It's moving from an innovation to a fad, this business of solar-powered charging stations for electric cars.

The latest car company to jump on the bandwagon is Mitsubishi, which will launch the diminutive four-door, four-seat 2012 Mitsubishi 'i' electric minicar in November at a price of just $27,990 before incentives.

The company recently unveiled a unique solar-powered charging setup at its headquarters in Cypress, California. It's powered by 96 photovoltaic modules from another Mitsubishi company, and can charge up to four vehicles at once.

Eaton CHAdeMO DC quick charging station, Mitsubishi headquarters, Cypress, CA

Eaton CHAdeMO DC quick charging station, Mitsubishi headquarters, Cypress, CA

The unusual wrinkle is that it offers three different kinds of charging: Level I (110-Volt), Level 2 (220-Volt), and Level 3 CHAdeMO DC quick charging (an option on both the 2012 'i' and, at $700, the current 2011 Nissan Leaf).

It's the first solar-powered DC quick-charge station in the U.S., and employs a charging station built by Eaton Corp. that is the first CHAdeMO Quick Charger certified for U.S. sales.

Mitsubishi joins both Nissan, which has solar charging stations at its assembly plant in Tennessee, and General Motors, which installed solar charging stations at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant where it builds the 2011 Chevy Volt range-extended electric car. 

Last month, GE Energy (makers of the WattStation home recharging station for plug-in cars) installed a V-shaped parking shelter with solar panels on the top at its headquarters in Plainville, Connecticut. It covers 40 parking spaces, six of which have charging stations (made by GE, of course).

Other solar carports can be found on a waterfront in New York, and in Silicon Valley at Google's headquarters, courtesy of the search engine's RechargeIT Plug-in  Hybrid Car Initiative. Even the Air Force is getting into the act.



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