There are three levels of charging an electric car: Level 1, Level 2, and DC Fast Charging (sometimes called Level 3). Each level charges an electric vehicle (EV) at different power rates. Level 1 being the slowest and DC Fast Charging (DCFC) being the fastest.
Why Are Only Some EVs Capable of DC Fast Charging?
Not all EVs are capable of charging with DCFC. In fact, nearly all plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) can only charge at Level 1 or Level 2. This is because PHEVs have a much smaller battery than all-electric cars (known as Battery Electric Vehicles or BEVs).
What Are Level 1 and Level 2 Charging?
Level 1 charging is sometimes called “trickle charging”. That is because it uses the standard household outlet at 120 Volts. At this rate, charging on Level 1 provides around 4 miles of range per hour. And since most charging occurs at home overnight, this equates to around 50 miles of range overnight.
For most people, Level 1 charging is sufficient for the vast majority of the time. This is especially the case since the average commute is around 40 miles (pre-COVID 19). Also, most cars come with a Level 1 charger.
On the other hand, for those with longer commutes or those who want faster charging at home, Level 2 is the preferred option. Level 2 charging utilizes a 240 Volt outlet, which is similar to an electric oven or dryer outlet.
With Level 2 charging, an electric car can gain around 25 miles of range per hour. Overnight, this equates to a full charge for both a PHEV or BEV. In other words, however much range the vehicle has.
What is DC Fast Charging?
DCFC is the absolute quickest way to charge an EV. As aforementioned, DCFC is really only for BEVs since they have much larger batteries than PHEVs.
DCFC utilizes over 400 Volts. That’s a lot of power! In general DCFC charges an EV to 80% in around 20-60 minutes depending on the vehicle. In terms of mileage, this is around 90-200 miles of range in 30 minutes.
As such, DCFC is mainly used for long distance travel rather than the nightly charge. This is another reason why DCFC is really only for all-electric cars rather than plug-in hybrids. With plug-in hybrids, the gas range extender is available for long trips once the electric range is used.
Why Do Some EVs DC Fast Charge to 80% In 20 Minutes But Others in 60 Minutes?
As previously mentioned, the DCFC duration varies fairly wildly. One BEV can DC Fast Charge in 20 minutes, while the other can take three times longer. The reason for this is because of the amount of power each vehicle can handle when charging.
Most basic EVs today have a maximum DCFC rate of around 70 kW. These vehicles include the Chevy Bolt, Hyundai Kona EV, and Kia Niro EV. On the other hand, premium EVs, such as the Tesla Model 3, Audi etron, or Ford Mustang Mach-E, can charge up to 150-250 kW. Obviously, the EV that can charge faster will have a shorter charging duration as long as the batteries are about the same size.
However, it is important to keep in mind that this is only the case as long as the EV is charging at a DCFC station capable of charging at the maximum rate the EV can charge at. For example, if the Tesla Model Y is plugged into a DCFC station limited to 100 kW, the Model Y will only charge at that maximum rate despite the vehicle actually being able to charge at a higher rate.
What Are the Correct Plugs for DC Fast Charging?
In North America, there are a total of four plugs: J1772, CCS, ChaDeMo, and Tesla.
The J1772 is the universal plug for Level 1 and Level 2 charging. All EVs are able to use the plug. Tesla, however, must use an adapter to plugin the J1772 plug.
CCS, ChaDeMo, and Tesla (see image below) are the three DCFC plugs. As of lately, CCS is the universal standard for DCFC stations. ChaDeMo is now only featured on the Nissan Leaf. All other carmakers have switched over to the CCS plug with the exception of, again, Tesla.
Tesla have created their own plug for their own proprietary and exclusive DCFC network known as the Supercharging network.
What is a Tesla Supercharger?
Tesla have their own proprietary network of DCFC stations known as Superchargers. These DCFC stations are exclusively available for Tesla vehicles.
Superchargers get their name from their ability to charge very, very quickly. In most cases, a Tesla Supercharger can charge at rates of 250 kW. This allows most Tesla vehicles to complete a DCFC session in under 30 minutes.
Why Is DC Fast Charging Expressed in the Number of Minutes to 80%?
All BEVs have what is known as a charging curve. This limits the amount of power sent into the battery to protect the battery health. When the battery power is low, the amount of power the vehicle can accept is relatively high.
As the battery charges, the amount of power will decrease. Typically, all manufacturers have designed the car to steeply reduce the amount of power being sent into the battery past 80%–again to project the longterm life of the battery.
Therefore, it is best for the car and the driver’s time to only charge to 80% while DCFC. This charge curve rule does not apply to Level 1 or Level 2 charging since the power level is much, much lower.
Where Are DC Fast Charging Stations Located?
Typically, DCFC stations are located off the highway or near high traffic shopping areas. This is because DCFC is treated similar to a gas station. After a quick charge, the driver is back on the road for long distance travel.
However, with DCFC, the charge duration is a little longer than refueling with gas. Therefore, it is the perfect time to grab a bite to eat, use the restroom, or stretch the legs in the 30 minutes it takes to charge the car (it is perfectly acceptable to leave the car while it charges).
Use the map below to find nearby DCFC stations.
How Much Does DC Fast Charging Cost?
Just like with gas stations, there are many different charging networks. Common networks include Electrify America, Tesla, and EVgo. Each of these networks have different rates depending on the location and/or charge power level. In general, charging an EV at a DC Fast Charging station will cost about the same as gas.
Of course, these charging sessions are few and far between since they are primarily used only for long trips. The vast majority of the time EV drivers charge at home at Level 1 or Level 2 speeds. Charging at home is significantly cheaper than DC Fast Charging. This is how most EV drivers are able to save hundreds of dollars per year than gas.
EV charging is a fairly complicated subject. As demonstrated, there are many nuances and exceptions. After some time, each EV driver will learn the ins and outs of charging.
For those interested in EVs, but a little intimidated by charging or other EV subjects, feel free to schedule a FREE consultation with us at Charged Future! We are your personal EV consultant that can help walk you through EV basics for the first-time shopper.
Alternatively, if you feel like you got the basics down and are ready to select an EV right for you, check out the complete list of Available and Future Electric Cars. The table includes key metrics such as price, range, and maximum charging rate! Plus, it is available as a PDF by signing up to the email list. Subscribers also receive the monthly newsletter to stay up to date with the latest articles.
Hi there! I’m the founder and project manager at Charged Future: the EV charging consultancy. Charged Future helps businesses achieve their EV charging goals. Specifically, I serve as the project manager for your EV charging project, which can save you both time and money! Additionally, I can search and apply to all eligible rebate applications, which can typically cover a large portion of the project cost.