Electric car excitement: Let’s have hamburgers while charging

Engage warp drive, Mr. Sulu

Engage warp drive, Mr. Sulu

Behold, the future!

Well, maybe. This space-age piece of hardware is a 50-kilowatt charging station. For what, a rocket ship? No, silly — for a car. An electric car.

But aren’t those dead? Actually, they were hanging onto life support for about a decade, but the electric car is making a comeback. Leading the (ahem) charge is Nissan, who starting two months ago has been gradually introducing the Leaf into select American markets.

Unlike the kind attached to trees, this Leaf does not rely on photosynthesis, although it can utilize energy from the sun, among other renewable sources. Instead of guzzling gasoline and spewing harmful emissions, this four-door hatchback (and most new generation electric vehicles from other manufacturers) draws power from a rechargeable lithium ion battery. It’s the kind your cell phone uses, and like your cell phone, revives itself through our power grid. Technically, this can be accessed from any household outlet, but getting an electric car back to full strength on one of those can take 16 hours. The wait gets cut in half on a higher capacity outlet, like the kind clothes dryers are hooked up to, but that’s still quite some time.

A more practical solution for those on the go is a DC quick charger. These will get you back on the road at close to full battery strength within 20 minutes. They’re big in Japan, where automakers and the Tokyo Electric Power Company formed what has become an international coalition of companies and government agencies working to develop and promote quick charging (sometimes referred to as Level 3 charging). The founders dubbed the group CHAdeMO, a double-duty abbreviation for Charge de Move (“Charge for Moving”), as well as the phrase Ocha demo ikaga desuka (Wired says this means “Let’s have a tea while charging,” but I think it translates more like “How about some tea/charging?”).

The charger pictured in this post is the first ever to be installed on American soil, courtesy of the witty folks at CHAdeMO. They bestowed it on the good people of Vacaville, California, underneath an array of solar panels and next to a SONIC fast-food joint. My wife and I drove through there last fall, and I couldn’t resist stopping by for a snapshot of history (we bypassed the burgers, though).

Want some fries with that?

While Japan already has hundreds of these quick chargers, I’m not even sure the U.S. has more than the one right now. That is due to change, however, according to an announcement last week that 30 quick chargers will soon be installed across the San Francisco Bay Area. This kind of widespread charging infrastructure will of course be necessary if electric vehicles are to gain traction in the auto market, and begin to help us curb greenhouse gases.

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