Though it lacked the crowds and fanfare of a Tesla launch, an unveiling yesterday in Chicopee, Mass., may have at least as much impact on electric-car drivers going forward.

Electrify America switched on the first of its planned 350 kw CCS Quick Charge stations. The lightly attended event is an important step in making electric vehicles competitive with gasoline powered cars by reducing charging times to about ten minutes, or less time than it takes a shopper to step into a store and buy something.

The stations themselves are a new design. The ones in Chicopee are made by ABB, but there will also be other suppliers. They are much taller than older models, to improve cable management (no spring return device needed) and improve visibility in a crowded parking lot. The 150 and 350 kw units employed liquid cooled cables.

Electrify America 350 kw chargers at Home Depot in Chicopee, Mass.

Electrify America 350 kw chargers at Home Depot in Chicopee, Mass.

This Chicopee location consisted of four parking slots being served by four charging units. Unit 1 accommodates CHAdeMO or 150 kw CCS. Units 2 and 4 are dual headed 350 kw CCS. And Unit 3 is dual headed 150 kw CCS. The dual headed CCS units can only charge one car and the dual cables are designed to reach either the front or the back of a car and are never intended to be plugged into two cars at the same time.

The billing is done directly through Electrify America and a credit card reader is mounted to each unit. There is a $1 connection charge plus 30 cents per minute for charging. After the charge is complete, drivers get a 10 minute grace period to move their car, after which Electrify America will collect a 40-cent per minute fee for "idling," occupying the parking space while not charging. Drivers enter in their mobile phone numbers when they initiate the session, and the charger will text them when it's finished.

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No cars currently on the market can use 350 or even 150 kw charging but the CSS units can charge at lower power suitable for today’s cars. A few EV enthusiasts showed up to charge their own vehicles and a Kia Soul EV owner impressively achieved 67 kw and a Chevy Bolt EV owner achieved 56 kw.

The first-of-a-kind nature of this event was evident in a number of stumbles. The billing system wasn’t working properly. A 2017 Bolt owner could only get a charge from the 150 kw CCS unit, not the 350 kw one, whereas a 2018 Bolt owner got a charge from a 350 kw unit. The displays were very slow to react and displayed questionable information like “0 min left until 0 percent state of charge” and “1093 mins left until 100 percent state of charge.” Although ultimately all the chargers worked and these seem like mostly software issues.

Chevrolet Bolt charging at Electrify America 350 kw charger at Home Depot in Chicopee, Mass.

Chevrolet Bolt charging at Electrify America 350 kw charger at Home Depot in Chicopee, Mass.

Wayne Killen, senior director of infrastructure planning and business development for Electrify America who was leading the event, said that the unitis were currently capable of only 50 kw but would be running at 150 or 350 kw within a couple of months. Electrify America spokesman Mike Moran said that the CCS connectors are faster, but that the company wants to do more testing with CHAdeMO adapters in Tesla's before it is confident that those power levels can be turned up.

No doubt 350 kw fast charging is a big deal. Killen related 50 kW charging to about 3 miles of range per minute of charging, 150 kw to 9 miles per minute, and 350 kw to 20 miles per minute. He called such fast charging rates “game changing” and said that with it, electric cars would be “approaching gasoline refueling speeds” as it will add 200 miles of range in 10 minutes.

Now if we can only get our hands on those 350 kw cars.