Unless you own a Tesla, long-distance road trips in an all-electric car can be impractical in many areas of the U.S. today due to slow, unreliable, or even non-existent charging facilities along highways.

But, finally, the technology and standards are ready and sacks of cash will figuratively drop to electrical contractors across the land in 2018 to begin installing a new generation of ultra-fast charging equipment alongside major highways. Most of that new hardware will come with two plugs in order to support cars with the CHAdeMO or CCS DC fast charging capabilities.

The first of these public charging stations in the U.S. may emerge in Baker, Calif. which is a desert town conveniently located on Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Nevada.

A paved lot adjacent to “the world’s tallest thermometer” in Baker, California is the site for EVgo’s first public 350 kilowatt chargers. This conceptual image does not necessarily depict the actual installation.

This photo showing the actual site was taken on Dec. 30, 2017. EVgo expects the chargers to be operational by late March, 2018.

The station, being developed by charging provider EVgo, was actually planned to go online this past summer but was delayed. It will feature four 350 kilowatt charging stalls. Today’s existing fast chargers in the U.S. are limited to 50 kW. So-called “destination” AC charging stations at workplaces, parking garages, and private homes are typically limited to about 7 kW.

According to EVgo VP Terry O’Day, construction workers discovered that the intended location had been paved over rough landfill that was an unsuitable base for charging equipment. After a delay, the ground has now been reworked and plans call for the station to be complete during the first quarter of 2018.

Although EVgo’s Baker station may arrive first in the U.S., the company with plans for a near-term national highway network is Electrify America (EA), a new EV charging subsidiary created by Volkswagen.

This new map, provided by Electrify America, shows the approximate location of their initially planned ultra-fast charging stations which cover some of the most-used U.S. interstate and regional highways.

During the next three years or so, Electrify America plans to install at least 290 “highway corridor” charging locations, mostly along heavily-travelled interstate routes. The company plans to complete at least 200 of the locations by mid or late 2019 with the remaining stations already under development. Separately, EA is funding the installation of 2,800 community charging spaces in 17 major metropolitan areas.

Electrify America appears to be using Tesla’s initial Supercharger design script by following a similar pace, size, and scale during the initial buildout of its network. Locations will have a minimum of 4 charging spaces with up to 10 on busy routes. On average, locations will be spaced 70 miles apart (up from 66 miles in earlier plans) but some rural areas may see spacing of up to 120 miles.

These stations will be standards-based and brand-neutral so almost any vehicle can be charged as long as it supports DC charging. Tesla models which use a proprietary DC plug can be charged using an adapter available from Tesla although the existing adapter is limited to 50 kW even when used with new ultra-fast chargers.

All of this comes as fallout from VW’s “dieselgate” scandal in which the automaker lied to the U.S. EPA and California’s Air Resources Board about excessive pollution from many of their diesel cars. Among multiple settlement terms, they agreed to set aside $2 billion which they would invest in certain types of specified projects to promote zero emission vehicles over a 10-year period during 2.5-year cycles of development. A key aspect of this spending includes installing electric vehicle charging stations.

SEE ALSO: VW Reveals Nationwide EV Charging Plan

Aside from fulfilling court settlement obligations, Electrify America presumably fills a Volkswagen business role by providing a highway charging network that enables future sales of Volkswagen Group electric vehicles under the Porsche, Audi, and VW brands in the United States.

Globally, VW has stated plans to sell 30 all-electric models by 2025 although it isn’t yet clear how many of those will make their way to the U.S. market.

Initially, Audi plans to sell an all-electric Quattro SUV by 2019 and VW may bring a concept CUV known as the ID Crozz to production by 2020. Both cars would likely come with a range of over 200 EPA-estimated miles. Other longer-range EVs in that timeframe may include two additional GM models based on the existing Chevrolet Bolt EV platform, the 2019 Nissan Leaf, the Jaguar I-Pace, a possible EV version of the Hyundai Kona, and perhaps others. One of the few pending cars thought to be possible of charging above 200 kW is the Porsche Mission E. It is widely expected to arrive around 2020.

Electrify America’s initial charging plan shows similarities to this late 2015 snapshot of Tesla’s Supercharger site map which shows locations around 3 years after Tesla’s installations first began.

Tesla’s own proprietary network aimed to roughly double during 2017 in the U.S. (as well as quickly expanding globally) in preparation for the rollout of the new less-expensive and higher-volume Model 3. Tesla now provides Supercharger coverage to nearly all major U.S. highways and some new locations support as many as 40 charging spaces each.

In Europe, a charging provider known as Ionity was created as a joint venture of automakers including VW, BMW, Daimler, and Ford with plans to install a network of ultra high-power CCS stations at 400 locations by 2020 to enable long-distance driving.

A smaller European project known as Ultra E and partially funded by VW, BMW, Renault, and others just installed their first public 175 kW station in Germany with plans to update it to 350 kW in the first half of 2018. They are planning another 20 or so stations in adjacent countries.

Technology

All of Electrify America’s highway charging equipment will initially support a theoretical rate of at least 150 kW (about the same as Tesla’s Superchargers today) and some locations will include 350 kW chargers, especially sites in California.

Charging power comes from a combination of voltage and amperage. First-generation CHAdeMO chargers, used by cars like the Nissan Leaf, could supply up to 500 volts and up to 125 amps. Early CCS chargers almost universally adopted the same limits, which suited the needs of early EVs with 18-24 kWh batteries, although the CCS standard technically allowed up to 200 amps of current. These early chargers are informally referred to as “50 kW” units even though 500 volts multiplied by 125 amps implies up to 62,500 Watts of power. A number of less-capable 60 amp CHAdeMO and CCS chargers have also been deployed.

Actual vehicles draw less than the theoretical rate based on their battery design, battery temperature, energy capacity, and the state of charge as the battery fills up.

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen to ‘Electrify America’ With 2,800 EV Charging Stations

The new higher-powered chargers are backwards compatible with the first CCS and CHAdeMO chargers and so will work with existing cars. Some existing cars will be able to charge a bit faster on the new equipment but many will remain limited by their smaller batteries and other internal factors.

As a point of comparison, a Model S with a 90 kilowatt-hour battery using a Tesla Supercharger station might draw up to 120 kW when nearly empty and then ramp down gradually until full. A Chevrolet Bolt EV on the empty side might draw near 55 kW on the new higher-powered CCS chargers but more aggressively ramp down as the battery fills above the mid point. Tests on a faster charger in Norway show the Kia Soul EV and Hyundai Ioniq Electric can pull up to 70 kW and maintain close to that rate up to around 80 percent full. Other existing cars may not charge much faster on the new chargers than on existing 50 kW units.

This translates into a Tesla Model S or the larger battery version of the new Model 3 adding up to 170 miles in 30 minutes while a Bolt EV would add about 90 miles. The Hyundai Ioniq with an EPA-estimated range of 124 mile can charge to 80 percent full in 24 minutes which could add 80-100 miles of range. In spite of its relatively modest DC charging capability, the Bolt EV can be suitable for long-range driving trips due to its 238-mile EPA range.

This illustration from automotive parts maker Phoenix Contact shows how new power levels are reached through the use of liquid cooling.

The newly updated standards also now allow up to 1,000 volts and 350 amps and chargers capable of supporting this are known as “350 kW” units. For example, the Porsche Mission E exercises it’s full over-200 kW charging ability when charging at around 800 volts.

New ultra-fast charger hardware from ChargePoint is said to support up to 400 amps. European charging vendor ABB says its Terra HP product line can support up to 500 amps on a single CCS plug under some configurations but only up to 200 amps on a CHAdeMO plug. Chargers supporting the highest power levels typically use dynamic power sharing schemes to split their peak power output between 2 or more vehicle charging spaces.

The conventional engineering answer to supporting higher current is to use thicker metal cables and pins in order avoid overheating. Alternatively, liquid cooling allows the additional heat generated by using the existing plug pin design to be safely whisked away and avoids the need to use thicker and stiffer charging station cables that would be awkward for customers to handle.

Tesla recently announced a new Megacharger system that can apparently provide more than 1,000 kW to a vehicle but that uses a new proprietary charging plug design and is so far unique to their recently announced Tesla Semi truck. A photo of the wide charge socket on one of the trucks shows the use of a new design that has four pairs of charging pins which may imply that each pair carries about the same power as the single pair of power pins in a 350 kW CCS plug.

Other Providers

The other major standards-based charging providers like EVgo and Greenlots appear to be focusing on the urban fast charging market for now. Most of their customers today still have shorter-range cars and urban-located chargers see the most charging sessions per day. These urban chargers are sometimes located near highways and can thus be used for long-range travel. However, they sometimes adopt inconvenient policies.

EVgo chargers, in particular, are considered to be notorious by some drivers because of their 30 minute charging timeout rule — a rule that is not documented at their charging sites and sometimes leads to confusion among new users.

Porsche Mission E Concept. Production model due later this decade or by 2020.

EVgo’s Terry O’Day says the timeout originates from multiple factors including the smaller batteries on initial cars, charging subsidy program contracts they have with some EV manufacturers, and a desire to encourage EV drivers to share equipment by quickly unplugging and moving their car.

He said EVgo is planning to soon announce changes to their timeout policy that may include new subscription options. Also, EVgo recently introduced online charge initiation via their website or their iOS and Android smartphone apps and this can often be used to restart charging remotely after a 30 minute session has expired.

ChargePoint is a charging equipment vendor and also sells the online status and “back office” billing support for a line of internet-connected charging hardware including a scalable new ultra-fast charger product line. ChargePoint equipment is typically owned by the charging site and pricing policies are set locally.

Grant Programs

In addition, a few states have grant programs that help cover the cost of initial installation and maintenance of DC charging stations including along highway corridors. In particular, California has issued grants to multiple providers to install basic 50 kW charging along most major state and federal highways. The last two rounds of grants issued in 2016 pay for about 100 chargers mostly in areas that have not previously been served or which previously had slower 25 kW chargers. The first of these sites was recently opened in Redding and the remaining sites should be completed over the next 2 years.

Separate from the $2 billion in funding being used to support Electrify America, VW also agreed to pay a total of $2.9 billion into a Environmental Mitigation Trust overseen by a trustee appointed by the EPA. This program will fund grants issued primarily by state and local agencies to offset some of the excess pollutants emitted by certain VW diesel cars. The rules of the grant program allow each state to use up to 15% of its allotted money for electric vehicle charging. Some states have announced plans to use that money for highway fast charging including Colorado which recently announced a highway charging collaboration with 6 other nearby western states.