Level III Rapid Chargers

Two competing visions for the design of public rapid chargers. Aker Wade’s unit (left) uses the look of a gas pump, while the AeroVironment (right) take a more futuristic approach.

Think, the electric car producer, announced this week at the Washington Auto Show that it is partnering with AeroVironment to commercialize rapid chargers. This could mean charging an electric car to about 80 percent capacity in 15 minutes. Richard Canny, Think’s CEO, called the move to so-called Level III rapid charging “a major leap forward for electric vehicles.”

Earlier this month, Aker Wade Power Technologies and Coulomb Technologies an agreement to develop public charging stations capable of charging an electric vehicle in 30 minutes or less. Allowing electric car drivers to fully recharge in minutes rather than hours could alleviate “range anxiety”—the concern that a pure electric car could run out of energy and its driver could be stranded for hours until the vehicle is adequately recharged.

There’s debate at the Electric Drive Transportation Association conference, held in conjunction with the Washington Auto Show, about the economics and necessity of so-called Level III 480-volt charging for the first electric cars coming to market later this year. HybridCars.com caught up with John Aker, president and CTO of Aker Wade, to learn about the vision of EV rapid charging. Although slower charging will be very inexpensive, Aker believes that EV drivers will gladly pay more for a rapid charge when gas prices climb well above the $4 spike experienced in 2008.

HybridCars.com: Is Level III rapid charging a pipe dream?

“By 2040 or 2050, we’ll look at the internal combustion engine as you and I look at the Model T. It’s cute. It makes noises. It’s fun to drive around the parking lot. But hey, I got this really cool fast electric vehicle.”

John Aker
President and CTO, Aker Wade

John Aker: No. Level III is here and it’s here right now. It’s being done on the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV in Japan. There are about 30 or 40 chargers distributed around Tokyo that have taken the range anxiety from the users of EVs, because they know they can fill up quickly if they need to.

How fast can they charge up?

Today it will take 20 to 30 minutes to fill the battery with a Level III system. In five to 10 years, we’ll see that drop to 10 to 15 minutes. This will be helpful in situations where people need to fill up quickly and be on their way such as a highway rest stop or a gas station.

The other part of the fast charge station that’s coming is local energy storage. You’re going to have local energy storage banks, storing off peak energy from the utility. It’s bringing in renewables—like wind power being generated at night…

Or that’s generated locally, like through photovoltaics?

Yes. The thing that’s great about photovoltaic is they produce during the day when it’s mostly needed. With window power, there’s sort of a glass ceiling because a lot of it is generated at night, when people don’t need it. Imagine having the option of storing that energy in a fast charge station, and to resell it throughout the day to vehicles being fast-charged. You’re now an asset to the grid.

This is exclusive to public charging.

Oh yeah. You couldn’t afford to put a $50,000 to $75,000 charger in your home. And how many people have three-phase 480V in your home?

When Aker Wade recently unveiled its rapid charging station, it looks like a gas pump. Is that the wrong metaphor?

I think it’s a great metaphor. It’s something that people are familiar and comfortable with. You go up, you plug it in, and you fill up just like you do today. It’s not that big a transition. You don’t have to make it look like a moon unit.

You’re talking about decades into the future, but what are the steps along the way?

Today, with gas at about $3 a gallon, it’s cheap. You’re going to get early adopters [of electric cars] now. But you have a billion Chinese and a billion Indians that want to drive cars. And the Chinese standard of living is going up. They are now a bigger market for cars than we are. Within the next five to 10 years, they’re going to have a bigger fleet than we do. The price of petroleum is going to shoot through the roof. As the prices go up, it’s going to make electric cars more and more attractive.

In the meantime, electric [transportation] is going to gain a foothold and incrementally move up. Early adopter and fleets are going to step in and volumes will grow. You’re going to see a crossover point about 2025. You’re going to see more EVs than internal combustion engine cars. By 2040 or 2050, we’ll look at the internal combustion engine as you and I look at the Model T. It’s cute. It makes noises. It’s fun to drive around the parking lot. But hey, I got this really cool fast EV.

When do you think we’ll see any kind of Level III penetration in the United States?

We’ll see the first ones with the introduction of the Leaf and the i-MiEV later this year.

Won’t Level II curbside charging answer most of the needs of EV drivers?

The curbside charger will be useful for situations where people are not in a hurry to recharge and will be parked for some time, such as a workplace or shopping mall. In these scenarios, Level II makes a lot of sense. They are less expensive to install, which should make them available at many locations for easy access.

Are fast chargers going to replace the gas station?

These are really going to become energy stations. You pull in and you can get gasoline. You can get electrical energy. Maybe even T. Boone Pickens natural gas. As petroleum goes up and gets more and more expensive, people will flock to these alternatives.