What Good Is Fast-Charging For Electric Cars If It's Closed?


Sign on Vacaville, California, DC fast charger for electric cars, May 2011

Sign on Vacaville, California, DC fast charger for electric cars, May 2011

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Vacaville, California, has the distinction of the very first public Level 3 or DC quick charging station for electric cars to be installed in the United States.

It was first activated in late May 2010, and was used very soon after for a small fleet of Mitsubishi i-MIEV models to make a trip from San Francisco to Sacramento, a distance of 88 miles.

The DC quick charge station uses the CHAdeMO interface which is standardized in Japan but not yet been confirmed as a U.S. standard. However, this is the connector that is being installed in the U.S. right now.

Vacaville has more 45 electric vehicle charging points distributed around a town of 92,000, which makes it a strong candidate for the most "electrifying city" in the country.

But there's a major catch. Most of those stations are set up for the previous generation of electric cars from the late 1990s, and don't have the standardized J-1772 connector. That's the one used to charge the 2011 Nissan Leaf, 2011 Chevrolet Volt, 2012 Mitsubishi 'i', and all the other electric cars to come.

Vacaville has many of these older design electric service vehicles in their urban service, so they will need to keep many of the stations in that older format until those vehicles are replaced. But I digress.

2011 Chevrolet Volt using Level 2 240-Volt charging station in Vacaville, California

2011 Chevrolet Volt using Level 2 240-Volt charging station in Vacaville, California

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The heralded DC quick-charge point is at the Park & Ride lot at the Davis Street exit off Interstate 80 (with easy access from traffic going either way). The charging station allowed me to drive my 2011 Nissan Leaf the 86 miles back to West Sacramento from North Bay Nissan in Petaluma, which updated the software in my car.

But now that Level 3 charging station is out of service. It carries a sign that says it is awaiting "appropriate certification."

Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility company that provides electricity to many areas of Calfornia, installed the Level 3 unit as part of their assessment effort for electric vehicles. It is absolutely unclear how long it will be before the charger is back online.

All is not lost for the range-challenged electric car driver in the area. Two J-1772 standard 240-Volt charging stations sit on either side of I-80 in Vacaville.

But right now, the sole electric car that can make the 100-mile journey from San Francisco to the far reaches of Sacramento without an overnight stop is the Tesla Roadster.

The thousands of electric-car drivers, buyers, and advocates will eagerly await news of a reopened Level 3 charger in Vacaville.

 
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