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Electric Car Fast Charging Yields Promising Results

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author photo by Nick Chambers December 2011
  • DC Fast Charging is a speedy way to charge an electric car's battery
  • A real world test of one of the first Fast Charging stations in the nation proves they can add a lot of extra driving range in a short period of time
  • Even though it's brand new, the station is already popular with Portland, Ore., drivers indicating more are needed

In many ways electric cars provide functionality that gas-powered cars simply cannot: silent driving, zero tailpipe emissions, very little regular maintenance, at-home "fueling" and relatively inexpensive and stably priced "fuel." But while these features are enough to make some folks jump the gas-powered ship, their relatively long charging times and short driving ranges on a full "tank" make it hard for many consider electric cars a viable transportation option.

DC Fast Charging-a technology that uses fire hose-sized electrical connectors attached to industrially-rated power supplies to add as much as 80 miles of driving range in about 30 minutes of charging-promises to address those two concerns head on. By making it a relatively quick endeavor to fill up an EV's "tank" while out and about, the nominal 100-mile range between charges becomes less of a issue-as long as the Fast Charging stations are readily accessible along your route.

Last week we had a chance to test one of the first of these DC Fast Charging stations in person and came away impressed with its ease of use and how popular the station has already proved to be with local EV drivers.

Although there are already more than 800 Fast Charging stations in Japan, in the U.S. the deployment of them has run into snags. But last month the dam finally seemed to break when ECOtality-manager of the EV Project, the single largest deployment of publicly available charging stations in the U.S.-installed the first of what will ultimately be several hundred of the stations on its Blink Network throughout the country.

By design ECOtality chose the spot-a Fred Meyer grocery superstore in Portland, Ore.-based on the availability of an industrially rated power supply, proximity to the highway, and the enthusiastic support of Fred Meyer, according to ECOtality spokesperson Amy Hillman.

In a sign that DC Fast Charging is a needed technology, when we arrived on site with our Nissan Leaf test car the station was already in use by another Leaf. Although the station has two ports available for charging, one of them was broken when we arrived causing us to wait 10 minutes for the first car to stop charging. Hillman assured us that the broken port would be fixed shortly, but the fact that such a new station already had a broken port was a bit perplexing and troublesome.

The driver of the Leaf that was charging when we arrived said he uses this station all the time, and, anecdotally indicated the station is very popular. His assertion was borne out by the fact that as soon as we were done charging our Leaf another one pulled in.

Once we had access to the working port, charging was a simple matter of plugging the cable into the correct port on the car, swiping a card obtained from the Blink Network website and choosing a few simple options. Use of the station is currently free during the introductory period, but ECOtality does plan on eventually charging a fee for use, although they haven't yet settled on pricing.

In the end it took 29 minutes to bring our tester Leaf's battery from 30% to 80% charge, adding roughly 50 miles of driving range. Although these numbers are lower than the half-hour zero to 80 percent charge that proponents of Fast Charging claim can be obtained, Nissan has assured us in the past that the timing of charging will be approximately the same even if the battery is further drained, meaning it will be a half hour regardless of battery condition when you plug it in.

What it means to you:

If you're an electric car driver DC Fast Charging can greatly extend the functionality of your vehicle. If you're in the market for an electric car adding a DC Fast Charging port should be a strong consideration.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Electric Car Fast Charging Yields Promising Results - Autotrader