West Coast Electric Highway opened last week in Washington State

Article by Anita Panait, on June 6, 2012

Through the collaboration of the Washington State Department of Transportation and electric charging station builder AeroVironment, the West Coast Electric Highway is now online! The partnership opened seven electric charging stations along Interstate 5 in Blaine, Bellingham, Burlington, Tumwater, Centralia, Ridgefield and Vancouver; and three more bases along the U.S. Route 2 in Sultan, Skykomish and Leavenworth.

Drivers of electric vehicles could now charge in these stations should they need to. The Washington State Department of Transportation said that around 70 percent of its population resides within 16 miles of I-5, making it ideal for building electric charging stations. The department said that while several stations opened in Oregon in March, the goal is to build charging bases every 25 to 60 miles along I-5 for 1,300 miles from the Canadian border through California.

According to Frank Wong, AeroVironment’s Marketing Manager, a public charging infrastructure will extend the reach of the highway as it continues its “evolutionary process.” The charging station project received $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy channelled through the federal stimulus funds. Wong remarked that people in the future will consider having electric vehicles as their primary car.

Eight of the 10 charging sites -- excluding Blaine and Vancouver -- feature both DC fast and Level 2 chargers. The Blaine and Vancouver bases only have Level 2 units. DC fast chargers could recharge nearly exhausted batteries in just 30 minutes while Level 2 chargers take a few hours.

Nissan also played a role in the planning stages of the West Coast Electric Highway. According to Mark Perry, Nissan America’s director of product planning, the company played a “consulting role,” which includes identifying the areas where owners of the electric Nissan Leaf reside. According to Perry, there are around 12,000 Leafs that travel across the United States.

In coming up with the new Nissan LEAF, both the design team and the engineering team wanted the new version to be competitive in terms of price in order to allow Nissan to take the lead in mobility as it relates to zero emissions. Since there was also a need to guarantee comfort in addition to offering enough space for passengers and cargo, it means that the LEAF would need to be fitted a new configuration for the body and an entirely new chassis.

Powering the LEAF are the compact lithium-ion batteries which generate an output of at least 90 kW with an electric motor capable of putting out 80 kW with peak torque of 280 Nm.

What this means is that the LEAF continues to offer the performance people expect from typical gas-powered versions but it adds in a fun and responsive driving experience. Further, Nissan made it a point for the battery charging to be convenient and easy. By utilizing a quick charge, it is possible for the battery to reach at most 80% of the full capacity.

In fact, it doesn’t even take 30 minutes to do so. Charging the battery only needs a 200-volt outlet that can be seen in any home and to reach full capacity would need eight hours. This is clearly enough time for both the car and the driver to rest. Since the LEAF uses electricity, it means that the tail pipe has no emissions, much less any CO2 emissions or other greenhouse gases.

When the battery is combined with the regenerative braking system of the LEAF, it allows this model to travel at least 100 miles (160 km) on a single charge. This may be enough for some but a number of consumer studies have shown that this is, in fact, enough for 70% of drivers around the world. Talking about the new LEAF, Product Chief Designer Masato INOUE shared that this model needed to be the first practical and medium-sized electric vehicle.

He added that it should also be one that is affordable and that will allow customers to use it on a daily basis. This is what the LEAF is all about, he continued. INOUE said further that the style will not only mean that owners are using the LEAF but that they are part of this new period of mobility with zero emissions.

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