EV Charger Types: Which Is Best?
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Bringing an electric vehicle into your garage for the first time? Here's what you need to know about at-home EV charging.
Electric vehicle (EV) battery chargers come in three categories: Levels 1, 2 and 3. The higher the level, the faster it charges the vehicle.
When you purchase an EV, it should come with a Level 1 charger. These offer portable convenience but take a long time to recharge a battery.
A Level 2 charger is much faster than a Level 1, though both work on the same principle. They send alternating current (AC) from an outlet or an electric panel through the EVs power port to the onboard charger, which converts it into direct current (DC) to charge the battery. Teslas come with dual Level 1/Level 2 chargers.
Then there are Level 3 chargers, available mainly at public stations, which are much more powerful. Level 3s convert AC to DC, bypassing the onboard charger and delivering DC directly to the battery.
Read on for a better understanding of the different capabilities and features of EV battery chargers to determine which is right for you.
Features to Look For
The least expensive Level I and Level 2 chargers come as basic models. For an additional cost, you can add helpful features that make charging an EV less complicated. Here are some additional features to consider:
- Adjustable ampere setting to “top-off” a charge.
- Cable length. Get a charger with cables long enough to easily reach the charging port.
- Wire size. Heavier wire offers less resistance, reducing the chance for overheating the charger or charging system.
- Smart charger with Wi-Fi/Bluetooth enabled apps. This allows your smartphone to program or charge on/off times and send you notifications when charging is complete or if it’s interrupted.
- Mounting bracket that keeps the cable safely off the floor and secured in the outlet.
- Indicator that monitors charging status.
- Over-voltage protection. Prevents overcharging and overheating.
- Dual 120- and 240-volt capabilities.
Other factors include warranty length, support hours, and whether the charger is UL-listed and Energy Star rated.
An SAE J1772 connector is the industry standard for electric vehicles. Combined Charging System (CCS) offers a second standard, permitting AC/DC charging on the same port. Tesla uses a proprietary connector design, but J1772 and CCS adapters are available.
Level 1 Chargers
Most EVs come with a basic Level 1 120V charger, which may take 40 hours to charge a fully drained 60-kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery.
- Convenient. Plugs into a standard household 120-volt outlet (20-amp circuit recommended).
- Easy DIY cord management installation.
- Best for EV owners in apartments or condominiums.
- Easy to use.
- Cheapest of all chargers, between $200 to $600.
- More expensive models offer dual Level 1 and Level 2 charging capabilities.
- Generic SAE J1772 connector standard.
- Extremely slow.
- Driving range of about five miles per charge hour, or about 40 miles on an overnight charge.
- May need charging connection adapters.
- Lacks many of the features listed above.
Level 2 Chargers
If you drive more than 100 miles a day, invest in a Level 2 charger for your home. They can be expensive, but also significantly reduce the hassle of home charging. These supply the same charge as a public Level 2 charging station.
- Much faster than Level 1s. It takes about 10 hours to fully recharge a drained 60 kWh EV battery.
- Driving range of about 25 miles per charge hour, roughly 200 miles on an eight-hour charge.
- Easy to use.
- Many mid-priced models come loaded with neat features like Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth connectivity.
- As EV growth continues, installing a Level 2 charger can add value to your home.
- Expensive. Runs $300 to $2,000, plus $500 to $2,000 for installation if it needs to be hardwired.
- Requires a dedicated 240-volt, minimum 50-amp circuit.
- May require a special outlet, like a NEMA 6-50. You may also need to upgrade your electric panel to a 200-amp service. This is not something you should DIY. Consult a licensed electrician to determine your options.
- The least expensive models lack many of the features listed above and aren’t compatible with all charging ports. You may need to purchase charging connection adapters.
Level 3 Chargers
Public Level 3 direct current (DC) fast-charging commercial EV charging stations can quickly recharge an EV battery. Operating on three-phase/480 volts, they can cost well over $100,000, plus design and installation costs.
- Many public EV charging stations are still free.
- Apartment buildings, schools, commuter parking lots, shopping malls and other locations are installing them.
- Apps like ChargePoint and PlugShare can locate charging stations.
- Can fully charge a vehicle in as little as 30 minutes.
- Public charging networks also offer numerous ways to pay, including credit cards, apps or a monthly membership.
- The EV public charging infrastructure still has a long way to go to meet future EV needs, especially in rural areas.
- Not all EVs can be charged at all public EV charging stations.
- Some networks charge additional fees if your EV stays plugged in after you’ve finished charging.
- Can cost twice as much as charging at home.
- Road trips must be carefully planned to ensure you’ll pass EV charging stations along your route.