2011 Nissan Leaf at quick-charging station

2011 Nissan Leaf at quick-charging station

So you bought a 2011 Nissan Leaf, and paid for the optional $700 quick-charge connector.

Now you're able to get an 80-percent battery recharge in just 30 minutes, albeit from very few places right now. Promising, right?

Not so fast, sonny. It appears that U.S. makers of electric cars are likely to adopt a completely different quick-charge standard, one that will be used solely in North America.

The likely standard won't be compatible with the "CHAdeMO" quick-charge hardware in your Leaf, or any of the other Asian electric cars that offer it.

So Nissan Leaf owners and those with other new electric vehicles that contain a CHAdeMO upgrade for fast charging may find themselves locked out of the U.S. rollout of such chargers.

Public Charging Station for electric cars, courtesy Mitsubishi Motors

Public Charging Station for electric cars, courtesy Mitsubishi Motors

Today, the 2011 Nissan Leaf, the 2011 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, the upcoming 2012 Mitsubishi "i," and the 2011 Coda Sedan are equipped to charge at 110 Volts and 240 Volts with a universal connector.

That connector is usually known as J-1772, for the standard number assigned to it by the U.S.-based Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

On the 2011 Nissan Leaf, a second charge port called CHAdeMO is offered that permits DC high power charging, which gets the vehicle up to an 80-percent charge in 30 minutes or less.  

In some areas, the Leaf quick-charge port is provided free as part of a national "EV Project" program. But most buyers pay the standard $700 accessory charge for that upgrade.

As of this month, only a single functional CHAdeMO charger exists anywhere in the United States. It's in Portland, Oregon, as reported by Rick Durst of Portland General Electric.

But in Japan, the CHAdeMO format is a national standard. More than 130 such recharging stations already have been installed (as shown on Google Maps for Japan), while the U.S. is still debating the adoption of a final quick-charge (or L3) format.

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

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

According to Adam Egbert of California electric utility Pacific Gas & Electric, the Underwriter's Laboratory has not yet certified the CHAdeMO charging station as an approved piece of hardware.

That's why the second such charging station in the country, in Vacaville, California, has been taken off-line by PG&E, which installed it just a few months ago as part of an early "test program."

Yesterday, Craig Childers of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), said it appears that the U.S. is strongly leaning toward adopting a non-CHAdeMO charge format quick charging electric and other plug-in vehicles.

That format will be based on an SAE recommendation that provides for a single, multi-function, interface built into the car, rather than the two separate plugs now present when a car has both the CHAdeMO and J-1772 connectors.

"Automotive companies are lobbying for only one opening for powering the car," Childers said, "to allow for cleaner design."  

The SAE format has a J-1772 connector embedded in the center of a slightly larger array of input pins which would all be enclosed by the fast charge handle surround. It would provide the same 30-minute recharge to 80 percent of battery capacity.

While this is not yet a "done deal," according to Childers, it would mean that early CHAdeMO adopters would have to hope that their automaker would offer a retrofit for their vehicles if the new standard comes to pass.

So, for those Nissan Leaf owners who want to retain the ability to quick-charge their cars as they sit, this is the time to speak up.