While electric vehicles (EVs) may seem like a relatively new trend in the automotive world, they've actually been around since the 1830s. The first rechargeable electric car, which had 4 horsepower and a 50-mile range, arrived in 1859.
Fast-forward to 2021, and we have multiple models with over a 250-mile EV range and others with supercar-like acceleration. Electric vehicle chargers have also come a long way over the years.
Electric vehicle charging has long been the thorn in the side of EVs, as range anxiety and charging times have left people wary of making the switch from gas to electric. This guide explains the various EV charger options, including charging times and costs, so you can determine if an electric vehicle is right for you.
The EV charger you use significantly impacts how long it takes to recharge your electric vehicle. That said, it's not the only factor to consider when shopping for a car. Here’s what you need to consider besides the charging station.
Battery pack capacity is a key determining factor in charging times when you want a 100% charge. The higher capacity the battery is, the longer it'll take to recharge it to capacity with all else remaining equal. As such, a Tesla Model S with a 100-kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery will take significantly longer than an EV with a 60-kWh battery.
The trade-off, however, is the Model S will have a significantly longer range, thereby needing a charge less often.
All EVs have an on-board charger with a set acceptance rate that's listed in kilowatts (kW). Today's EVs generally have on-board chargers with acceptance rates of 3.3 kW to 10 kW. The higher the number, the more power the charger will allow to pass through to the battery, and the faster the vehicle can potentially charge.
There's a wide range of car chargers with differing voltage, amps, kW, and more. Here's a rundown of the most common options available today.
The Level 1 electric vehicle charging station is the simplest of the bunch, as it requires no wiring or modifications to work in your home. It simply plugs into an existing 120-volt household power outlet.
Because these are the simplest chargers with the lowest voltage, they’re also the slowest. Generally, these are chargers that EV owners plug their cars into for an overnight recharge. These are also great for people with plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), which have a short EV range and a backup gasoline generator.
A Level 2 EV home charging station requires you to hardwire a 240-volt power connection and a dedicated 40-amp circuit — similar to what your household dryer or oven runs on. As such, you'll need to hire an electrician to wire a new plug if you don't already have one.
This additional expense of a hardwired 240-volt plug comes with the benefit of a significantly faster charging time. Typically, a Level 2 charger can recharge an EV in less than a quarter of the time a Level 1 charger can.
Level 2 home EV chargers also come in various amperage ratings, ranging from 12 amps to 80 amps. The amp rating correlates to the acceptance rate of your EV's onboard charger. Generally, when you get above 40 amps, you're looking at an EV charger designed to charge more than one car at a time. These chargers deliver more than 10-kW of power — more than any EV can accept at this time.
Level 3 EV chargers, commonly known as DC fast charging, are top-of-the-line charging stations and can deliver up to an 80% charge in as little as 30 minutes. They do this via a 480-volt direct current (DC) plug that maximizes the car's onboard charging system.
Remember that not every EV can accept a DC fast charge, so check your owner's manual before attempting to plug into one. Those that can accept it may require optional equipment. Also, a Level 3 charger requires complex electrical systems and can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so these are usually reserved for public charging, not at-home charging.
These Level 3 chargers are typically from large electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) companies like ChargePoint, Siemens, or EVgo. Many are even powered by renewable energy, like solar.
There is a second Level 3 charger made specifically for Tesla models, and that's the ever-expanding Tesla Supercharger, which now has over 10,000 chargers across North America. These chargers can give a Tesla battery up to a 50% charge in just 20 minutes.
Charging an EV is less expensive than refilling a fuel tank, but it takes a good bit more time. Let’s look at how the two at-home charging options compare to charging on a Level 3 charger on the road.
Using a Level 3 EV charger comes with no initial upfront costs, but you may have to pay to upgrade to fast-charge capabilities on your EV. For example, the 2021 Nissan LEAF doesn't come standard with a fast-charge port. You must upgrade to the S PLUS trim — more than a $2,000 upgrade — to get 100-kW fast charging.
There are also no upfront costs for Level 1 charging, as your EV will come standard with the Level 1 charging cable. If your vehicle doesn't have a Level 1 charger, you can buy one for around $400.
Level 2 chargers get a little more complex because you'll need a dedicated 40-amp circuit added to your fuse box and a 240-volt plug wired in. Also, you'll need to secure a Level 2 charger.
The median cost for installing the circuit and plug is $765. Level 2 chargers also have a range of amp ratings to pick from. A 12- to 16-amp charger will run $300 to $400. A 20- to 32-amp charger will run $450 to $600. Finally, a 40- to 80-amp charging solution will set you back anywhere from $650 to more than $2,300.
For a Level 2 setup, you're looking at a total average cost of $1,065 to $3,065.
Level 3 chargers in Canada generally charge by the minute and come out to about $15 per hour. Breaking that down to a per-minute rate, you're looking at 25 cents per minute. Most EVs will reach 80% capacity in as little as 30 minutes, so you'll pay $7.50 for that charge. If you were charging a 2021 Tesla Model 3 Performance with a 507-km range, you'd get 406 km for that $7.50.
Using the same 2021 Tesla Model 3 Performance, which has a combined 15.2 kWh/100km rating, you'd need 60.9 kWh of home electricity to get the same range you'd get on the Level 3 charger. Using Ottawa's $0.1178-per-kWh off-peak electricity fee, this charge would cost you $7.17 at home, saving you 33 cents.
The at-home charging fee will remain the same no matter which level of EV charger you use.
Charging time is the Achilles’ heel in the EV world — potential buyers can't imagine waiting hours for a battery to charge when they can refill their gas tank in just five minutes. Fortunately, DC fast chargers have dramatically reduced the wait time, bringing most EVs to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes.
When charging at home, though, things are still relatively slow. If you're working with a Level 1 charger, it can take 8-12 hours to charge a fully depleted battery. For vehicles with higher-capacity batteries, like the Tesla Model 3 Performance, it takes more than 46 hours to fully charge the battery on 120-volt power.
If you have a Level 2 charger, the charging time will vary depending on the onboard charger's acceptance rate and the charger's amp rating. If you use a 16-amp charger with 3.8-kW of charging power, fully charging the Model 3 Performance's 82-kWh battery can take nearly 24 hours to recharge a fully depleted battery.
Moving to a 32-amp Level 2 charger with 7.7-kW of charging power will drop the charging time to just shy of 12 hours.
If you move to a 48-amp charger, which delivers 11.8 kW of power and maxes out the Model 3's 11-kW charging limit, it'd take just over eight hours to recharge a fully depleted battery.
While those times may sound ridiculously high relative to the DC fast charger, keep in mind that the fast charger will only charge up to 80%. At that point, the power transfer slows significantly to prevent damaging the battery. Plus, studies have shown continuous Level 3 charging can cause EV batteries to lose their capacity faster.
Level 2 EV chargers are a great middle-ground for most EV owners, but there's an extra cost you may not account for: the possible need to upgrade your fuse panel.
The average household has a 60- or 100-amp fuse panel, which has been fine for ages. But EVs have thrown a wrench in this, as many Level 2 chargers pull up to 50 amps. With other appliances, like stoves, washers, dryers, ovens, and water heaters pulling high amps too, this can quickly overload a 100-amp fuse panel.
Upgrading to a 200-amp fuse panel is a good way to prevent overloading the circuit. To keep pace with growing EV popularity, Canada enacted a law in 2018 that required all new homes with a garage, carport, or driveway to come with 200-amp panels. In 2019, new leadership removed the law.
If your home has a 60- or 100-amp panel and you're considering a Level 2 charger, you should upgrade to a 200-amp panel. This will run you anywhere from $800 to $3,000.
Just like there are various types of cars to fit every type of buyer, there's a range of EV chargers to fit different drivers. The Level 1 charger is perfect for the driver who takes their EV down the street a few times a week. The Level 3 charger is great for the long-haul driver who has no issue with driving thousands of miles.
The various Level 2 chargers fill the vast gap between Level 1 and 3 chargers. Whether you want to save money with a lower-amp model or speed up the charge with a high-amp model, there's a Level 2 charger to meet your home-charging needs.
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