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Building charging stations for electric cars

November 26, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Late next year, a version of a Mitsubishi electric car called the i-MiEV will be in showrooms. Much sooner than that, the electric Nissan Leaf will go on sale. Part of the learning curve for buyers of these electric vehicles will be how -- and when -- to keep them charged.

"The solution from our perspective is that there's going to be a combination of home charging systems and public charging systems," said Steve Gitlin, spokesman for AeroVironment Inc.

AeroVironment of Monrovia is the official supplier of home chargers for the Leaf. Owners will have what's known as a Level 2 charger that runs on household 220 power. A full charge takes four to six hours.

There will also be a high-powered upgrade for when you're out and about: the Level 3 charger, which uses an industrial-grade 480 volts.

"A Level 3 charger will re-charge an electric vehicle in a matter of minutes, as opposed to a matter of hours," said Gitlin.

Obviously, anybody who buys an electric vehicle will have a charging station at home, but when you're out on the road, this will be the answer -- they'll be everywhere places you go, like restaurants, shopping malls and other businesses.

Think of any place you'd be parked for at least a half-hour. From grabbing a burger to seeing a movie, your car would get an electric fill-up while parked.

"The idea is that this kind of charging system, and this infrastructure, is going to enable you to live your life the way you live it today, except for the fact that you probably won't have to go to a gas station very much," said Gitlin. Or ever.

It might be a wait-and-see situation. Cities or businesses would have to invest in the chargers at tens of thousands of dollars each, and of course pay for the power.

But first they'd probably like to see E-Vs become popular, and know that the chargers would attract customers.

So far, early interest in the Leaf has been huge. Mitsubishi will be taking orders next year, and just about every car company has some kind of E-V in the works.

There could be a day very soon where you pick your lunch or dinner spot based on whether you can also fill up your electric car's battery, and whether you'd pay for your juice or perhaps get it free as an incentive.


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