Charging an Electric Car

Posted Monday, Jun 14, 2021

Electric cars have many differences to gas cars, the most noticeable difference for the owners is charging instead of stopping by a gas station. It is important to understand the differences in different charging levels and the different types of plugs out there so that you can best utilize your electric car to work as conveniently and as affordably as it can. 

 

Terminology

Before getting into the different ways of charging an electric car, there are some units and terms to know. 

 

Amps and Volts

Amps and volts are commonly compared to the flow and pressure of water. Volts are the “Pressure” of the electricity. Some common levels of voltages that you may be use to are the 12 volt battery in your car that runs your accessories. The 120 Volt plugs in your home that you plug your phone into. And the 240 volt plugs in your home that are most commonly used for a dryer. Amps are the “Flow” of electricity. Something like a TV can draw 1 or 2 amps when plugged into a 120 volt plug. And more powerful appliances like a microwave can pull 10 amps because they require more electricity to operate. 

 

Kilowatts (kW)

A kilowatt represents total power as a combination of volts and amps. You can find a kilowatt rating by multiplying the amps by the volts. KW=Amps x Volts. Lets say your microwave pulls 10A from your 120V outlet, the Kilowatt rating for that microwave would be 10X120=1,200 watts or 1.2 kilowatts.

 

Kilowatt Hours (kWh)

Kilowatt hours is a measure of an amount of electricity. This is the unit that electric car batteries are measured in. You can think of a kilowatt hour as a gallon of gasoline, the more you have the farther you will be able to go. A battery that has a capacity of 1 kilowatt hour can discharge one kilowatt of electricity for one continuous hour. Batteries with a 30 kilowatt hour capacity can discharge 1 kilowatt for 30 hours or 30 kilowatts for 1 hour. Keep in mind that most electric cars go about 3-4 miles with one kilowatt hour of electricity.

 

Now that we know the electrical terms commonly used to understand electric car charging, it’s time to understand the 3 different levels of electric car charging. 

 

Level 1

This is the slowest method of charging an electric car and the easiest method. Level 1 charging  utilizes a 120V plug, the same plug you use to charge your phone. A standard level 1 charger will draw 12A, making it a 1.4 KW charger. This means that a car with a 30 kWh battery pack will take over 24 hours to fully charge. 

 

Even though level 1 is very slow, many electric car owners use it as their only source of charging. As long as you don’t drive more than around 40 miles a day, level 1 will be able to make up for the energy you used overnight. Let's say you get home at 6PM and leave at 6AM, if you charge for that 12 hour period you will get about 40 miles of range. If you intend on driving your electric car more than 40 miles, or want a more convenient home charging experience, then you will need a level 2 charger.

 

Level 2

A level 2 charger is the fastest way to charge your electric car at home, and it is what a majority of public stations are. Level 2 uses a 240V plug and different chargers vary in how many amps they can draw, making some level 2 chargers faster than others. This also applies to the electric cars themselves, some electric cars have the ability to charge faster with a level 2 to charger than others. 

 

These charger speeds are measured in kilowatts. Some older electric cars have a slower level 2 charge speed of 3.3kW, and these speeds go up to 6.6kW, 7.2kW and newer electric cars are getting more and more capable of charging faster on level 2. A full charge on level 2 will take anywhere between 3 and 8 hours depending on battery size and charger speed. All electric cars are capable of charging on level 1 and level 2.

 

Level 3

Not every car is able to charge on level 3, for many cars the ability to use a level 3 charger was an optional extra when new or for some cars it was never even an option. A level 3 charger is best used on longer drives when you want to make a trip that is longer than the range of your electric car. 

 

Level 3 charge speeds vary just like level 2 charge speeds vary, both the cars and the chargers have different kW ratings ranging from 50 kW to 250 kW. These chargers are capable of getting most cars from 0-80% in around 30-45 minutes. You will only find level 3 chargers at public charging stations, you cannot install one at home. They are typically more expensive to charge at than a level 2 public station because you’re paying for the convenience of faster charging, but even the most expensive fast chargers are still cheaper than buying gas. 

 

Plugs

The different levels of charging also use different plugs. Level 1 and 2 for all non-Tesla's use the J-1772 plug. Level 3 has 3 different plugs depending on what the car is. Cars like the Nissan Leaf and Kia Soul EV use the CHAdeMO plug. The other option is a CCS plug, and Tesla cars have one proprietary plug for all 3 levels of charging.

 

Jack Himmer, Sales, Platt Auto

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