If like the vast majority of all motorists, you drive a car that’s powered by an internal combustion engine, you need to make regular trips to the gas station to keep the vehicle running. However, if you own or are considering buying an electric vehicle, also known as an EV, there are multiple options to keep its battery charged. Here’s a quick look at the various ways electric-car owners can tap into the power grid.
Plugging an electric vehicle into an outlet at home is the easiest, most convenient and most prevalent way that owners keep their EVs charged. This assumes, however, that you have access to a garage or an exterior outlet that’s fitted with reliable electrical service.
All EVs come with basic charging connections that allows you to tap into a standard 120-volt wall socket, for what is known as Level 1 charging. Unfortunately, it can take eight hours or longer using house current to achieve a fully charged battery.
A considerably quicker and more convenient route is to get an electrician to install a dedicated 240-volt line and an electric vehicle charging station near where you regularly park your car. This kind of charging station is known as Level 2 charging. It can take around four hours to fully replenish an EV’s battery this way, depending on the model. Some states offer programs to help make buying and installing a home charging station more affordable.
Home charging is generally the least expensive way to keep an electric car running. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates it costs $0.92 to drive a Chevrolet Bolt EV for 25 miles based on average residential electricity rates. Driving that same 25 miles would cost $1.66 in the gas-powered Toyota Corolla. Some utility companies offer discounted off-peak rates that can make overnight charging cheaper.
Though most EVs are charged at home, there are times when it’s essential to replenish the battery while on the road. Though they’re still nowhere nearly as ubiquitous as gas stations, you’ll most typically find EV chargers installed in public parking garages, retail parking lots and at new-car dealerships that sell EVs.
Charging stations tend to be most prevalent in areas having the greatest numbers of electric cars. For example, according to the Department of Energy, there are nearly 19,700 public charging units operating in California, with the most EVs in the nation. On the other hand, there are only 29 of them spread across North Dakota. If you’re taking a battery-powered vehicle on any kind of road trip, you’ll need to plan your route according to where public charging stations are located. Owners can locate charging stations anywhere in the U.S. via multiple websites and smartphone apps.
Most public chargers enable Level 2 charging, which makes them most useful for “topping off” an EV’s battery while shopping, dining, or running errands. Some Level 2 stations still offer free charging, while many require payment that varies according to the operator and the charging network.
A much less common, but far quicker alternative, is Level 3 charging, which is also called DC Fast Charging. This is the quickest system of all, being able to bring an EV’s battery up to 80 percent of its capacity in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the vehicle and the ambient temperature (a cold battery charges slower than a warm one).
If you intend to use public charging, you’ll probably want to join a charging network. The largest include ChargePoint and EVgo. Tesla maintains an extensive “Supercharger” network of fast charging stations at its dealerships and other locations worldwide. Its use is restricted, however, to owners of Tesla Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles.
You can usually register with a charging network online, and you will receive a card to initiate charging. Depending on the network, you can prepay or link it to a credit card account. Charging rates are based on either a per-minute or per-kWh (kilowatts per hour), depending on state regulations, and can vary from one provider to another and/or according to local supply and demand. Some networks offer remote apps that let EV drivers find the nearest charging stations and use their phones to initiate a charge and monitor its progress.
Be aware, however, that there are multiple Level 3 connector configurations. Most models coming from Asian automakers, like the Nissan Leaf and Kia Soul EV, use what’s called a CHAdeMO connector. German and American EVs, including the BMW i3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV, use the SAE J1772 Combo charging system. Many fast chargers support both types. Tesla, on the other hand, uses a proprietary connector to access its Supercharger network. Fortunately, Tesla owners can use other public chargers via an adapter that comes with the vehicle. You can find what type of connector a given Level 3 station uses by checking the charger-locating websites and apps.
Charging at Work
Some companies have installed electric car chargers in their garages and parking lots for their employees’ use. They’re typically Level 2 chargers, which works well because a car can be connected over the course of an eight-hour workday. Workplace charging is still not particularly common, though some states now offer an incentive for having on-site stations installed.