All you need to know about EV charging
As the number of electric vehicles on our roads increases, charging stations are sprouting up all over the place. Many take the form of a traditional gas-station, while others are roadside chargers, like the flashy red and white Tesla charging stations. But appearances aside, they are essential infrastructure for the coming EV revolution, so learning how they work is important. Essentially, EV charging stations supply energy to recharge plug-in automobiles, including PHEV hybrids and fully electric EVs. However, there are several different types.
These devices may take a number of forms, each with slightly different functions, by they all fall into one of three categories:
All EVs in the USA are compatible with Level 1 and 2 chargers. Charging stations for the home are generally Level 1, which requires very little extra equipment. At most, a special connection with a dedicated circuit may be needed to ensure the vehicle gets the full 120V. DC Fast Charging points are supported by high-capacity electrical infrastructure and are available along busy highways and in public areas for quick refilling of the battery.
As with traditional electrical outlets, every region around the world uses a specific type of connector. Similarly, there is a difference between an AC connector and a DC one. In America, the former is labeled a Type 1 J1772 and is used for Level 1 and 2 charging. It is standard on every non-Tesla charging station in North America, which means every EV sold in the US can use any station with this type of connector. Tesla cars require an adapter to use these ports, although they get access to their own exclusive network of charging stations thanks to the unique connectors that other vehicles cannot utilize.
Fast chargers use 480 volts to recharge your EV faster, and these come with three variations in connectors, including Tesla's Supercharger network. Similarly, the Combined Charging System (CCS) uses the J1772 connector with an additional two pins below for high-speed charging. The third connector is CHAdeMo currently used by the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, respectively.
For those considering applying for membership to any of the American EV charging providers, it is imperative that you know exactly which type or types of charging station are available to the vehicle you drive. If you have yet to purchase an EV, knowing who offers the best coverage may affect your decision-making process. The peace of mind you enjoy from knowing you can charge just about anywhere you go is priceless, but the money you save from these memberships is very quantifiable.
Of the many charging stations for electric vehicles spread across America, most are Level 2 units with a fair number of DC Fast Charger units, too. The majority bear the logo of a specific business or brand, with ChargePoint managing the largest network by a wide margin. This is due to the fact that it manages locations for many independent providers rather than installing the infrastructure itself.
A ChargePoint membership grants you access to any of the supported stations, but very few are DC units. Both Electrify America and EVgo also offer access to a fair number of stations, but they differ in that the majority are fast chargers. Still, the largest independently owned network is the pride of FordPass, with more than 12,000 electric car charging stations and over 35,000 individual plugs.
Across America, there are a variety of different public charging stations, and while finding where they are located may sound complicated, you can use the Chargeway app to simplify things significantly. Simply enter the make and model of your car, and the app color codes all the nearby stations on a map to show you which you can use and which to avoid. Alternatively, finding a suitable station is as easy as using your mobile device or the onboard EV app to search for "charging car charging stations near me." Some of the best applications include ChargeHub, Open Charge Map, and PlugShare. If you have to drive long distances, your navigation app will often factor in such stops along the way.
Tesla owners also get exclusive access to the company's Supercharger network, which offers the fastest DC charging, as well as the standard destination chargers. Sometimes, using these are free, but even if you have to pay, they are remarkably affordable. On average, Tesla owners will only be charged $0.28/kWh.
There are numerous things to consider in terms of fast charging, whether it is at your home setup or in a public space.
Most EV owners choose to do the majority of their charging at home, so how to charge an electric car at home is a common concern. This is usually the most convenient and cheapest way to charge your electric car, since connecting the charger and leaving it on overnight ensures the battery is full for the following day. You can technically use any of the three available charging options for your home, but most consumers will rely on Level 1 directly from the household outlet.
Public charging is slightly more complicated since it requires commercial charging points that you need to pay for. The majority of these are faster Level 2 chargers, since every US vehicle can interface with this technology. And, while most brands are compatible with a variety of connectors, Tesla vehicles are restricted to the extensive network of Tesla charging stations, if you can call it that, or they can use an adapter to plug into the non-Tesla ports.
In most cases, this is a paid-for service, which can be done via credit card or a smartphone app. Simply authenticate yourself to unlock the charging cable then insert it into the port on your vehicle. When you are ready to leave, detach the nozzle and return it to the holster on the station. You will then be informed of the charge duration and total cost. To clarify any confusion, here is an instructional video on using a ChargePoint station.
There is no definitive answer for how long it takes to charge an electric car, since each vehicle is different. Battery size, the type of EV charger used, and even the weather, changes the total charge time drastically. For example, the first-gen Nissan Leaf only has a maximum capacity of 20 kWh, while the newer Tesla Model S stores five times as much. As a result, the former takes significantly longer to reach maximum capacity.
As expected, Level 1 is the slowest, generally requiring you to leave your vehicle plugged in overnight to attain a full battery. Level 2 chargers cut the time down quite a bit, recharging a battery in anywhere from seven to ten hours. A DC station will top up your battery in record time, with many claiming an 80% charge in under an hour.
So, while it may be impossible to give a universal average time, knowing exactly what factors into charging time gives you a pretty good idea of how long it should take to charge your car from empty. Of course, you could simply refer to the manufacturer's guidelines, since these normally include such times. Still, it is good to know exactly how to calculate the times yourself, since you will almost never be charging a totally empty battery.
It is not totally unusual for public electric car charging stations to be free, especially if they are owned by nearby businesses. This acts as an incentive to park nearby, which has the knock-on effect of increased foot traffic for said businesses. However, the majority of these stations are pay-to-use. The total cost of using them is determined by a number of factors, the time of day and its geographic location. Users who own some form of membership get a slightly better deal, since they pay a flat monthly amount for usage fees as opposed to being charged each time they connect. Beyond this, users are charged either by the minute or for the session, regardless of length. Of the two plans, the former is more popular. Studies show that the cost of a public electric car charging station can be up to 50% higher than if you simply charge at home, which costs an average of $0.15 per kWh.
Since most of your charging will be done at home, the process is quite simple. You will sometimes be required to install a special outlet but the necessary cables and such will be provided when you purchase your vehicle. You simply need to connect your car to the outlet and activate it. At work or in public, you will usually be required to supply some sort of authentication to activate the charging process, and you may be charged for the use of the station.
It's definitely quite a bit cheaper to use electric car stations for the home. Across the United States, the price of domestic electricity varies from $0.08 to $0.27 /kWh, averaging out at $0.15/kWh. Public charging stations can charge two to three times as much, depending on the provider, time of day, and whether or not you have a special membership rate.
Unlike a combustion engine vehicle, electric cars are able to handle long periods of inactivity quite well. If you are concerned, you could leave the charging cable connected, since it only draws power until the battery is fully charged and then stops. Thus, if your battery were to lose any charge, it would be topped up without running an exorbitant bill. However, experts recommend you do not leave a fully charged EV standing idle. Leaving your battery at around half capacity is ideal if you intend to leave your vehicle parked for an extended period. Just be sure to park in a shaded spot, since excessive heat can have a detrimental effect on battery life.