For people interested in electric vehicles, one of the things you need to use is a charging station. An EV charging station is a crucial component of electric car ownership. Getting anywhere outside your city means knowing how to operate charging stations. It can give you more value than you expect.
To charge, you need a charging app that allows you to create an account. From there, you would need to tap a card or connect your app to remove a charging head from the station. Connect the closest charging head to your charge port once it clicks. End the charge session using the app or tapping a card on the station.
Charging your electric vehicle is as straightforward as it can be. Even then, there’s a lot of nuance to it. Learning different standards, station types, and leasing a makeshift charging station helps. This knowledge can make you a superb power user.
Here’s what you need to know.
How Do Charging Stations Work?
All-electric vehicles do not use fossil fuels like gas to run. Instead, they run on an electric motor powered by electricity stored in a battery pack. Rather than filling your car with gas, you charge it up using a charging station. How does it work?
Charging your EV is a matter of plugging it into a charger that connects to an electrical grid. Much like a mobile phone, once it connects into a charging station, all you need to do is leave it to charge. EV car batteries are state of the art and quite expensive but tend to use the same technology.
Almost all DC batteries use either Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) or Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) combo. These two chemicals are great at doing their job. When you compare them to traditional battery technology, there is a difference. They can hold a higher density charge while being able to charge faster.
The goals of charging stations are simple. The first is to charge the batteries as fast as possible to let the user get on the road sooner. The second goal is to keep, through the charging process, the battery undamaged.
As you notice, many electric cars have a range of between 100 to 200 miles (160 – 320 km). As this is only around a quarter to one half the range of conventional cars, it can become a problem. You need to charge more often than having to put gas in your vehicle.
This is why you need charging stations for your car. There are commercial charging stations and at-home systems used for electric vehicles. Most, if not all electric cars, have a charging system usable at home.
Understanding Charging Station Levels
There are many different standards when it comes to charging stations. They use different categories, various connectors, and plug types. Different brands have their set of proprietary technology they use. When it comes to charging, however, many use the same systems.
Not all electrical vehicle supply equipment or EVSE has the same construction. For charging stations, there are three levels that brands use for charging stations. These classify as:
- Level 1 Charging Stations
- Level 2 Charging Stations
- Level 3 DC Fast Chargers
Each charging station offers a different charge speed and has its uses.
Level 1 Charging Stations
Level 1 charging stations use a 120 V AC plug, which you can connect to a standard outlet. Level 1 chargers don’t need any special installation and can come with your EV. They’re the oldest and most inefficient of all charging stations.
Many Level 1 charging stations have around 1 kW of power. They can deliver about 2 – 5 miles (3.2 – 8.04 km) of charge per hour, which can charge an EV with a 124 mile (200 km) range in 20 – 25 hours.
It’s best to avoid all Level 1 charging stations. They are slow and useless if you are traveling. There’s no reason to use a Level 1 charging station if you’re looking to charge as fast as possible.
Level 2 Charging Stations
Level 2 EV charging stations are a standard for residential and commercial charging. They use either a 240 V or 208 V plug and they don’t connect to a standard outlet. Most of the time, you request a skilled electrician to install it at home.
The 240 V current needs to pass through a charging box for voltage regulation. The regulated power will then pass through a special cord for safety. Despite all these complications, Level 2 charging stations are great.
Level 2 offers a power of between 3 to 20 kW, and the most common are at 6 kW per hour. To charge a 124-mile (200 km) range EV, you would need around 5 – 6 hours of charging time. These serve their purpose.
Most Level 2 charging stations are the standard that many electrical cars use. At their best capacity, they can charge your EV in as little as two hours from zero. They’re the ideal option when it comes to home charging stations.
Level 3 Charging Stations
DC fast chargers are what we also call Level 3 charging stations. It is a current standard known as CHAdeMo (from Charge de Move or charge ‘n’ go). These are super-fast chargers that can offer up to around 100 miles (160 km) of charge per 20 minutes.
Many DC fast charging stations are there for commercial applications. Their installation is specific, with many being super expensive. They’re high-powered equipment to install and would need a reliable power source.
DC fast chargers are the quickest way to charge your electric car. You can charge them as fast as you need without much (of a) problem. The issue comes with compatibility.
Not every all-electric vehicle is compatible with DC fast chargers. Some can’t handle the sudden burst of electrical power and can damage the system batteries.
The Tesla Supercharger
There’s another “category” of charging stations available on the market. It is proprietary and one of the most well-known.
The Supercharger is a type of fast DC charger exclusive for Tesla users. These are ultra-fast chargers, able to charge your vehicle up to 80 percent in as little as 30 minutes. Knowing that Tesla vehicles have a range of around 300 miles (480 km), that’s fast.
There are many Tesla Supercharger stations across the United States. Superchargers, however, are not usable for any vehicle outside Tesla. Why?
For starters, Tesla provides free Supercharger credits to anyone who buys the vehicle. This is around 400 to 500 kWh, which would last around 1000 – 1200 miles (1600 – 1931 km). After consuming these credits, Tesla owners would need to pay for charging.
The cost of 1500 miles (2400 km) of charging with Tesla goes around $116. You would need to buy Supercharger credits to use their stations. Since they’re using proprietary systems, your car can’t use their standard plug.
Understanding EVSE Connectors and Plugs
Connectors are the part of the charging station that you plug into your electric vehicle. Every brand uses a different standard, with some having their proprietary connectors. This idea is the same with wall plugs.
There are at least three types of wall plugs that many electric vehicles use too. These wall plugs are usable with any charger for electric cars.
For connectors, there are at least five types of connectors you can use. These are:
- SAE J1772
- Tesla HPWC
- SAE Combo CCS
- Tesla Supercharger
For wall plugs, there are three common plug types for electric cars. These are:
- NEMA 5 series, (5-15, 5-20)
- NEMA 14-50
- NEMA 6-50
For Level 1 and 2 connectors, the most common in use for charging stations is the SAE J1772. This EV plug has five circular pins — two big pins on top and three at the bottom, with one big ground pin and two function pins.
The J-plug is a standard in the US and Canada, with Tesla even providing an adapter for it. It is also common in Asia-Pacific regions but rarer in EU countries. J-plugs have two different levels, allowing for different charging power and current.
A Level 1 J-plug uses 120 V AC with either 12 or 16 A and can charge up to 6.6 kW. A Level 2 J-Plug uses a 208 to 240 V AC with up to 80 A current, providing around 19.2 kW.
In Europe, they use a modified Type 2 triple-phase AC charger, known as a Mennekes plug. Its most common setting gives around 22 kW, but can provide up to 43 kW. It does so with a 400 V, 63 A AC power, and is available in many public charging stations.
For Level 3 connectors, CHAdeMO and SAE Combo connectors are the most common types. They have different designs not interchangeable from each other. Remember to check the specifications of your car before using either.
As for Tesla chargers and superchargers, they are only compatible with Tesla cars.
Where Can You Charge Your Electric Vehicle?
Many major cities across the US, Canada, and others worldwide use EV charging stations. It’s best to check with your manufacturer’s website where you can find nearby charging stations.
There are also third-party charging companies that provide services for a fee. Many would need their users to be a member, apply for a subscription, and use their exclusive app. Some of these companies include:
- ZEF Energy
- OP Connect
- GE Wattstation
- Sun Country Highway
There are also independent public charging stations that provide charging for a fee. It’s best to check local for these stations as they tend to have different terms and conditions. Remember that all the above providers need membership apart from Tesla. Tesla charging stations, however, only work with Tesla vehicles.
The Cost of Charging Electric Cars
As noted before, the length and cost of charging your electric car depend on two things. Your charging duration will depend on the capacity of your car’s battery and the charger you use. These two are vital in giving you the right charging duration and how fast you can get out of a station.
Battery capacity differs across all-electric car brands. Most electric vehicle batteries pack have around 16 kW (Mitsubishi MiEV) to about 90 kW (Tesla S 85) capacity. The range for these goes at around 55 – 225 miles (85 – 360 km).
From here, all you need to do is check the charging output of your station. Most Level 2 charging stations can charge up to 20 kWh. You would need less than an hour to charge a 16kW electric vehicle.
As for cost, the value differs depending on your provider and local power costs.
If the cost of electricity in your area is around $0.12 per kWh and you need 16 kW to travel 55 miles (85 km), you would need to pay about $1.92 for a single charge. This charge has a cost per mile of around $0.035.
The cost per mile on gas varies, with the average going at 15 cents ($0.15) a mile. This will change depending on the make of the car and many other factors. Therefore, with charging stations, you will likely pay less for the service.
What’s the Best Way to Charge Using Public Charging Stations?
So, what’s the best way to charge when using public charging stations? The best move is to use a Level 3 charging station if it is available. If your vehicle can handle it, Level 3 charging should only last you a few minutes.
Many Level 3 chargers can “supercharge” your car to around 80% in about 15 to 30 minutes. These are great, but many providers slow down the charge rate once capacity is above 80 percent. Once you reach 80 percent, it’s best to stop charging and use the car to go to your destination.
If you want to charge to full, move from a Level 3 charger to a Level 2. Further charging from 81 to 100 percent would be cheaper and faster if you go with Level 2. It’s up to you if you want to do it this way.
However, one thing is sure — never waste your time with Level 1 chargers.
For those who have chargers at home, it’s best to do your charging at home. Setting a Level 2 charger at home affords you the long wait times for a cheaper cost. Why?
Many charging stations don’t bill for kilowatt-hour. They bill you for hours spent using the service, buying credits as you go. Some even bill on a per-session basis, depending on the service provider.
Many charging locations also bill on a monthly or annual subscription basis. Some charging stations are free. They are under provision by certain businesses like premium paid parking.
As competition for people’s dollars goes deeper, expect costs to drop too. It’s crucial to understand the pricing scheme of service providers compared with what’s at home.
To pay your charging station, you would need to have an account with the provider. Some would bill for the session through a cashier. Many providers, however, have limits.
Some places that provide fast charging can limit their sessions to around an hour or two. This duration should be enough for most electric vehicles, so consider if you need it. Comparing price to mileage is a vital step.
The Economic Viability of Battery Swapping
There’s a lot of talk about battery swapping, and there’s a reason why it isn’t catching on. In Asia, battery swapping is a concept that is under substantial consideration. It sounds like a faster and quicker way to charge your electric vehicles.
Battery swapping is the idea of removing empty batteries and replacing them with full batteries. By replacing with fresh batteries, there are many different advantages that you get.
Battery swapping can cut the time tradeoff between gas and electric vehicles. One major complaint about electric cars is the time it takes to charge them. The standard 1.5 hours is still too much compared to the usual 2 minutes you spend at gas stations.
Many EV owners even plug-in overnight at home to charge their electric vehicles for hours. Some electric cars also have supercharging that takes around 15 – 30 minutes to charge to 80%. If you use battery swapping, you can charge to 100% in the time it takes you to remove the battery.
Many battery swapping services now claim they can do so in less than a minute. You don’t even have to do it yourself, as battery swap stations can do so while you stay in your vehicle. The problem is that many treat battery swapping as a dead end.
Another advantage of battery swapping comes from the mere application of physics. Many big-time companies are trying to establish facilities that support battery swapping. Why?
With the growth of electric vehicle technology, battery capacity is growing too. The current Tesla Model S Long Range, for example, has a range of 373 miles (600 km). With growth in capacity, there is also growth in charging times.
Power and electricity can only grow so much. With every growth in the charging output of stations, more technology needs to support it. The heat that the charging produces is problematic. It needs superior cooling technology that should go to your EV.
Demand charges would also be a headache, which means expensive electricity. This peak in demand would cost businesses a lot of money. In turn, they will pass such a cost to the consumer.
It’s best to consider battery swapping as something for the future. Battery swapping can be a viable means to cut capital costs. With swap systems, you pay for the replacement battery and the electricity. This results in lower costs upfront for electric vehicles.
The idea is picking up steam in different places, but for now everyone in the industry is still in a wait-and-see mode.
Charging Your EV at Home
The benefits of charging at home are hard to deny. Without the need for a return on investment, a charging station at home can save you money. It can save you thousands of dollars on the cost of charging your EV in public. Even with the investment upfront for the installation, it pays for itself in the long run.
Charging at home means installing a dedicated car charging point. You can also use an EVSE supply cable for a 3-pin plug socket.
The costs vary depending on your local laws. Installation can cost a few hundred dollars but you can reimburse this with local EV grants.
The fuel cost of charging at home will only cost you pennies per kilowatt-hour. This cost is almost the same as running your air conditioning for a night at most. It will even cost you less if your electric vehicle’s miles/kWh is efficient.
You can even get more if you charge your electric vehicle at night. Off-peak charging can cost very little, so charging your car for a few hours at night is cost-efficient. Once you’re ready to move, the only thing you need to do is unplug, and you’re good to go.
Are There Free EV Charging Stations?
With the rampant ownership of electric vehicles, are there still free EV charging stations? Despite many figures, the truth of the matter is that there are still free charging stations. There are even providers who add charging stations and don’t charge for it.
Some EV brands, like ChargePoint and Plugshare, still have many free charging stations. This is due to the structure of their branding.
Many charging stations do their best to make money from the charging hardware. Most of the money they make also comes from the software infrastructure they sell. The ones who charge for the stations, however, are the station owners.
Many stations charge money to deter idling. This is to prevent drivers from occupying the station too much. There are also free charging stations in many workplaces, offered as a perk for employees.
In more public settings, free EV charging is also available in hotels or big stores. This gives them an extra pull to customers as a way to attract them to the store. Even further, there are many free EV charging stations around.
The only investment that you want to do is time. You want to get yourself an app that can help you find a nearby charging station. In many cases, there will be an EV station nearby but look incognito to the naked eye.
EV station brands say that there can be dozens or hundreds of charging stations within a city. They’re available in parking lots, without the big canopies that gas stations have. There is one bound to be free of cost and all you need to do is look.
Leasing Your EV Charging Home Kit
Can you have a home charging station kit installed in your home and lease it to EV owners? Yes, and it’s happening as we speak. Early adopters, due to range anxiety, decided to build their charging stations at home. Some go on and share it with others on the network.
The idea was to spread the concept and have better adoption rates from people in the same network. By doing so, they increase the network of people who use the service. In turn, these adopters hope to use other people’s charging stations within the grid for a small fee.
The choice of charging a lease for the at-home charging station is up to the owner itself. Considering people don’t like handing out free electricity, it’s become its own niche. Many brands created systems for such a facility.
Many at-home charging stations will cost you a nominal fee. The concept works like AirBnB, with a centralized network handling payment facilities.
Companies like EVMatch use a peer-to-peer network. These networks allow you to earn money for every charging session.
Finding Charging Stations
Where can you find charging stations? There are a few station maps that you can use to look at. These include:
- Tesla Trip Planner (for Tesla users)
- Tesla Supercharger Map (for Tesla Users)
- Google Maps
- ChargePoint stations
- PlugShare Peer to Peer
- ChargeHub Station Maps
- Plug In America
Any of these can provide you with hundreds and even thousands of locations. All you need to do is to enable location service to the software. It can then provide you with the nearest facilities in your area.
Charging stations are what helps keep the electrical vehicle industry moving at its forefront. With EV charging stations, electric car owners can have their peace of mind. They can go almost anywhere, knowing there’s a way to charge up their cars.
If you’re an electric car owner, it’s best to learn the nuances of charging stations. Learn how to differentiate between different levels of EVSE and the compatibility of your vehicle. This will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
Done right, it would only take you around 15 – 30 minutes to charge using a Level 3 charger. If you have time, use a Level 2 charger and give it a few hours. It will cost less and is best at charging your EV to full.
If you can, it’s better to invest in a charging station at home. While there is a significant upfront cost, the long-term price is much lower. You’re looking at paying cents per kilowatt-hour and will benefit you in the long run.
For people who want to access public charging stations, use apps that provide locations. There are many resources on the market that give everything you need.
Using an EV charging station is a matter of respect for others and knowing where to look. If you check hard enough, you will find many great options out there for you.
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