Charging Electric Vehicles

Though they haven’t replaced gas-fueled vehicles yet, electric cars are increasing in popularity. More and more automotive brands are building plug-in hybrids and fully-electric models — and charging stations are opening in additional locations as a result. Electric vehicles aim to save the user money spent on gas by providing a cheaper power option and help reduce the amount of emission-releasing vehicles on the road.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles include both a chargeable battery and a gas tank for fuel. After a certain number of miles or speeds, the vehicle switches into fuel-power mode. Fully electric cars receive all their power from their battery. Both need charging for optimal functionality.

Enticed by the cost-effective and environmental-friendliness of an electric car for your next vehicle purchase? EV owners need to know what to expect from each charge depending on its type. Certain voltages take longer to fully charge a vehicle and may require an adaptor or specific charging port for compatibility. Charges can happen at home, work, or even at any of the increasing public charging stations.

Types of Charges:

Level 1 Charging

Level 1, or 120-volt, EV charging comes with every electric vehicle purchase in the form of a charging cord featuring a three-prong plug. The cord attaches to any well-grounded wall socket on one end and includes a connector to the car’s charging port on the other. A box of electronic circuitry goes between the prong and connector — the cord testing the circuit for proper grounding and current level. Level 1 provides the slowest type of charging, taking approximately 20 hours to fully charge most vehicles.

Most EV owners who charge their cars at home (at night) use this type of home charger. While 9 hours may not give the car a full charge, it’s usually enough for the ensuing day’s driving activities if under 40 miles. Longer trips of up to 80 miles a day, or on long road trips, may not benefit from Level-1 charging unless the driver finds a port at their destination or extended stops along the route. Additionally, in extremely hot or cold climates, more power may be necessary for ideal battery temperatures from a higher charging level.

Level 2 Charging

Doubling the voltage of Level 1, Level 2 charging pumps out 240 volts for a moderately faster charging time. Many homes and most public charging stations feature a Level 2 setup. Installations at home demand the same type of wiring as a clothes dryer or electric stove instead of only a wall outlet. Level 2 also includes a higher amperage in its circuitry — anywhere from 40 to 60 amps for an overall-faster charging session and higher mileage range per hour of charging. Otherwise, the cable and car-connector configuration is the same as Level 1.

Setting up a Level 2 charging station at home costs a chunk of money, but users will benefit from the quicker charge and save money on using outside stations. Plus, putting up an EV station qualifies you for a 30% federal tax credit up to $1,000, which can save you money in the long run.

DC Fast Charging

You won’t be able to install a DC charging station in your house — they cost up to $100,000. They’re expensive because they can give EVs up to 40 miles of range in 10 minutes. Quick stops for errands or coffee double as charging opportunities. Though not as plentiful yet for long-distance electric car driving, it makes a 200-mile a day drive more probable with a few charging breaks.

DC fast charging is so-named because it uses a direct current of high power to charge the battery. Home charging stations of both Level 1 and 2 have an alternating current (AC) that can’t provide as much power. DC fast charger stations are popping up more along highways for public use, as they require a much-increased utility cost for high-power electric lines.

Excepting Tesla, who provides an adaptor, Level 1 and 2 also use the same “J-1772” socket for the charging connector. DC charging comes in three different types of its own for various car models:

  • CHAdeMO: Compatible with the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and Kia Soul EV.
  • CCS (Combined Charging System): Works with all U.S. EV-manufacturers and German EV models, including Chevrolet, Ford, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagon, and Volvo.
  • Tesla Supercharger: Fast and high-powered station only available to Tesla owners. Unlike CHAdeMO and CCS, the Supercharger is provided free to its limited market.

Where to Charge:

Home: Many electric vehicle owners charge their cars at Level 1 or 2 stations set up in their own homes at night. In a single-family home, the cost of charging can be less than running air conditioning all year round due to low and stable residential electric bills. Charging at an apartment complex can pose a bit more of a challenge as far as availability, and is similar to public charging.

Work: Many companies are beginning to offer charge points on site as a nice perk for employees. It’s relatively cheap for corporations to install, and helps them be environmentally conscience. Office landlords may or may not charge a fee to use it, but it may still be free for use by employees, with the company footing the bill.

Public: Nearly all public sites offer Level 2 charging, and the number of locations continues to increase, with some including certain DC fast charging types as well. Some are free to use, while others cost a small fee typically paid for through a membership. Like gas stations, charging ports are not meant to be hogged up for hours on end if avoidable, especially public ones. Leave your car attached until it’s fully charged, then move to a regular parking space to open up the station for someone else who needs it.

Finding a Charging Station:

While charging stations are growing in abundance, finding one outside your home can still be challenging if you don’t know where they are. Be sure to do some research beforehand — they’re not yet as plentiful as gas stations (though some gas stations do include charging ports). Google Maps and other EV-specific smartphone apps like PlugShare and Open Charge Map can help you narrow down stations close to you. Also, note the limits of your car’s charge range and plan accordingly. Some long drives may not be supported by adequate charging stations along the route just yet.

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