Thinking about buying an electric car but worried about range and places to plug in? Don’t worry so much. The charging world is moving fast, and public stations are becoming widely available — in fact, many of them are free to lucky owners.

Nissan recently said that Leaf buyers will have free public charging for two years in 25 U.S. cities, with 10 of them already online. What’s more, a single EZ-Charge card will give Leaf-ers access to stations run by ChargePoint, Blink, CarCharging Group, NRG eVgo and AeroVironment. The 10 cities are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, Seattle, Nashville, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Portland (Oregon), and Washington, D.C. The rest of the cities will be added next year.

Tesla’s national network of Superchargers — free to Model S owners — is well-known, and now BMW is jumping in with two announcements to support its new i3 electric and i8 plug-in hybrid models.

The first news is an ultra-low-cost and compact fast charger, in partnership with supplier Bosch. According to BMW spokesman Dave Buchko, “It’s a DC fast charger at half the size and a third of the size of previous fast chargers. It’s 31 inches tall, weighs less than 200 pounds, and can be wall-mounted.” Businesses and municipalities that partner with BMW will be able to buy the charger — which is capable of charging an i3 (to 80 percent) in 30 minutes — for $6,548.

BMW's fast charger weighs less than 200 pounds and can be wall-mounted. (Photo: BMW)

BMW's fast charger weighs less than 200 pounds and can be mounted on the wall. (Photo: BMW)

BMW’s fast charger uses the Society of Automotive Engineers’ “combo” plug, which makes it compatible with most U.S. and German EVs (including the Chevrolet Spark) but not with the Nissan Leaf, which uses the more established Japanese CHAdeMO standard.

Is it a headache that there isn’t just one fast charging standard? You bet. One positive development is the availability of chargers that have wands for both types, but the low-cost BMW unit is not one of those, the company said.

BMW’s second announcement is about a ChargeNow partnership with NRG eVgo and ChargePoint. By the end of 2015, the utility will have installed 100 of its own fast chargers (15 in 2014) around California, said Rob Healey, EV infrastructure manager for BMW of North America. Through the end of next year, i3 drivers will be able to enjoy 30-minute free charges at those stations, and have access to others. They’ll be able to use the same ChargeNow card for BMW’s fast chargers, NRG “freedom stations” or ChargePoint units. “It’s the first step to true interoperability,” Healey said.

Not all BMW i3s are fast-charge capable, by the way. It’s a $700 option. But trust me on this, it’s worth the money for the flexibility it adds. It would be interesting to know how many i3s have been sold and what options are being taken (including the split between standard and range extender REx cars), but BMW’s Healey says the data isn’t there yet. “The i3 has only been on the market for two and a half months,” he said.  

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

BMW offers free (and fast) EV charging
Public charging is spreading rapidly, and BMW is the latest automaker to make it free for some users. It's also offering an ultra-cheap, compact fast charger.