Level 2 vs. Level 3 Charger
For new electric vehicle (EV) owners, developing a charging habit might take a while. Deciding when to charge to ensure sufficient battery capacity for the next commute, identifying the closest public charging station, and understanding the nuances of charger types and levels can indeed be quite a learning curve.
Level 1 chargers often serve as the entry point for many EV drivers as they're included with the EV anyway. However, as EV owners become more familiar to the charging routine and seek a balance between efficiency and cost-effectiveness, the transition from Level 1 to Level 2 and eventually DC charging becomes a natural progression.
Why Are There Different Levels for EV Charging Stations?
The need for diverse EV charger levels arises from the varying requirements of EV drivers. Different users have different charging needs, influenced by factors such as charging speed, convenience, and cost. By offering multiple charging levels, the industry caters to a broad spectrum of users, creating a more versatile and accessible EV charging network. There are three EV charging levels available:
Level 1 Chargers
Before delving into the differences between Level 2 and Level 3 chargers, it's crucial to briefly touch on Level 1 EV chargers. A Level 1 or tickle charger is the most basic charging station, utilizing a standard 120-volt household outlet for a 1 kW - 1.8 kW of power output. While convenient for overnight charging at home, Level 1 chargers are slow and typically provide 3 - 7 miles of range per hour. This makes them less practical for EV owners seeking faster charging options.
Level 2 Chargers
Level 2 chargers are a significant step up in terms of charging speed compared to Level 1 chargers. Operating on 240 volts, they are commonly found in residential settings, workplaces, and public charging stations. With a power output ranging from 3 kW – 22 kW (19.2 kW for USA), EV drivers can expect a charging speed that offers a notable improvement over Level 1 chargers, providing 10 – 75 miles of range per hour. This level of charging is suitable for daily commuting and can replenish an EV's battery more rapidly.
Level 3 Chargers
Level 3 chargers, more commonly known as DC fast chargers, represent the pinnacle of fast charging technology. DC Fast Charging stations operate at higher power levels, usually ranging from 50 kW to 350 kW. Unlike Level 1 and Level 2 chargers, DC fast chargers deliver direct current (DC) to the EV charger and battery, bypassing the vehicle's onboard charger. This results in significantly faster charging times, making DC chargers ideal for long-distance travel and reducing charging stops during road trips.
Level 2 vs. Level 3 EV Charging Stations: What's the Difference?
Aside from charging speeds, Level 2 and DC chargers differ in various aspects that significantly influence the charging experience for EV owners. These differences extend beyond mere technical specifications, including factors such as physical design, installation considerations, and overall cost-effectiveness.
The main difference between Level 2 and DC chargers lies in their power requirements. Level 2 chargers, operating on alternating current (AC), generally have power outputs ranging from 3.3 to 19.2 kilowatts, making them suitable for daily charging needs. On the other hand, DC fast chargers, utilizing DC, can provide much higher power outputs, ranging from 50 to 350 kilowatts, enabling rapid charging and making them ideal for long-distance travel.
Level 2 chargers are typically more compact and have simpler designs compared to DC chargers. Fast chargers, especially high-power ones, often feature more complex and robust designs to handle the higher power levels and rapid charging capabilities.
Level 2 chargers use a different charging connector from DC chargers. J1772 EVs use the J1772 plug for AC charging and the Combined Charging System (CCS) plug for DC charging. Meanwhile, Tesla EVs use the same North American Charging Standard (NACS) charger plug for both Level 2 and fast charging. However, EV adapters allow CCS-enabled EVs to charge at Tesla Superchargers and vice versa.
Installing Level 2 chargers is generally more cost-effective than installing DC Fast chargers. Level 2 chargers come in portable and hardwired versions. Portable Level 2 chargers can be directly plugged into a NEMA 14-50 outlet, while the hardwired version requires direct wiring into the home's electrical panel.
On the other hand, DC chargers require additional infrastructure, including high-capacity power lines and specialized equipment, contributing to higher installation costs. The chargers are not meant for residential use and are frequently installed on existing infrastructure or in commercial areas.
Charging time is perhaps the most critical factor for electric vehicle owners. Level 2 chargers typically provide a charging speed that can fully replenish an EV's battery overnight or during a workday. On average, Level 2 chargers can charge battery electric vehicles (BHEVs) from empty to 80% in 4-10 hours and within 1-2 hours for plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). In contrast, fast chargers significantly reduce charging times, filling up an electric car from empty to 80% in as fast as 20 minutes.
Which type of charger do you need?
Choosing the right charger depends on various factors, including your driving habits, the distance you cover regularly, and your budget. For daily commuting and routine use, Level 2 chargers are usually sufficient. They strike a balance between charging speed and installation cost, making them suitable for residential and workplace charging.
However, if you frequently go on long drives, DC charging stations come in handy as most of them are strategically located along highway corridors and locations where you can quickly top up an empty battery.
Daily Commuting and Regular Use: If your EV serves primarily for daily commuting, and you have access to overnight charging at home or your workplace, Level 2 charging is likely sufficient. It strikes a cost-effective balance between charging speed and installation expenses, ensuring your vehicle is ready for daily activities.
Long-Distance Travel: For EV owners who frequently go on long-distance trips, especially those involving highways and remote areas, DC chargers are your go-to. Their rapid charging capabilities significantly reduce the time spent at charging stations.
Budget Constraints: If your budget is a significant consideration, Level 2 chargers are more economical in terms of installation and electricity costs. Installation of home charging stations qualifies for tax incentives, and service providers offer discounted rates if you charge during off-peak hours (time of use rates). On the other hand, DC public charging can be costly. However, some manufacturers have partnered with third-party charging providers to give free charging for a specified period.
Home Charging and Workplace Charging
A cost-effective and convenient solution for many EV owners is home charging, facilitated by Level 2 chargers installed in residential garages or driveways. These chargers enable EVs to fully charge overnight, ensuring a consistent daily range. Some utility companies even offer special electricity rates for off-peak charging, enhancing the economical aspect of home charging.
Many workplaces have now started installing Level 2 chargers to support employees transitioning to electric vehicles. These contribute to employee satisfaction and foster the adoption of EVs. While DC chargers are less common in workplaces due to higher installation costs, they may be considered in specific scenarios where rapid charging is imperative for business operations.
Level 2 charging stations operate at lower power levels (6.6 kW to 19.2 kW) suitable for daily use, offering a moderate charging speed. In contrast, Level 3 charging stations, or DC fast chargers, operate at higher power levels (50 kW to 350 kW), providing rapid charging for long-distance travel.
While fast charging is not inherently bad for the battery, the higher charging power generates more heat. Frequent use of too much power of fast chargers may lead to increased battery degradation over time compared to slower charging methods. It's advisable to use fast charging strategically, especially during long trips.
The value of a DC charger depends on individual needs. For EV owners frequently engaging in long-distance travel, fast chargers are invaluable due to their rapid charging capabilities. However, for daily commuting and routine use, a Level 2 charger may be more cost-effective.
Tesla vehicles can utilize both Level 2 and fast chargers. The Supercharger network was specifically designed for rapid charging of Tesla EVs.