But a new technology being implemented at the New Berlin facility of Zurich, Switzerland-based manufacturer ABB, can cut the charging time to less than 30 minutes, which has major implications for consumers who want to take long trips in electric vehicles.
Energy product manufacturer ABB Group has seen success with the fast charger, Terra 51, in Europe and is now introducing the product in North America.
The company's New Berlin plant, which also makes low and medium voltage motor drives, will lead the way in manufacturing the product for all of North America.
Instead of an alternating current charger that would be suitable for home usage, the fast charger uses a direct current to charge the battery. The Terra 51 is currently used for highway traveling, with chargers at gas stations and car dealerships in several European countries, said Cal Lankton, director of EV charging infrastructure at ABB.
ABB has about 500 employees in Wisconsin and 130,000 worldwide. Despite its size, ABB has flown under the radar in the U.S. market because it mostly makes business-to business products.
"This charger is really the only thing that ABB makes that the consumer can really put their hands on," Lankton said.
ABB is not the only manufacturer in the electric vehicle charger marketplace, but it is one of the main players, he said.
"We're on the early edge of a global megatrend," Lankton said. "We are the clear market leader in Europe for this product."
Nissan and Mitsubishi are some of the most advanced electric vehicle manufacturers. The Nissan Leaf, which the company spent about $5 billion developing, has driven adoption of fast chargers.
"The Japanese were really at the forefront of the adoption of this vehicle infrastructure," Lankton said.
Electric vehicle owners experienced a feeling of "range anxiety" with some earlier car models that used only AC overnight charging, he said. They didn't want to drive too far away from their home chargers for fear of the car running out of juice.
"It's really hard to pack a lot of energy into a battery," Lankton said.
A study by Japanese power company TEPCO showed that in an 8 kilometer by 15 kilometer test area, the average monthly driving distance for an electric vehicle owner was 200 kilometers. When a DC fast charger was installed in the center of the area, the average mileage per month jumped to 1,500 kilometers.
ABB hopes North American drivers will be just as receptive to the technology's implications for taking longer trips and relying more on electric vehicles.
Consumers usually have the expectation of a quick and long-lasting fueling process like liquid gasoline, so there was demand for fast, on-the-go charging capability. Developers at ABB figured out a way to quickly charge an electric car battery without damaging it.
The direct current that makes charging much faster with a Terra 51 takes a lot of energy—about 50 kilowatts— so it isn't available for residential use, Lankton said.
The fast charger access also comes at a premium. It's about six euros, or $7.60, per session in Europe—though there hasn't been a clear price range established in the U.S. Most electric vehicles can travel about 75 miles before needing a charge.
Energy costs are lower overnight, when most electric vehicle owners charge the cars using the 3.3 kilowatt, eight-hour AC plug.
"Most charging will happen at home at night when the car is parked," Lankton said.
ABB provides its Terra 51 charger and IT support to third party service providers, who install the charger and implement subscription and pay-per-use programs at charger sites.
If a charger is having problems, ABB can remotely access the machine and sometimes repair it from afar, Lankton said.
"The whole network is based around remote management and diagnostics," he said.
The first adopters in the U.S. will likely be original equipment manufacturers, like major car companies, he said. For car makers, there is an advantage to making the product DC charger compatible and relieving potential customers' range anxiety.
The West Coast and the northeastern U.S. have shown the most interest in electric vehicle charging networks, but ABB plans to showcase the product in the Milwaukee market, since it is made locally, said Stefan Friedli, vice president and general manager of power electronics and MV drives, USA.
The hope is that building the infrastructure in Milwaukee will drive adoption of electric vehicles in the community, he said.
There's also a $7,500 federal tax credit for buying an electric vehicle in the U.S., and some states (though not Wisconsin) have an additional $2,500 tax credit.
It could be a challenge to change the mentality of Wisconsin and U.S. consumers, but ABB is optimistic.
"You're asking a lot of consumers to make the leap, but once they do, they find (an electric vehicle) fits their needs," Lankton said.
ABB's New Berlin facility will begin production of the Terra 51 on July 1 with about five employees on two shifts. It has relationships with all the major car manufacturers, many of which are making newer models DC-capable, Lankton said.
"We won't necessarily go out and talk to a shopping mall directly," he said. "Our customers are the ones who are developing charger networks."
It's important to note that DC chargers will not replace AC chargers, Lankton said. They will each be used to charge electric vehicles, depending on the situation.
If electric vehicles take off in the U.S. like they have in other countries, ABB plans to address other potential issues, like the need for home charging capabilities at multi-residence buildings. The company is currently working to develop mid-range chargers for shopping malls, restaurants and workplaces, as well as super fast chargers up to 100 kilowatts, he said.