This is the only one of these articles that’s likely to get even a bit technical. That’s because the EV industry hasn’t yet picked a single standard for the mechanics of charging – in other words, what plug fits what car. That said, for Level 1 and Level 2 charging, it’s pretty simple. Level 1 charging – typically home charging – involves an adapter cord, which connects the car to a wall outlet. The charging cord is almost always provided when you buy or lease the car, and features a sort of pistol-grip module that goes into the charging port on your car, with a three-prong plug on the other end. That pistol-grip has a name – the J1772 – and it’s the standard charging plug for all battery-electric and PHEV cars for Level 1 and Level 2 charging.
If you install a Level 2 unit at home – typically a wall-mounted system for faster charging – it will use the same kind of connector. And if you unplug at home, hit the road and rack up some miles before pulling into a public Level 2 station, that station’s hardware will fit your car’s charging port. The only exception is Tesla, and that company sells an adapter compatible with this hardware.
It’s only when you arrive at Level 3 that things get a bit more complex. To begin with, not all EVs are set up for fast charging. In some models, it’s a standard feature, while in others it is only available at certain trim levels or as an option at additional cost. There are three different Level 3 plugs, each used by different groups of manufacturers. There’s the ChaDeMo, specific to Asian automakers like Nissan and Mitsubishi, the SAE Combo (General Motors, BMW, Mercedes, VW) and Tesla.
ChaDeMo SAE Combo Tesla
Despite all these apparent complications, finding and using Level 3 charging systems compatible with your car is really no big deal. It just requires a touch more advance planning than pulling into the nearest truck stop for a tankful of unleaded. To confirm whether a charging site fits your car, check on sites like AFDC, or Plugshare. The latter is a multi-lingual, multi-function site that will tell you what kind of fast-charge connectors any given station in their database uses.
Once you pull into the parking space, the protocol is simple and seamless, whatever the charging speed. Whether using a Visa or a charging network card, once you turn off the car and connect to the charger, simply follow the cues on the screen and swipe the card to start the process. Mobile apps are available that can tell you when a charger is open, and when your car is finished charging. And in case you were wondering, OEMs and charging networks pay a great deal of attention to safety. Until the computer in your car confirms with the network computer that a safe connection has been established, and that everything is in order, no electricity will flow.
There are a number of commercial charging networks, large and small, in the United States and Canada. Some concentrate on fast-charging along major highways (like Tesla and Electrify America) while others own and operate a few hundred stations in just a few states. Obviously, your choice of which network depends on where you live. For drivers in and around Kansas City, the largest local system is the Clean Charge Network, affiliated with ChargePoint, the largest national network.
Different charging networks offer different options to the EV driver. Some, like Electrify America, are accessible to anyone with a credit card; most require membership and a card to access that network’s stations. There is some variability in each company’s charging costs and in how they bill and process payments, and you’ll need to check with each company for additional details.
Beefing Up Home Charging Capacity
This article briefly mentioned Level 2 charging systems that can be installed at home, and before moving on, a bit more information on this option. This isn’t strictly necessary to make home charging doable. However, while a straight-up 120-volt connection can do the job, it will be quite slow, as in overnight and beyond to produce a full charge. So, for some EV owners, the extra investment to ensure full charging in as little as three or four hours is worth it.
Generally, a home Level 2 charging unit is comparable to a washer and drier combo in terms of in terms of the circuits, plugs and amount of electricity it draws draw – 240 volts as opposed to 120, typically at 30 amps. There are additional considerations, including choosing an electrician to handle the installation, and you’ll want to review some of the basics before making that commitment.
Most home charging units are wall-mounted, and don’t take up much space in the garage. Costs generally run from $400 to $700, depending on which unit you select, and you will also need to budget a few hundred dollars for installation costs as well.