You don’t need a degree in rocket science to charge an electric vehicle. Plugging in an EV to charge is no more difficult than fueling up a gas-powered car. That said, things can get a little confusing when you start digging into the weeds of the different charging equipment and speeds. Jargon like SAE J1772, DC fast charging, or Level 1 and 2 chargers can make topping up the charge of your EV’s battery seem much more complicated than it is. With that in mind, we’ve taken the time to break things down for you by explaining the basics of EV charging and the different “levels” associated with it.
Electric vehicle charging levels
The Society of Automotive Engineers describes three levels of EV charging: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. The one you use at any given time can depend on a few factors, such as your home’s electrical system and the makeup of available public chargers in a given location.
Car manufacturers often include Level 1 charging equipment with new electric cars. This device plugs into a typical household 120V outlet. The ubiquity of these common household outlets makes Level 1 charging incredibly convenient, even if this type of charging replenishes your car’s battery pack at a very slow rate. Plan to see your EV add about two to four miles of range per hour, depending on the efficiency of your particular battery-powered car, truck or SUV. This type of charging is much slower, much less efficient and will cost you more than Level 2.
Level 1 alone will not be enough to keep up with the charging needs of most EV owners. That said, if you only ride 20 miles or so each day, you may be able to get by with just level 1. One quick warning: Never plug your Level 1 charger’s cord into an extension cord, as the extra length of the wire creates resistance that can overheat the extension cord and also cause the charging equipment to malfunction and stop charging.
Level 2 charging operates at 240 volts and typically at three to four times the amperage of a lower level 1 unit. As such, most Tier 2 units add electricity to your EV’s battery pack at a rate roughly six to eight times faster than Tier 1 setups, equating to 12–32 miles of driving range for every hour of charging.
But the loading rate of Tier 2 can vary quite dramatically. A typical 240-volt, 24-amp unit can provide about 6.0 kW of continuous power. But the fastest possible Level 2 charging is at 80 amps, or 19.2 kW, which is more than three times faster. The hardware on your car determines the maximum Level 2 charging rate, and most cars aren’t capable of charging at 19.2kW, so you’ll want to match your charging equipment to what your EV can handle to avoid paying for the ability you can. t used.
We recommend that any EV owner install Level 2 charging at home. If your EV’s supplied or optionally available charging cord is not compatible with a 240-volt outlet, you will need to purchase dedicated Level 2 charging equipment for your home. You may also need to add electrical capacity to your home. Consult an electrician to make sure your home’s electrical panel is up to the task.
Although installing Level 2 charging capability at home is an additional expense, a number of states and localities offer government incentives to offset some of the cost. Be sure to see if such incentives are available where you live.
Level 2 chargers are also the type typically found in public spaces, such as parking garages and lots. The end of the cord plugged into your EV looks identical to the one you use to charge at home. These units can add a fair amount of range to your EV over the course of a few hours.
Level 3 or DC fast charge
Tier 3 chargers are the Speedy Gonzales of the bunch. Alternatively known as DC fast chargers, Level 3 chargers are especially useful during long trips that require charging between destinations, as this type of charging can add about 100–250 miles of range in 30–45 minutes. Unlike Level 1 and Level 2 charging, Level 3 setups connect to the vehicle via a socket with additional pins to handle the higher voltage (typically 400 or 800 volts).
Tesla’s Supercharger network offers Level 3 charging, although the American automaker uses a proprietary plug that only works with its vehicles. Drivers of other EVs can find Level 3 chargers at a number of stations from providers such as EVgo and Electrify America.
Level 3 charging rates currently range from as little as 50 kW to as high as 350 kW, depending on the charger. But charge rate is a two-way relationship. If your EV can only handle a maximum of 50kW on a Level 3 charger, it won’t charge faster than that, even if it’s plugged into a charger that can top up to 350kW. Additionally, the charging rate of an EV on a Level 3 charger changes dramatically depending on the battery’s state of charge, slowing significantly when the battery pack approaches 80 percent capacity to prevent overheating or overcharging. For example, it can take as much time to charge from 80 to 100 percent as it does from 10 to 80 percent. That’s why, on long trips with EVs, the fastest way to get back on the road is usually to charge no more than 80 percent.
Do all EVs use the same connection?
As mentioned above, Teslas rely on a manufacturer-specific connector for charging. Adapters that allow Teslas to charge at public or home charging stations that do not use this Tesla-specific connector are available. Additionally, there are adapters to plug a non-Tesla EV into Level 1 or Level 2 Tesla charging equipment.
The vast majority of EVs use the same type of clutch. For Level 1 or Level 2 charging, this standard round port is called a J1772 connector. The quick charge connector is referred to as SAE Combo or CCS; it uses the same J1772 socket of Level 1 and Level 2 charging plus two extra pins that enable DC fast charging.
The third type of fast charging connector is CHAdeMO. Few cars use this adapter, including the Nissan Leaf, although the Leaf still uses a J1772 port for Level 1 and Level 2 charging. That said, Nissan is ditching the CHAdeMO socket for CCS on its new Ariya.