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A Fast Charging Network For Electric Cars is Starting to Take Shape

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author photo by Nick Chambers October 2011

Even though they offer many benefits compared to conventional vehicles, electric cars have been criticized for taking a relatively long time to charge their batteries as well as having short driving ranges. A technology called DC Fast Charging promises to address these criticisms by reducing charging times from hours to a matter of minutes, but the stations have so far been impossible to find-only a handful of them are currently installed in the United States.

To this point Nissan has sold more than 7,000 Leaf electric cars in the U.S., and after being promised that DC Fast Charging stations would be installed quickly, more than 80 percent of Nissan's Leaf customers chose to add a DC Fast Charging port-a $700 option. Many of the optional ports were paid for by a government grant to hasten the adoption of fast charging technology.

Now Leaf customers have started complaining that the largest public-private project to install charging stations in the U.S., the EV Project, has fallen far behind. Originally the DC Fast Charging stations were planned for installation in the first half of 2011, but it wasn't until earlier this week that the first station on the EV Project's "Blink Network" was installed at a Portland, Oregon, grocery store.

"The EV Project has been slow and disappointing," said Brad Berman, a Leaf owner and automotive journalist, in a post on PluginCars.com "The DC Fast Charge port [on my Leaf] will probably go unused for half the duration of my three-year lease, despite the fact that the Department of Energy paid $700 for the item."

Nonetheless, the EV Project now seems to be back on track. While the new DC Fast Charging station at a Portland Fred Meyer is only Oregon's second such station, it is a key piece of what is eventually expected to be a network of them that allows electric cars to drive the entire length of the West Coast.

Much of the delay in installations can be attributed to the longer than expected times to receive UL listing for the stations, as well as the complicated nature of bringing businesses, land use planners, consumers and utilities to the same table. With these issues now sorted out, ECOtality, the managing partner of the EV Project, says many more fast charging stations will roll out over the next few months.

Company representatives told Autotrader.com that some DC Fast Charging stations will be installed in the next few weeks, but that the majority of them will come during the first few months of 2012. They will be scattered in strategic locations throughout the various EV Project markets (parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and Washington, D.C) and will be chosen using a method that takes into consideration a variety of factors including traffic patterns, regional attractions, retail hubs, and input from the myriad of regional partners.

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A Fast Charging Network For Electric Cars is Starting to Take Shape - Autotrader