How to Charge an Electric Vehicle: Part 1 of 2

How to Charge an Electric Vehicle: Part 1 of 2

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Thinking about buying an Electric Vehicle (EV), but unsure about how to charge it? Unsure about how long it will take or how much it will cost? No problem! Charging an EV is a lot easier, cheaper, and possibly quicker than you may think. 

This two-part article will go in-depth to these typical charging questions. Along the way, I will also compare the charging cost to an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle. 

Buckle up!


Level 1 Charging

What is it?

Level 1 charging utilizes a typical household 120-volt outlet and as little as 8 amps (just like your refrigerator). Voltage x Amperage = Watts. Therefore, the total output is around 1.3 kW (kilowatts).

120-volt outlet

Most EVs come with an Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE), which is the “charger” capable of charging on Level 1. Alternatively, you can find one on Amazon.

Charge Duration:

For most plug-in hybrids (PHEV), this will take 12 hours. For most battery-electric vehicles (BEV), that is all-electric, charging on Level 1 will take over 30 hours. Due to its slow charging speed, it is known as “trickle charging”.

Level 1 charging yields around 3-4 miles of range per hour. So if your commute is less than 40 miles a day, you will be able to replenish your daily range overnight no matter what type of EV (PHEV or BEV) or maximum range. Level 1 charging works well for PHEV drivers since it requires no electrical upgrades or purchase of an additional car charger.

Will it work for me?

Renters and owners of condos will need access to a 120-volt outlet. If one is not accessible, charging must be done at public Level 2 or Level 3 stations.

Personally, I used Level 1 charging exclusively for my PHEV Chevy Volt. Since the garage I was renting had outlets nearby, I simply plugged in the charger that came with the vehicle and woke up to 100% battery (45 miles of electric range) every day—just like charging your phone!

This was awesome for weekday commutes as I never had to stop and recharge/refuel my vehicle during the week since my commute was less than 40 miles.

All of my re-charging was done at my house while I slept. Additionally, it was great as I didn’t have to do any electrical upgrades to the garage.

Most EV drivers, however, utilize Level 2 charging. It’s faster and ultimately necessary for BEVs (all-electric).

Level 2:

What is it?

Level 2 charging utilizes 240 volts, such as an electric dryer, and as much as 40 amps. The total output is up to 9.6 kW. That is nearly ten-fold of Level 1 for reference.

240-volt outlet

If your garage does not have a 240-volt outlet, you will need to add a dedicated circuit (50 amps is recommended for future-proofing). Additionally, most public charging stations are Level 2, though most likely only 24 or 32 amps (5.7-7.7 kW).

Occasionally, offices will provide Level 2 charging to their employees. Ask your employer if this is an option for you. They may be willing to install some as a means to attract or retain talent.

While Level 1 chargers come with the vehicle, Level 2 chargers must be purchased separately. Even if you purchase a new EV, a Level 2 charger will not come with the vehicle.

These cost around $500. You can find tons of them easily again on Amazon. Popular “smart” chargers are the Juicebox Pro or the Chargepoint Home Flex.

How to Charge an Electric Vehicle: Part 1 of 2
Home Level 2 EV Charger
Image credit: Chargepoint

A “Smart” charger can do things like track energy consumption, status notifications to your smartphone, scheduled charging during Time of Use (cheaper electricity rates during evening hours), and much more.

Charging Duration:

The charge rate for Level 2 is around 25 miles of range per hour. Charging on Level 2 for a PHEV will take around 3-4 hours.

Charging on Level 2 for a BEV will take around 6-12 hours. As such, Level 2 charging is preferred for home charging needs for BEV drivers due to the larger battery size.

As with Level 1 charging with a PHEV, Level 2 charging with a BEV is also as easy as charging your phone overnight. 

Charging Cost:

The cost of Level 2 charging at home varies depending on electricity rates. In my state of California, electricity rates are around $0.16/kWh during evening hours. To calculate the charging cost per mile, let’s use Chevy Bolt as an example. The Bolt gets 259 miles of range with a 66 kWh battery.

This yields an efficiency of 3.92 mi/kWh. Therefore, it would cost $10.56 to fully charge the Bolt, or $0.04/mile. In gas vehicle terms, the Bolt gets 128 MPGe. That is incredibly efficient!

An average gas car of 25 MPG with gas prices at $3.52 (California) will cost $38.64 to go the same distance. In other words, charging an EV at home will cost around $0.04/mile while an ICE vehicle costs around $0.14/mile or 3.75 times more!

cost to charge an electric vehicle vs gas
EV vs ICE Cost Per Mile Recharging/Refueling

On an annual basis, a Chevy Bolt would cost $480 to travel 12,000 miles while an ICE vehicle would cost $1,200. Of course, your results may vary depending on vehicle efficiency, electricity rates, and gas prices.

As you can see, charging an EV is much, much cheaper than gas. If your utility provider offers Time-Of-Use (variable electricity rates depending on the time of the day), it is ideal to charge overnight during off-peak hours to avoid higher charging costs. Since off-peak hours are typically after 8:00 PM, this is ideal for an EV since charging can be done completely on off-peak hours, again while you sleep when you are not using the vehicle.

Public Level 2 Charging:

You may also charge on Level 2 at a public station, however, you will find it to be slightly more expensive than charging at your house. Common Level 2 networks include Chargepoint, Blink, and EVgo.

You may find public charging stations by using the app and website Plugshare. I’ve also included the map below so you can search nearby public Level 2 charging stations.

Charging at a public Level 2 station is ideal while shopping or eating at a restaurant since your vehicle would otherwise just sit in the parking lot doing nothing.

Charge an electric vehicle at shopping areas
EV Charging Station at Target

Most public charging stations are networked—meaning they are operated by a third-party. To access these stations, it is recommended to have their companion app on your smartphone. From there, you will be able to unlock the plug, view the pricing structure, view charging status, locate other chargers, and more.

I tend to plug into a public Level 2 charging station while shopping at my nearby Home Depot or Target. Thankfully, those non-networked (just plug-and-play) stations are completely free to use. Yes, free! (I bet you’ve never heard of a gas station offering free gas!)

Now, why would businesses offer free EV charging? Same reason that some employers do: to attract and retain customers/talent.

Will it work for me (renters and condo owners)?

Charging on Level 2 at your home can be challenging for renters or owners at a condominium. Unless an EV charging station is already available, these individuals will need access to not only a garage but also a 240-volt outlet.

At most times, a 240-volt outlet is not already installed, therefore, they will need to pay for the electrical upgrade with permission from the landlord or HOA. 

Charge an Electric Vehicle at Apartments or Condos
EV Charging Station at Mult-family Apartments

Some states like California require landlords and HOAs to allow the tenant to install an EV charging station at their own cost.  

Will it work for me (single-family owner)?

On the other hand, owners of a single-family residence have it a lot easier. They too will need a 240-volt outlet in the garage. Of course, they do not need anyone else’s permission to install one if one is not already installed. 

Before this becomes a deterrent, the first question that should be asked is do you typically drive more than 40 miles a day? If not, charging on Level 1 (120 volts) will suffice. A few weekend public Level 2 and Level 3 charging stations will cover any trips more than 40 miles. 

Quick summary:

  • Charger cost: $500
  • Charging cost (home): $0.04/mi (factors: 3.92 mi/kWh, $0.16/kWh electricity rates)
  • Charging cost (public): ~$0.12/mi
  • Charging duration: 6-12 hours for BEV; 3-4 hours for PHEV

Typical ICE (gas) vehicle comparison:

  • Refueling cost: $0.10/mi (factors: 25 MPG gas car, $3.52/gallon)
  • Refueling duration: 5 minutes (requires a separate stop, cannot be done at your house)

*Results will vary depending on vehicle efficiency, electricity rates, network pricing, gas pricing, etc

Closing Thoughts:

Electric Car Charging Basics
Electric Car Charging Basics

Not too bad right? While it can get a little wonky with all the calculations, most EV drivers do not think about this day-to-day. Instead, they plug in when they get home and drive the vehicle like any other.

As a bonus, it is significantly cheaper than gas. Additionally, there is no extra time is needed to charge since it is done overnight at your home.

Stay charged!

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