Different Levels of EV Charging Explained
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When you drive a gasoline-powered vehicle, the process of “charging it up” remains the same pretty much wherever you go. If you’re fuel gauge is running low, you simply pull into the nearest gas station, and in a few minutes, you can top up your “charge” with a couple of hundred extra miles of “juice,” and be ready to hit the road.
Charging an electric vehicle is a little more complicated. Unlike a gasoline car, you likely won’t run the battery down before charging; you’ll treat it more like a mobile phone, and plug it in when you’re not using it, either at work, at home overnight, or in a public place. But, while all gasoline vehicles “charge up” at approximately the same speed and take about the same few minutes to fuel, not all ways to charge your electric vehicle are created equal. There are different kinds of chargers out there, fit for different purposes.
EV Charging Levels Explained
Here’s a quick rundown of what level 1, level 2, and level 3 charging means.
Level 1: Best Only for Plug-In Hybrids
Level 1 chargers typically plug into a household 120-volt outlet, like you’d plug your phone or laptop into. Given that it takes a few hours to charge your phone when plugged into such an outlet, it should be no surprise that a level 1 charger will take a really long time to charge the battery in your hybrid or electric car, typically adding only three to five miles per hour of charging.
That means that even when plugged in for, say, eight hours at work, you’ll only get 24 to 40 miles of range while charging, meaning that for full-electric vehicles, level 1 charging isn’t really an option. For a big, long-range battery you’d need days for a full charge. Using a Nissan Leaf with a 62-kWh battery as a reference, a full charge using a level 1 charger would take somewhere between 30 and 40 hours. Of course that’s fine if you only drive 50 miles in a day and plug your car in to charge overnight while you sleep.
That said, an extra 24 to 40 miles of range is a perfect top-up for a plug-in hybrid vehicle, most of which have less than 100 miles of range, and have a gasoline engine backing up electric power for longer drives.
Level 2: Perfect for Charging Your All-Electric Vehicle at Home or Work
If you’re driving an all-electric vehicle, you’re going to want regular access to a level 2 charger, ideally one that you can plug your car into at home. Running on a 220-volt outlet, similar to what you’d plug your clothes dryer into, a level 2 charger can deliver 12 to 80 miles of charge per hour, an order of magnitude faster than a level 1 charger.
The same Nissan Leaf from our previous example would take 3.5 to 4 hours to charge on a level 2 charger. That’s fast enough that you’d leave home every morning with a full “tank” of electrons.
Level 2 chargers are also commonly available in public areas for a very low cost per minute connected, and are very useful if you’re going to be at a mall or at work for a few hours.
Level 3: Use on Long Trips for the Fastest Charge
Delivering charge at a rate of three to 20 miles per minute, level 3 chargers use DC (direct current) instead of the AC (alternating current) of level 1 and level 2 chargers. The thicker cable and more substantial plug dumps electrons directly into your EV’s battery, making level 3 chargers up to 15 times faster than a level 2 charger.
This makes them perfect for charging up your electric vehicle quickly. The Nissan Leaf that would take 30 to 40 hours charging on level 1, or 2.5 to 4.5 hours on level 2, takes only 30 to 40 minutes to suck in a full charge on a level 3 charger.
Level 3 chargers (or DCFC, DC Fast Chargers) are very expensive, to the tune of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, which explains why you wouldn’t have one at your house. You’ll most commonly find them in locations along well-travelled highways to allow drivers to grab a quick charge during longer trips. That extra speed comes with extra cost, with higher per-minute charges. To put it more simply, DC fast charging costs about the same as gasoline for an equivalent amount of range delivered.
What Kind of Charging is Best for You?
If you’re buying a plug-in hybrid vehicle, all three forms of charging are viable means of adding range, but if you’re going pure zero emission EV, you’re going to want to have a dedicated level 2 charger to plug into on a regular basis, either at home, work, or both. Level 3 charging makes taking long trips in your electric vehicle easier; they’re available on several charging networks, so check your area for who has the best local coverage.
Check out our GreenCars Electric Car Charging Station Map here.
If you’re buying a new electric vehicle, the manufacturer may also offer some kind of free, or discounted, public charging scheme. For instance, Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche EVs come with three years of free charging (with conditions) on the high-speed Electrify America network, while BMW and Nissan offer owners a charging credit on the EVgo network.
As always, it pays to do your research.