways. One would be quicker charging, so drivers could stop and top batteries off in the same way conventional drivers top off a gas tank. The second would be broader charging infrastructure, so that drivers could more easily find a convenient charging station.

Work on both solutions is progressing quickly, and one EV charging network recently reached a milestone. NRG eVgo opened the nation's first DC fast charger in San Diego. Unlike conventional home chargers and the Level 2 chargers already in place at charging stations nationwide, DC fast chargers are very quick, charging an electric vehicle's battery pack completely in less than an hour.

To demonstrate the system, NRG eVgo's San Diego DC fast charger completely charged the batteries in the new BMW i3, the automaker's first electric car, in just 30 minutes.

Cliff Fietzek, BMW of North America's manager of Connected eMobility, explained the difference between Level 2 charging and DC fast charging. "Public DC Combo Fast Charging Infrastructure installations in the U.S. ... will offer our customers the ability to recharge their EV in less than 30 minutes instead of the three hours needed with conventional 220-volt [Level 2] public charging stations," Fietzek said.

Further DC fast charging infrastructure is "growing," according to BMW, but not all EV drivers will be able to take advantage of it. The reason is that a special charging port is needed to connect an electric car to a DC fast charger. The new BMW i3 is available with a special port called an SAE Combo-Charging system, but the DC fast-charger-compatible port is an extra-cost option. That's true for other EVs, too. The fast charging port is available but not included as standard equipment.

As the network of DC fast chargers grows, more new EVs will likely include a fast charging port. For now, most EV drivers depend on a Level 2 charger that requires significantly more charging time. That's fine for charging overnight or leaving the vehicle plugged in while at work. But until the DC fast charger network grows, filling up with gasoline will remain much, much quicker.

What it means to you: DC fast chargers will vastly improve the practicality of electric vehicles, but only when the infrastructure improves and more vehicles become compatible with the technology.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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