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Published on May 24th, 2010 | by Nick Chambers

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Electric Cars are Coming, But Where are the Fast Chargers?

In the brave new world of electric cars, charging is perhaps the most critical element of the equation. For early adopters, almost all of it will be done from the comfort of your own garage in the wee hours of the morning, and it will take no more effort than plugging in your cell phone at night.

But when it comes to “fast charging” while on the road, the charging world gets more than a little murky.

EV Charging Primer

In the U.S., the National Electric Code (NEC) specifies that there are three levels of EV charging:

  • Level 1: Your standard 3-prong, 110 Volt/15 Amp outlet/plug combo as governed by the National Electric Manufacturers Association (NEMA) standards.
    • They put out about 1 kilowatt of electricity, give or take depending on your circuit breaker and your power company.
    • If you do the math, it could take you a full day to fill up that 24 kWh Nissan LEAF battery from your standard wall outlet.
  • Level 2: A much quicker charge than Level 1, rated up to 240 Volts and 60 Amps using a specially designed outlet/plug combo as governed by the newly minted Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) J-1772 standard.
    • All electric cars reaching the market at the end of this year will include this plug/outlet.
    • Although the J-1772 standard can deliver 14.4 kW of electricity, most installations will be rated far lower than that — probably around 6 kilowatts.
    • With that in mind, a Nissan LEAF battery could be charged from empty to full in 4 hours, however Nissan is saying it will take 8, presumably to extend the useful life of the battery (a slower charge means longer life).
  • Level 3: The ultimate in charge technology, but nobody has yet really settled on a standard, leaving manufacturers of cars and charging equipment to come up with their own.
    • Although you’ll find many people on the internet claiming that Level 3 charging involves “such-and-such” Voltage and “so-and-so” Amperage, the fact of the matter is that this type of charging is defined as any charging above 14.4 kilowatts.
    • The SAE says they will finalize a standard within the next few years, but that doesn’t help the manufacturers that are preparing EVs for sale before then.
    • All around the globe, would-be Level 3 charge station manufacturers are angling to market their own devices.
    • Most Level 3 stations are considered “fast chargers,” but they don’t have to be. The conventional wisdom is that if an average EV battery can be charged to full in about a half hour, then it is a fast charge.

You can also use the J-1772 plug associated with Level 2 charging to deliver Level 1 charge currents. In fact, Nissan will be including a cord with a J-1772 plug on one end and a NEMA Level 1 plug on the other, which you will be able to use for emergency charging while on the road.

Most early adopter garage chargers will use a freshly installed Level 2 charging station with a dedicated circuit. Nissan says these chargers will cost an average of about $2,200 to install, but there’s a 50% federal tax credit available and many states are also offering their own incentives.

What Kind of Level 3 Charging Options are Out There Already? Will My New EV be Able to Use Them?

The vast majority of public and private charge stations that are on the books to be installed in the next few years will be of the Level 2 type, suitable for stopping at the market for a couple hours and adding on an additional 20-40 miles of range. But when you’re in a hurry and are trying to go more than 100 miles, Level 2 just won’t cut it. However, since Level 3 has no set standard at this point, potential charge station installers are resistant to invest in any of them.

Even so, given the lack of movement on the SAE’s part, the Japanese CHAdeMO (Charge Then Move) Level 3 standard seems to be what most manufacturers are coalescing around. CHAdeMO is the result of an association between Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). U.S. company Aker Wade, has also recently joined the CHAdeMO bandwagon along with Coulomb Technologies, the pre-eminent manufacturer of EV charge stations in the U.S. CHAdeMO is a 3 phase, DC system that can output between 10 and 100 kilowatts of power per hour, but should average about 50. That’s good enough to get a LEAF battery almost full in a half hour.

Nissan has developed their own CHAdeMO type Level 3 stations that they plan on installing at 200 select dealers around Japan prior to the LEAF launch. Nissan says those chargers should cost no more than about $17,000, which beats the pants off of previous estimates for Level 3 chargers of between $50,000 and $150,000. At $17,000, a municipality could afford to buy dozens of them and place them strategically around the city and private investors could quickly build out their own charging empires.

Just recently, the city of Vacaville, CA, (also known as ‘voltageville’ due to the high number of charge stations there) installed the first Level 3 CHAdeMO type charger in the US. Even though the SAE has not yet settled on a standard, Nissan, Mitsubishi, utilities, and other carmakers have come up with their own standard plugs to be used for Level 3 charging. Although the Nissan LEAF won’t have a Level 3 plug as a standard option, customers will be able to have them installed at a later date.


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About the Author

Not your traditional car guy.



  • Frank Elliott

    Level 3 chargers are a troublesome necessity. A necessity, because people will finds themselves needing a quick charge to complete a trip. Troublesome for the effect that these will have on battery life. And I suspect that there will be plenmty of poeple who will ignore the warnings about using Level 3 chargers too often and come to learn, a couple of years into their ownership, that their battery pack ain’t what it used to be. And that will lead to negative word-of-mouth about BEVs.

    I’m left hoping that some new battery chemistries will make moot the perils of level 3 charging by the time BEVs are in the mass market.

  • Frank Elliott

    Level 3 chargers are a troublesome necessity. A necessity, because people will finds themselves needing a quick charge to complete a trip. Troublesome for the effect that these will have on battery life. And I suspect that there will be plenmty of poeple who will ignore the warnings about using Level 3 chargers too often and come to learn, a couple of years into their ownership, that their battery pack ain’t what it used to be. And that will lead to negative word-of-mouth about BEVs.

    I’m left hoping that some new battery chemistries will make moot the perils of level 3 charging by the time BEVs are in the mass market.

  • Alex

    “private investors could quickly build out their own charging empires.”

    this is exactly what i don’t want :( why can’t energy just be what it is without these slimeballs trying to monopolize?

  • Alex

    “private investors could quickly build out their own charging empires.”

    this is exactly what i don’t want :( why can’t energy just be what it is without these slimeballs trying to monopolize?

  • ech

    A quick correction: A watt (or kilowatt) is an instantaneous measurement of power, so it is incorrect to say that a Level 1 circuit puts out “one kilowatt of electricity per hour”. It supplies one kilowatt, so it delivers one kilowatt-hour in an hour.

    Also, it’s gonna cost homeowners at least $1000 to put in a level 2 circuit and plug in their house depending on how far away the breaker box is. I had to run a new 220v, 40 amp circuit to an AC compressor and it cost $1400.

  • ech

    A quick correction: A watt (or kilowatt) is an instantaneous measurement of power, so it is incorrect to say that a Level 1 circuit puts out “one kilowatt of electricity per hour”. It supplies one kilowatt, so it delivers one kilowatt-hour in an hour.

    Also, it’s gonna cost homeowners at least $1000 to put in a level 2 circuit and plug in their house depending on how far away the breaker box is. I had to run a new 220v, 40 amp circuit to an AC compressor and it cost $1400.

  • http://MiddleOfTheright.net Mr. B

    “Also, it’s gonna cost homeowners at least $1000 to put in a level 2 circuit and plug in their house depending on how far away the breaker box is. I had to run a new 220v, 40 amp circuit to an AC compressor and it cost $1400.”

    You got hosed. Total cost for materilas , forthe 1st 50 ft, is $212 for Home Depot. Labor is maybe 2 hours. add $50 bucks for the next 50 ft.

  • http://MiddleOfTheright.net Mr. B

    “Also, it’s gonna cost homeowners at least $1000 to put in a level 2 circuit and plug in their house depending on how far away the breaker box is. I had to run a new 220v, 40 amp circuit to an AC compressor and it cost $1400.”

    You got hosed. Total cost for materilas , forthe 1st 50 ft, is $212 for Home Depot. Labor is maybe 2 hours. add $50 bucks for the next 50 ft.

  • TB

    Or, you could just get the kind of car (Volt) that has a built-in gas-powered generator when your battery gets low, and avoid most of this hassle.

  • TB

    Or, you could just get the kind of car (Volt) that has a built-in gas-powered generator when your battery gets low, and avoid most of this hassle.

  • rbj

    2-3 times a year I go to visit family in VA, a trip of over 600 miles, I have to refill my gas tank twice. Anything more than 15 minutes to refuel or recharge is unacceptable.

  • rbj

    2-3 times a year I go to visit family in VA, a trip of over 600 miles, I have to refill my gas tank twice. Anything more than 15 minutes to refuel or recharge is unacceptable.

  • GRW3

    If there is no money in commercial fast chargers they will not be built. It will be up to the user to determine if the their time is worth the extra cost.

    The question most of these notes on charging e-cars dances around is the question of collecting road tax. What most call gasoline tax is actually road tax. Since e-cars will use roads, they will have to pay too.

  • GRW3

    If there is no money in commercial fast chargers they will not be built. It will be up to the user to determine if the their time is worth the extra cost.

    The question most of these notes on charging e-cars dances around is the question of collecting road tax. What most call gasoline tax is actually road tax. Since e-cars will use roads, they will have to pay too.

  • willis

    “this is exactly what i don’t want why can’t energy just be what it is without these slimeballs trying to monopolize?”

    Because energy isn’t just strolling around waiting to jump into your car. It’s being produced by slimeballs hoping to make a profit, create jobs, etc., you know, the process that drives an economy. If you think these slimeballs are doing us wrong, jump into the game. Of course, I expect to see some dirt cheap energy or I’ll go to the other slimeballs.

  • willis

    “this is exactly what i don’t want why can’t energy just be what it is without these slimeballs trying to monopolize?”

    Because energy isn’t just strolling around waiting to jump into your car. It’s being produced by slimeballs hoping to make a profit, create jobs, etc., you know, the process that drives an economy. If you think these slimeballs are doing us wrong, jump into the game. Of course, I expect to see some dirt cheap energy or I’ll go to the other slimeballs.

  • Original Mike

    Even half-an-hour is intolerable for city-to-city travel. You aren’t going to be taking your electric car out on the interstate much,

  • Original Mike

    Even half-an-hour is intolerable for city-to-city travel. You aren’t going to be taking your electric car out on the interstate much,

  • Mr. Engineer

    ech is correct about the kW/kWh matter. Power is measured in kilowatts, ENERGY is measured in kilowatt-hours (or those are the units on your bill; scientists use joules with all the metric prefixes).

    Mr. B is right about cost. Putting in a 220 V 60 A circuit is something any intelligent layman can do, and if someone is charging $1400 you’re paying for gold-plated hardware whether you get it or not.

  • Mr. Engineer

    ech is correct about the kW/kWh matter. Power is measured in kilowatts, ENERGY is measured in kilowatt-hours (or those are the units on your bill; scientists use joules with all the metric prefixes).

    Mr. B is right about cost. Putting in a 220 V 60 A circuit is something any intelligent layman can do, and if someone is charging $1400 you’re paying for gold-plated hardware whether you get it or not.

  • Rich

    ech – sorry but yeah you got hosed. Question that I have concerns this:

    “CHAdeMO is a 3 phase, DC system that can output between 10 and 100 kilowatts of power per hour,” Okay its been along time since I did an electrical study but I seem to remember 3 phase being AC, (eg. 270 volts) not DC. so is it taking 3 phase and generating DC out of that? 3 phase is considered highly efficient but 3 phase int the most common of setups and the power company usually charges and arm and a leg for it.

  • Rich

    ech – sorry but yeah you got hosed. Question that I have concerns this:

    “CHAdeMO is a 3 phase, DC system that can output between 10 and 100 kilowatts of power per hour,” Okay its been along time since I did an electrical study but I seem to remember 3 phase being AC, (eg. 270 volts) not DC. so is it taking 3 phase and generating DC out of that? 3 phase is considered highly efficient but 3 phase int the most common of setups and the power company usually charges and arm and a leg for it.

  • Rich

    sorry that is supposed to is not the most common setup

  • Rich

    sorry that is supposed to is not the most common setup

  • Tom

    A standard 120 volt – 20 amp circuit will put out 2.4 kw per hour/ charge in 10 hours, not 24.

  • Tom

    A standard 120 volt – 20 amp circuit will put out 2.4 kw per hour/ charge in 10 hours, not 24.

  • Tom

    Sorry – just saw the 15 amp statement. Still 1.8 kw – not 1 kw and a 13.3 hr charge.

    • Nick Chambers

      ech – Right, I think I felt that most readers wouldn’t have any concept of what the difference between saying what I did and what you did are any different. In fact, my feeling was that it would just be confusing, so I didn’t write “kilowatt hours per hour.”
      Rich – 3 phase AC input to DC output… I didn’t put it in there cause most folks wouldn’t even care/notice.
      Tom – I guess I could have been more explicit. If you were to measure the power coming out of your standard household outlet it would be, for all intents and purposes, 1 kW. Most circuit breakers are designed to trip at 80% of rated amperage, so you’ll get less than 12 Amps out of a 15 Amp breaker. Also, legally utilities are allowed to throttle your voltage based on demand and the actual value coming out of your outlet could be plus or minus 20%. Even though the potential for a 120V 15Amp circuit is 1,800 watts, any device drawing power from that circuit won’t push it that hard… hence the 1 kW.

  • Tom

    Sorry – just saw the 15 amp statement. Still 1.8 kw – not 1 kw and a 13.3 hr charge.

    • Nick Chambers

      ech – Right, I think I felt that most readers wouldn’t have any concept of what the difference between saying what I did and what you did are any different. In fact, my feeling was that it would just be confusing, so I didn’t write “kilowatt hours per hour.”
      Rich – 3 phase AC input to DC output… I didn’t put it in there cause most folks wouldn’t even care/notice.
      Tom – I guess I could have been more explicit. If you were to measure the power coming out of your standard household outlet it would be, for all intents and purposes, 1 kW. Most circuit breakers are designed to trip at 80% of rated amperage, so you’ll get less than 12 Amps out of a 15 Amp breaker. Also, legally utilities are allowed to throttle your voltage based on demand and the actual value coming out of your outlet could be plus or minus 20%. Even though the potential for a 120V 15Amp circuit is 1,800 watts, any device drawing power from that circuit won’t push it that hard… hence the 1 kW.

  • AST

    Where is Nicola Tesla when we need him?

  • AST

    Where is Nicola Tesla when we need him?

  • TWL

    @Nick – It would be great if you could revise your post a bit to accommodate the suggestions from ech and Mr. Engineer regarding energy vs power. The information you have otherwise is concise and valuable. But when you mention that a charger can support a specific kW level per hour, you loose credibility from those who understand this important distinction, and confuse the remainder of the readers. Making those minor changes will really make the post that much more valuable.

    You don’t need to say it delivers x number of kWh per hour. The reason ech mentioned “…it delivers one kilowatt-hour in an hour” is to illustrate that you multiply power by time to get energy. Educate your readers and they will be more sticky. All you need to do is remove the “per hour” from your content.

    Thanks for considering.

    • Nick Chambers

      TWL,

      Look, I understand what you’re saying. I’m going to change it, but it kind of ticks me off that the engineering folks among us are always nitpicking to such detail… even to the point of claiming that I’ll lose credibility if I don’t change a detail that probably 99% of the world (and 90% of my audience) wouldn’t even think twice about. That’s like me saying that you’ll lose credibility with English teachers and writers because you used the word “loose” instead of “lose” (which you did in your comment). Does that sound like an annoying criticism to you? That’s how the engineering sticklers among us make others feel when they insist we make these tiny distinctions in order to be accepted by them and join in their conversations. To me I don’t think it makes a hoot of difference if I change the wording, because those who understand the distinction can easily gloss over it knowing what I mean and those that don’t understand the distinction would never even care in the first place.

  • TWL

    @Nick – It would be great if you could revise your post a bit to accommodate the suggestions from ech and Mr. Engineer regarding energy vs power. The information you have otherwise is concise and valuable. But when you mention that a charger can support a specific kW level per hour, you loose credibility from those who understand this important distinction, and confuse the remainder of the readers. Making those minor changes will really make the post that much more valuable.

    You don’t need to say it delivers x number of kWh per hour. The reason ech mentioned “…it delivers one kilowatt-hour in an hour” is to illustrate that you multiply power by time to get energy. Educate your readers and they will be more sticky. All you need to do is remove the “per hour” from your content.

    Thanks for considering.

    • Nick Chambers

      TWL,

      Look, I understand what you’re saying. I’m going to change it, but it kind of ticks me off that the engineering folks among us are always nitpicking to such detail… even to the point of claiming that I’ll lose credibility if I don’t change a detail that probably 99% of the world (and 90% of my audience) wouldn’t even think twice about. That’s like me saying that you’ll lose credibility with English teachers and writers because you used the word “loose” instead of “lose” (which you did in your comment). Does that sound like an annoying criticism to you? That’s how the engineering sticklers among us make others feel when they insist we make these tiny distinctions in order to be accepted by them and join in their conversations. To me I don’t think it makes a hoot of difference if I change the wording, because those who understand the distinction can easily gloss over it knowing what I mean and those that don’t understand the distinction would never even care in the first place.

  • TWL

    @Nick,

    Point well taken, and I stand corrected on my error. Guess I am better at physics than I am at typing (and spelling too, for that matter). But if I get caught on punctuation or grammar, I won’t take it lying down.

    Thanks!

  • TWL

    @Nick,

    Point well taken, and I stand corrected on my error. Guess I am better at physics than I am at typing (and spelling too, for that matter). But if I get caught on punctuation or grammar, I won’t take it lying down.

    Thanks!

  • kingsy1st

    O.K. so how many 240W solar panels will I need to to charge up an EV?

  • Fiddler John

    Let’s be bold!
    You work at night so you can charge in the day.
    The EPA says the Mitsubishi i can travel 112 miles on 33.7 kWh with it’s 330v Batery. 0.3 kWh/m
    You only travel 10 miles to work and back, and it’s sunny everyday. 10 m x 0.3 kWh/m=3 kWh
    At best you will get 80% of your 240W panels for maybe 4 hours. 0.2 kWh/panel
    3 kWh /(0.2 kWh/panel)=15 panels
    Coupling panels can be tricky with another 20% lost, but I think this is start.
    $370/panel x (15 panels) = $5,550 Plus Plus Plus
    Now we cheat. Let’s be dangerous. Imagine we use 11 panels in series to get our 330 volts with 7.74 A. Imagine we have 20% loss. That’s 2 kWh. That could take us 6.6 miles. Is this possible? Can we bypass the car’s internal charger/controller, and charge the battery directly?

  • http://www.evcollective.com Marc Voorhoeve

    Level 3 with battery storage installing in Portland, OR. on electric ave. First of its kind in the us.

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