If you are new to EV, or are considering one, you need to learn a lot of unfamiliar terminology. For most drivers, the biggest difference between an electric car and a traditional gasoline engine is how you “fill” the car.
With EVs, there are currently three ways to power up your batteries – conveniently called Level 1, Level 2 and DC Fast Charging (often referred to as “Level 3” or DCFC for short). No need to worry about how many kilowatts the charger provides. A 200-kW charging station will work perfectly fine with an EV that charges a maximum of 100 kW and vice versa. Although the differences between the layers mostly revolve around the charging speed, asking, “How long does it take from empty to full?” Not necessarily the right question.
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This is because our petrol-powered car is conditioned until the sweetie is emptied, then dragged from the tank to a gas station to go upstairs. With an EV, your primary “gas station” is often in your home. If you choose, you can ride a full “tank” every morning (although this is not always recommended, and we’ll find out why below). For many drivers, there are only rare instances, such as on long road trips, where charging speed becomes important.
With that in mind, here are the differences between Level 1, Level 2 and DC Fast Charging, with explanations to help determine which one is best for you. Note that all of these plug-ins apply to hybrid as well as fully electric vehicles.
Level 1 charging
This is a fancy way to refer to your standard wall outlet that most household appliances and electronics plug in. In the United States, they emit 120 volts in alternating current (AC). Almost all electric vehicles will come with a wall connecting cable, often referred to as a mobile charging cable, compatible with wall outlets.
This is also known as trickle charging because, well, it takes some time. Even if you keep your car plugged in overnight, you probably won’t have a full battery by morning. This is because it is usually limited to a current of 10 or 12 amperes. It is designed so that the circuit box in your home is not overloaded, which is usually the case with 15- or 20-amp circuit breakers. Often, these circuit breakers are shared with lights and other household appliances, so it is best to use a dedicated circuit.
Each car is different, but in most EVs, tricolor charging gets you 2-5 miles per hour. This means that by charging 12 hours from the time you return home from the office to the time you leave again the next day, you are getting about 24-60 miles. This may be enough for your journey, especially if you do not start from scratch.
Level 2 charging
Level 2 charging uses 240 volts, either through a hardware charger or through a 240V outlet that is typically found in a typical home for receiving high-power appliances such as a clothes dryer. Level 2 chargers are also most commonly found in public charging stations such as office buildings and retail locations. All EV Level 2 comes with charging capability.
For home use, there are a variety of 240V plug sizes, but the most common is called NEMA 14-50. Adapters are also readily available, if you need to. These usually require a dedicated circuit of at least 50 amps, so you may need an electrician to set it up. Sometimes the mobile charging cable that comes with your car will have a 240V plug and using a 240V outlet, you will not need a special wall unit or station in your home.
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If you charge in a public location, such as a shopping center or office, the chargers will have the necessary plugs for your EV. Also, several thousand public level 2 chargers are available across the country. Sometimes businesses that host Level 2 chargers offer a free charge, or they are run by different companies such as EVgo or ChargePoint and can be used for a fee.
The cost should be less than covering the same distance using petrol. In most EVs, the Level 2 charger will add a range of 10 to 25 miles per hour for charging. That’s enough for an overnight charge that can pay the average owner enough for a day’s worth of driving. Level 2 home charging is basically like starting every morning with a full gas tank, and how fast it fills up is rarely important.
Level 3: DC fast charging
The fastest level of charging, DC fast charging (often referred to as Level 3, although this is a slightly wrong name), is similar to filling at the pump. This is the type of charging you use during an extended road trip, pulling to a station every time the battery is low.
There are three types on the market right now: CHAdeMO, Combined Charging System (CCS) and Tesla Supercharger. These are usually located on major interstate routes and in urban areas. As the Starbucks and Volvo pilot programs show, more and more EV ownership is being added.
They use a 480V AC circuit, but convert the energy directly into current (DC) before sending it to the car. Since batteries use DC, it bypasses the car’s onboard charger which converts AC to DC, dramatically accelerating the process. Using one of these, a typical EV takes 15-45 minutes to be 80% full.
As a precaution, some automakers have stated that repeated use of DCFC will shorten battery life, and have advised not to use DC Fast Charging on a daily basis. Research on this topic is not final and ongoing.
Why do electric car companies only provide statistics for an 80% full charge?
Across the industry, 80% of battery power is an ideal when charging. Think of charging with electricity, like trying to fill a cup with a jug of water. You need to reduce the filling rate to avoid dropping as you go to the top. Similarly, the DCFC rate slows down significantly as you fill up to reduce the risk of overcharging the battery.
In addition, 80% is considered a sweet spot for optimal battery life. Leaving a battery plugged in after a battery has reached 100% can damage it over time. When your battery is full, the regenerative braking will not be as strong. So, even if you park the car long enough to charge 100% overnight, it is advisable to set it to stop charging after the car or charger software reaches 80%. It will cost you more than enough for your daily routine and you can set it to 100% charge the day before a long road trip.