An easy guide to the various charging levels for your electric car or plug-in hybrid.
The world is going green, with the number of electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid cars seen on the road growing each year. The vast majority of automakers have committed to going fully electric in the next decade, and some states have even moved to ban gasoline-powered vehicles entirely. EVs will become the norm before long, with hybrids and plug-in hybrids paving the way. But while sales of EVs continue to grow, some people are apprehensive about owning electric cars because they seem complicated to run and maintain. But charging your car doesn't have to be confusing and can, in some cases, actually be just as convenient as filling up with gas.
When it comes to charging your battery-electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid, there are three types of chargers: level 1, 2, and 3, with the higher levels providing higher power outputs and, thus, faster charging. But higher levels are also more costly, and due to the infrastructure required to power a Level 3 charger, they are generally only set up in public spaces as part of a dedicated charging station.
Level 1 and 2 chargers also differ from Level 3 in that they use a different type of current to charge an EV. The lower levels make use of alternating current (AC), which is the standard power supply from the grid to your home or office. This current has to be converted from AC to direct current (DC) in order to be stored, so the conversion process occurs in the car during the charging process. But Level 3 chargers provide direct current right off the bat, meaning the electricity is directly stored within the batteries and no conversion needs to take place for it to be stored. This is why the DC charging process is so much quicker - hence the name, 'DC Fast Charging'.
The most convenient place to charge your car is at home, and Level 1 charging is the baseline in this case. Every EV and PHEV comes with its own charger from the factory, which can be plugged straight into a standard 120V household outlet to recharge. While this is most convenient - because most homes and workplaces already have this infrastructure in place - it's also the slowest way to charge. Using a Level 1 charger will add between three and five miles of range per hour, which means you'll have to leave your car charging overnight, and even longer, to get a full charge.
Around 80% of EV and PHEV charging is done at home, and while the process is slow for EVs, plug-in hybrids do relatively well with Level 1 charging because their batteries are generally smaller than an EV's. If you have an EV that you need to use every day, you'll need to upgrade to Level 2 if waiting up to 20 hours for a full battery isn't something you can do.
Level 2 charging is the most common type of charging for full EVs and can also done at home - if you have the necessary equipment. A dedicated 240V outlet is required, such as that used by kitchen or laundry appliances, and in most cases, a professional will need to install the dedicated circuit for you.
This kind of charging can also be set up in public areas such as at your workplace and will top up your battery with between 12 and 80 miles of range per hour. Exactly how quickly you can charge will depend on the output of the charger and the EV's maximum charge rate. Nevertheless, Level 2 charging is substantially quicker than Level 1, meaning your electric vehicle can be fully charged overnight. A Level 2 charger needs between five and 11 hours to fully recharge a flat battery.
Installing a Level 2 charger can cost anywhere from $200 to over $1,000, and even double that if your home requires a service upgrade for the additional 240V circuit. It's worth noting that there may be state and municipal incentives available that help mitigate the costs of purchasing and installing a Level 2 charger.
Not all charging can occur at home, and for those times that you need to top up your EV's battery while out and about, public charging stations provide access to Level 3 charging. Also called DC fast chargers - or, in the case of Tesla products, Superchargers - these public points can add between three and 20 miles per minute, thanks to high-voltage supply. Some fast chargers can supply up to 350 kW of power, which means charging from 10% to 80% is possible in about 15 minutes.
Level 3 chargers are run by private charging networks that charge users either by how long the car is plugged into the charger, or how much energy was used to charge the battery. In general, it's more costly than charging on Level 1 or 2, but paying for the convenience of having a full battery in a much shorter period is worth it for most owners. Some claim an 80% charge in under 30 minutes - an easy top-up during your lunch break or grocery run.
While not the same as replenishing the battery of your EV or PHEV with one of the chargers mentioned above, regenerative braking does also add energy back into the car's high-voltage battery. It does this by recovering the kinetic energy that occurs during braking (dissipated as heat from the friction of the brake pads clamping down in regular braking) and sending it back to the battery. Up to 70% of the kinetic energy that is generally lost as heat during traditional braking can be recovered by means of regenerative braking.
In a similar way, some manufacturers have added solar panels to supplement regular charging. Mounted on the roof of the car, the solar panels add extra charge to the battery; but while this idea has merit and warrants further development, it hasn't been successful at solely powering vehicles at present. Neither solar power nor regenerative braking are a replacement for charging your car on an outlet, however, and range gains from these technologies aren't extensive. But it does help to improve efficiency on hybrid vehicles and add a few hundred miles of range to EVs over the course of a year.
As charging technology becomes more familiar to consumers, the demand for EVs will increase; the benefits of electric cars and the tech that supports them will pay dividends the more consumers get on board.
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