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Many of us living in Massachusetts travel for recreation: skiing in New Hampshire, a summer’s weekend down at the Cape, a camping trip in Amherst woods or even the two-hundred-mile trip from Boston to New York City. For drivers of electric vehicles, these trips averaging eighty to a hundred miles can be daunting.

Most electric vehicles are limited by the charge in their batteries and can only go sixty to a hundred miles on a single charge, depending on traffic and driving habits. Standard battery charging times of six to eight hours don’t cut it. For these long trips, drivers need powerful charging stations that can recharge a car’s battery quickly, ideally within the time of a lunch break or even a bathroom break.

ev charging at UMass Amherst

UMass Amherst EV fast charging station

EEA Secretary Rick Sullivan, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and other campus officials  in early February marked the installation of the first public level three electric vehicle charger in Massachusetts at UMass Amherst. Level three chargers, also known as DC fast chargers, operate at 480 volts and can charge electric cars much faster than most existing chargers – up to an 80% charge in less than thirty minutes for a Nissan Leaf. Most of the currently available electric charging stations that you might see at parking lots are level two chargers that operate at 240 volts and take nearly a full work day to fully charge a car. There aren’t many DC fast chargers on the road; these are much more expensive to purchase and install than the regular level two 240-volt chargers.

To help with the installation costs, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) obtained a grant for installing public DC fast chargers. The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration provides funding for transportation projects aimed at providing clean air and reducing traffic. With more public DC fast chargers available, electric vehicle drivers can drive further and use their electric vehicles for long road-trips, reducing emissions. DOER’s Clean Cities Coalition program plans to fund more level three chargers, extending the range of more electric vehicles in Massachusetts.

close-up of chademo fast charger plug

Type of plug – “CHAdeMO” – used at UMass

The Amherst DC fast charger was obtained through a partnership with Nissan USA. Drivers with a membership to Chargepoint, a national system of charging stations for electric vehicles, will be able to access the Amherst DC fast charger for about $3 a charge, according to Bill Watts of Transportation Services at UMass Amherst. Currently, Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) and the Mitsubishi i-Miev are the only electric vehicles in the U.S. that can use the type of fast charger installed at UMass, but other electric vehicle models are expected to join the Leafs and i-Mievs in fast charging within the next year with the use of an adapter.

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XiaoZhi Lim prefers to be addressed as X, if you are intimidated by her Singaporean Chinese first name. She is an intern this winter and spring with DOER's Marketing & Stakeholder Engagement group. A former chemist, XiaoZhi is a recent graduate of the Boston University Science Journalism Graduate Program. She enjoys producing multimedia content and stories about energy, environment and electrons.

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