Electric cars are growing in popularity and appear to be here to stay. As they improve range, comfort, and just about every other aspect, more and more consumers are seeing them as a viable option for the daily commute.
Obviously, with an electric car comes the need to plug it in for a charge. While you can skip the gas station (at least for fully electric), you will need to figure out how to meet your charging needs.
Let’s start with the basics.
What Is an Electric Car Charging Station?
In the simplest terms, an electric car charging station works the same way as your cell phone or robot vacuum.
The car’s battery stores energy. The vehicle is also equipped with a charging unit that receives power from the charging cord and converts it for storage in the battery.
Therefore, the car has everything it needs except the charging cord, which is commonly, if not slightly inaccurately, referred to as the charger.
Together, the charging system converts your home’s energy into a current flow the EV battery system can accept, allowing the battery to recharge.
Types of EV Charging Stations
There are three primary types of charging stations.
Level 1 Charging Station
Your car will come with a charging cord. This cord is somewhat specific to your model of vehicle, so it will fit the charging port on your car. The other end plugs directly into any standard 110-volt outlet inside your garage or on the outside of your home.
This is the most convenient and inexpensive means of sourcing power for your electric vehicle. However, it’s also the slowest and is rarely sufficient to meet most people’s needs.
A 110-volt outlet basically provides a trickle charge. If you’ve ever put a charger on a gas-powered car battery, you know this is a very slow process. The industry standard is that a level 1 charger will charge at a rate of about five miles per hour.
So, if you leave it plugged in for eight hours per night, you’ll net 40 miles of charge by morning. A full 250-mile-range charge could require 50 hours or more at this rate.
That might be fine if you only have a ten mile commute, but for most people, they’ll need a quicker charging option to provide reliable charging capacity.
It’s worth noting that if your vehicle is a plug-in hybrid a level 1 charging station may be all you need to top off your charge overnight.
Level 2 Charging Station
This is the most common type of household electric car charging station. A level 2 charger relies on a 240-volt outlet, similar to other major appliances in your home, like the furnace, stove, and clothes dryer.
With that amount of power, an electric car will charge up to ten times faster.
Level 3 Charging Station
This is the type of station you’ll find along the freeway or at the mall. It’s a commercial operation that requires access to high voltages. Inasmuch, a level 3 charging station makes quick work of charging a vehicle.
It’s worth noting some public charging stations are level 2 chargers, while others are level 3.
A level 3 charging station can completely power up a car in less than an hour. It can get you up to 80% charged within about 20 minutes.
The technology is constantly improving, and it’s not unreasonable to expect these charging stations to provide a full boost in about the same amount of time it takes to fill up at the gas station within the next several years.
Because this system is expensive to install, it’s not a viable option for home use. In addition, your home’s power system probably can’t support it anyway.
So what that all means is that, unless you have very minimal recharging needs, you’ll need to install a level 2 electric car charging system.
What to Look For
Run a quick internet search, and you’ll see there are many types of level 2 chargers available. Before purchasing one, think about your individual needs.
Access to Outlet and Cord Length
Consider the setup of your parking space and access to the charging outlet. With that in mind, get a system with a long enough cord to reach between the vehicle and the outlet.
You may also want to consider a system with smart capabilities. These features are controlled through an app so you can monitor the charge level of your battery and control the charging process from your phone.
Indoor or Outdoor Use
While shopping for your charging station, also be sure to check whether the system is equipped for outdoor exposure, if necessary. They will state whether they are appropriate for indoor use, outdoor use, or both.
Hard-Wired or Plug-in
We discuss this further below, but you’ll need to know whether the system needs to be hard-wired to the home’s electrical system or if it can be plugged into an outlet.
Review the power output of each charger you’re considering, to ensure it meets your needs. You’ll need to align the amount of amperage produced with what your car can accept. There’s no need to pay for 50 amps if your car will only absorb 32.
Some charging stations are actually designed to be portable. That means you can use it at home and then pack it up to take on the road.
Of course, you’ll need the proper plug-in at the other end of your journey, but it’s a convenient option for many people.
Types of Plugs
Now that you better understand the charging system, it’s important to comprehend the charging cord options.
In North America, most cars are equipped to receive a standardized plug known as an SAE J1772 connector, or J-plug, for Level 1 (120 volt) and Level 2 (240 volt) charging.
Tesla is the one exception here. Because it has a different charging port, Tesla provides an adapter that makes them compatible with the J-plug. That makes the plugs nearly universal regionally.
However, to complicate things, Tesla makes their own chargers. Non-Tesla EV owners need an adapter to use these systems.
To summarize, when we’re talking about level 1 and level 2 chargers in North America, with the provided adapter, all vehicles can use J1772 plugs. All vehicles can also use Tesla chargers, but will have to purchase an appropriate adapter to do so.
Level 2 EV Charging Station Installation
There’s crucial information to know about the actual installation. Ask questions and find explanations before making any assumptions about your specific situation.
Just like many other aspects of home improvement, you’ll need to check in with your local permitting department.
There are special regulations regarding the installation and use of these chargers, so it’s a good place to start and end.
You’ll need to know whether the system is required to be hardwired. This can be because of local regulations or the type of system you’re using.
Hardwired EV Charging Station
If your system needs to be hardwired, you’ll need to hire a professional electrician to manage the task. Not only is it essential the wiring is properly installed, but it will have to pass inspections.
A level 2 charging system requires access to a 240-volt outlet. That means it will need an appropriately-rated circuit in the circuit panel and may even need its own circuit altogether.
Hiring an electrician can be a significant expense, especially if you need to run wires a long distance to the desired outlet location. Estimates run anywhere from $300 to over $800, so be sure to factor that into your costs.
If your EV car charger isn’t required to be hardwired, you’ll use your existing or newly-installed 240-volt plug in to power your charging station.
Once again, you’ll just need to make sure the station can be mounted and used in a way that allows access to the outlet. Make sure you have enough cord length.
How Much Does an Electric Car Charging Station Cost:
As we mentioned above, the installation of a charging station must be part of the cost equation if you need to hire an electrician to prepare the outlet. Depending on the age and setup of your home, you may need to add an additional electrical panel or have some updated rewiring done.
The level 2 charging station itself will cost between $300-$1,000.
The permit for your EV car charging station could be as high as $200.
You can reasonably expect the entire setup to cost you $2,000-$3,000 if you need to deal with the electrical components.
In a best-case scenario where you already have access to a 240-volt outlet, you’ll likely get by for under $500.
It’s worth looking into local, state, and federal credits and rebates for EV charging station installation. You can often get a large kickback following your initial investment.
Addressing Range Anxiety
Anyone who’s driven a gas-powered vehicle knows you have to keep one eye on the gas gauge at all times. It’s common protocol to map out your next gas station stop, especially when on long trips.
The same idea holds true for electric vehicles. If you forget to plug in when you get home, you might find yourself with minimal battery charge in the morning.
Many people have charging stations at work, especially if they live in the city. However, if you can’t get to a charger, you might not make it back home.
The vast majority of electric vehicle owners only use a portion of their battery’s charge on a daily basis, so it’s really a matter of getting used to plugging in. It’s a rare occasion there’s an issue with the connection or expected charge.
For those with a longer commute, however, you’ll want to make sure your bases are covered.
For example, some states, and even regions within the state, have limited access to public charging stations. They are definitely less available than gas stations.
Inasmuch, it’s important to leave the house with a mostly-full charge and gain access to charging stations as needed throughout the day.
With the increased range on most EVs these days, most people simply commute to work, run errands, and plug in when they get home. If, however, you have a long commute, you could find yourself relying on a charge midday in order to get back home.
EVs may not be the best option for cross-country trips for this reason. It would be a challenge to find charging stations at reliable intervals. The same might be true for a smaller distance, such as a weekend trip that covers 800 miles or more.
Depending on where you are, there just may not be the charging stations available to keep the wheels rolling.
In reality, most of the country is equipped along major roadways to support the needs of electric vehicles. The infrastructure will continue to improve as more and more charging stations are being built.
That means road trip distances will be less of a concern, especially when coupled with the increasing ranges on newer electric vehicles.
Influences on Battery Consumption/Range
It’s worth noting that battery and capacity changes with conditions as well as with age. An electric vehicle’s charging capacity drops as the battery ages. A few years down the road, a car that charged to 240 when new, might only charge to 215. It may take longer to charge too.
While driving, or allowing the car to sit without a charge, the battery will drain. Some factors, such as windy conditions and cold weather can make the battery work harder, resulting in a faster drain than during ideal conditions.
Take these factors into consideration in calculating when and where your next charge will come from.
Overall, the innovations in electric vehicles mean there are more on the road, covering more miles than ever. They’re a cleaner alternative to petroleum-guzzling vehicles, lowering greenhouse gas emissions while idling in traffic.
However, there are still some challenges when it comes to reliable charging. Having a quality system at home is the best way to keep rolling on.
Learn more about electric vehicles in our related articles Maintenance and Safety of Electric Vehicles and How to Care for an Electric Car.