All the Levels and All the Places
If you’re new to EV driving, welcome! You’ve made a great choice for the environment, and you can rest assured that you are doing your part with your electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle. Not only that, but EVs are fun to drive, and there’s a whole community of like-minded people you can connect with.
Of course, driving an EV comes with its own set of challenges. Given the limitations of current technology, many beginners stress about their EV’s range and getting their car charged quickly. While this might seem like an overwhelming problem at first, you can easily tackle it with a little information.
First, we’ll talk about the different types of charging you can do—AC charging at Level 1 and 2, and high-voltage DC charging. Then we’ll apply that knowledge. We’ll talk about the charging scenarios you’ll encounter day-in, day-out. Okay, let’s dive in!
Understanding different voltages and charging levels
Level 1 charging
120v = very slow, but useful in specific situations.
- Nissan LEAF – 4.5 miles of range per hour; 21 hours to full charge.
- Tesla Model S – 3-4 miles of range per hour; 63-81 hours to full charge.
- Chevy Volt – 5 miles of range per hour; 10.5 hours to full charge
Level 2 charging
240v = 2-4x faster than 120v charging (depending on electrical current capacity).
- Nissan LEAF – 12-25 miles of range per hour; 4-7 hours to full charge.
- Tesla Model S – 20-25 miles of range per hour; 10-12 hours to full charge.
- Chevy Volt – 13 miles of range per hour; 4 hours to full charge.
Full-electric cars will most likely require Level 2 charging to get a full battery overnight. Plug-in hybrids may get a full charge off of Level 1 charging overnight, but it’s best not to count on it.
This method is much faster than AC charging, but it’s not yet widely available—and the chargers cost a fortune to install.
However, some companies are seeking to make ultra-fast DC charging stations more widely available. For example, EVgo is offering Freedom Station Plans that could put 480v DC chargers in the heart of cities and along major highways. These charging stations can charge up to 150 miles of range in one hour. They could revolutionize EV driving if they’re widely adopted.
Note: not all EVs can accept a charge from a DC source. Consult your owner’s manual before plugging in to a DC charging station (in fact, you’ll need a special plug).
There are 3 standards currently in use. Note that the Tesla Supercharger method is proprietary and only works on Tesla cars.
- CHAdeMO (Nissan, Mitsubishi, Kia)
- CCS (all US and German cars)
- Tesla Supercharger (Tesla)
Charging at home
Charging Level 1 at home
Level 1 charging is simply using 110-120v, the standard power from your home’s 3-prong outlets. You can do this if you need to, but it takes an inordinate amount of time, often 3x the length of time you would need on 220-240v.
For a PHEV vehicle, you may be able to get away with Level 1 charging overnight to reach a full or nearly-full battery. However, for electric-only EVs, Level 1 charging will often take almost a full day from 0 to 100%. That means Level 1 is fairly impractical for BEVs.
Charging Level 2 at home Option 1 – Install a dedicated Level 2 charger
Installing a Level 2 charging station in your garage will cost about $1000-2000, though there is a 30% tax credit (up to $1,000) for ones installed before December 31, 2016. Hopefully the government will extend this law into 2017, but we don’t have any news on that yet. You can read the 2016 law here.
Though a dedicated, permanent Level 2 charger sounds great, it’s a fairly expensive way to charge your EV. Worse, it isn’t portable when permanently installed. Luckily, there is another option for Level 2 EV charging.
Charging Level 2 at home Option 2 – Use a Quick220 voltage converter
If you don’t want to install a charging station costing thousands of dollars, you can get a safe, portable 220v converter for a fraction of that cost. With proper extension cords, a plug adapter (if necessary), and a little knowledge, you can charge your EV at home using standard household outlets—but charging fast on 220-240 volts.
How does this work? It’s pretty simple, actually. The Quick220 voltage converter takes 110-120v power from two standard, out-of-phase wall outlets and combines it to produce 220-240v. It allows you to cut your EV charge time down by ½ to 1/3.
That’s a huge savings in time, and it makes the Quick220 a great charging option for brief stays at someone else’s house. I.e., if you go to a friend’s house for dinner or spend the night at a relative’s house, the Quick220 can give you a fast, safe 220v charge without any permanent charging equipment installed.
Here’s a video from Internet Guy on how to charge a Tesla with a Quick220. While every EV is different, this video serves as a great introduction to this safe, affordable charging method.
THREE IMPORTANT NOTES:
- The Quick220 voltage converter will only work when the 120v cords are plugged into 2 out-of-phase sockets. For example, you generally can’t plug the cords into two outlets in the same room because the outlets will be in phase. You have to find two out-of-phase outlets. The indicator light on the Quick220 unit will light up when you are plugged into out-of-phase outlets.
- You cannot use a Quick220 voltage converter on any GFI (ground fault interrupter) circuit. The yellow outlet tester (included) will tell you if the outlet is compatible with the voltage converter.
- You may need a plug adapter to fit your particular vehicle. You may also need one or more extension cords to bring power from 2 out-of-phase 120v outlets to the Quick220 unit.
Charging at work
Using existing EV charge stations at work
If your employer already has an EV charging station, you’re in luck! Check with HR or management to ensure you know all the policies related to your company’s charging station. Once you’re armed with that knowledge, charge away—just be sure to follow the public EV charging etiquette, which we outline below.
Advocating EV charging (for employers who haven’t installed a station yet)
If your employer doesn’t have an EV charging station set up, you have an opportunity to advocate the addition of a station. Now, this isn’t something to simply dive into; you need to be smart about it, and you need to approach management with respect.
Start small. Try to engage your coworkers on the topic of EVs and see how they respond. The more goodwill you can create in the office regarding EVs, the easier your case will be.
To educate yourself, check out the federal government’s Workplace Charging Challenge. The goal is to get 500 companies joining the initiative as partners by 2018. As the program’s fact sheet explains, there are several benefits for employers who commit to the challenge, including cost calculation, technical assistance, and—perhaps most importantly to win your case with management—DOE recognition of the company on websites, in national media, and at events.
When you do approach management, be prepared to outline a specific plan as well as the specific benefits which your employer will receive. One of the top reasons for a company to install charging stations is that the company is more likely to attract (and keep) a younger, cutting-edge workforce that drives EVs. Don’t forget to mention that in a nuanced way.
Charging at public stations
Planning your trip
EV driving requires a little more foresight than the old gas car way of life. Most EVs have plenty of range for a typical two-way commute to work without a charge in the middle. However, it’s important to know the length of your commute and the time it will take your car to charge on the voltage level that you have available.
It’s also important to know the maximum range that your car can handle on a full charge, and the range it has on its current charge.
For longer trips, or for a daily commute that stretches your car’s capacity, you can use one of numerous apps to locate nearby charging stations. (See below.)
Note: You’ll want to be aware of your charge rate when using a public charging station. The charge rate will begin to slow once your battery is at 50%. It will slow significantly above 80%. Some chargers will actually cut you off at 80% because it’s just too slow at that point, and they want to open up the charger for other public users.
Finding public charging stations
EV charging stations are cropping up in most major cities. You should have no trouble finding one if you live in a heavily-populated area. However, less densely populated areas are still lagging behind with charging infrastructure.
Never fear—there are lots of great apps on the market to help you find public charging stations. Here are the top apps that we recommend:
Now that the new wave of EVs has been around for a few years, EV owners have developed a rough set of rules on how to handle public EV charging. If we all follow these rules, we’ll make things easier for everyone. The principle behind all of this is pretty simple: be reasonable, be courteous, and treat others the way you would like to be treated.
- First come, first served. This one is pretty basic. If you can respect a line at the grocery store, you can approach EV charging the same way.
- PHEV hybrids have just as much right to charge as full-electric cars. But…
- If a full-electric BEV and a hybrid PHEV arrive at the same time, the BEV should charge first. This is because the BEV does not have a backup power source (the gas engine in a PHEV). Makes sense, right?
- PHEV owners should take a Level 1 charging slot if they’ll be there more than 1 or 2 hours. Since PHEVs have less overall need for electric power, this leaves the faster Level 2 charging station open for BEVs which do not have an alternate power source.
- Don’t park if you’re not charging. This applies to all types of vehicles—BEV, PHEV, and (obviously) ICE gas-powered cars. This is not a preferential spot like one reserved for sub-compacts or carpooling; rather, it’s a functional spot with only one purpose—getting EVs charged.
- While charging, leave a note on your windshield. Include the time when your charge will be full, and leave your phone number.
- If you can get by without a charge, leave the station open for someone else. What if you decide to top off when someone else is down to their last mile? Not good at all!
- Move your EV when charging is complete. Yes, it can be hard to find a new parking spot, especially at peak times. But this is the right thing to do. Again, someone else could be on their last mile.
- Respect the charging equipment. Public charging stations are owned by someone, whether the government or a private company. Respect the equipment, and it will cost everyone less in the long run. In particular, coil up any cords when finished so they don’t get run over.
- Leave a polite note for ICE cars parked in an EV charging spot. Let’s face it, EVs are not yet as widely adopted as we’d like to see. It doesn’t help our movement at all when EV owners leave nasty notes for ICE owners who are parked in a charging spot. Leave a factual note explaining the problem. Stay civil and try to educate rather than hang someone out to dry.
- Don’t unplug someone’s car unless it’s fully charged. This can be tough, but unfortunately, it’s an extension of the “first come, first served” rule. Even if you are almost empty and the other car is almost full, it’s not right to pull that plug. Wait until the stranger’s car is full.
If you’re looking for an easy solution that does the talking for you, check out the EV Etiquette Survival Pack from TakeChargeandGo. It supplies cards with polite statements that are appropriate for typical EV parking problems.
The Bottom Line
EV charging doesn’t have to be stressful. With the right equipment, a little planning, and common courtesy toward other drivers, you can navigate the world of EV driving with ease. Here’s to the daily commute—and here’s to easier road trips in the future, as the charging grid gets better.