Key differences between Level 1, 2, 3 Charging
Buying an electric car is exciting.
Figuring out how to keep it charged? Well, that can get a bit confusing!
Picking the right charger can be the difference between waking up to a full battery, and hoping you have enough juice to even make it to work! So, whether you’re new to owning an electric vehicle or a seasoned EV owner, read on to learn which charging option is best for your needs and lifestyle!
Understanding Level 1 EV Charging
Level 1 charging is the simplest - but slowest - way to recharge your EV.
Level 1 charging uses standard AC wall outlets (like the ones found in your home or office building) to refill your battery. While this is the slowest of the three charging options, it can be an extremely convenient solution for EV owners with short daily commutes and access to overnight charging.
Standard 120V AC outlets deliver a maximum charge of 2.3kW, which means you’ll only gain between three and six miles of range per hour. While this may seem low, EV owners can still top off their cars with up to 50 miles of range each night with a Level 1 charger.
The most attractive part of Level 1 charging is its affordability. Unlike Level 2 and Level 3 charging, Level 1 charging typically won't require any additional products, installations, or maintenance. Level 1 users can simply plug their EV into any NEMA 5-15 wall outlet and begin charging!
Level 2 Charging: How is it Different from Level 1?
Level 2 charging is a serious increase in power and charging speed.
Level 2 chargers are the most common EV charging option, and can be seen in many public spaces, office buildings, and residential garages.
Most Level 2 chargers can handle 240V of power - twice as much as standard Level 1 chargers. This voltage boost means significantly faster charging speeds, allowing EV owners to add up to 80 miles to their range per hour of charging!
That means that unlike Level 1 chargers, Level 2 chargers can completely recharge most EVs in a single night (depending on your charger power output and the maximum charge rate).
Level 3: Simplifying DC Charging
Level 3 DC charging - also known as fast-charging or supercharging - is significantly more powerful than Level 1 and Level 2 charging.
Thanks to high-voltage power sources that range from 400-900V, Level 3 chargers boast a charging rate of 3 to 20 miles of range per minute!
Yes, you read that correctly. 3 to 20 miles of range per minute.
Level 3 chargers get their speed by essentially cutting out the middleman - in this case, the AC to DC conversion process.
All EVs ultimately run on DC power. So, AC power needs to be converted to DC power inside the EV. Instead of wasting time and energy on this conversion, Level 3 (DC) chargers provide the high-voltage DC power your EV needs – straight from the tap.
Level 3 charging systems require higher voltages and complicated installations, so you’re unlikely to find them at any standard residence. However, EV owners can still access these “superchargers” thanks to the growing network of commercial EV refueling stations across the country.
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How fast can I charge my EV?
The time it takes to charge an electric car can be as little as 30 minutes or more than 12 hours. This depends on the size of the battery and the speed of the charging point.
A typical electric car (60kWh battery) takes just
under 8 hours to charge from empty-to-fullwith a 7kW charging point. Most drivers top up charge rather than waiting for their battery to recharge from empty-to-full.For many electric cars,
you can add up to 100 miles of range in ~35 minuteswith a 50kW rapid charger. The bigger your car’s battery and the slower the charging point, the longer it takes to charge from empty to full.
Charging an electric car is similar to charging a mobile phone; you top it up during the day if you need to and give it a full charge at home overnight.
Rapid chargers are the fastest way to charge your electric vehicle, providing between 60-200 miles of range in
20-30 mins.Home Charging Stations typically have a power rating of 3.7kW or 7kW (22kW chargepoints require three phase power, which is very rare and expensive to install).All electric cars can charge on compatible chargepoints with a higher maximum charge rate than they can handle; they just charge at the maximum rate that they can accept.
Factors that affect charging speed
There are 5 main factors that affect the time it takes to charge an electric vehicle.
Size of battery:
The bigger your vehicle’s battery capacity (measured in kWh), the longer it will take to charge.
State of battery (empty vs. full):
If you are charging from empty, it will take longer to charge than if you are topping up from 50%.
Max charging rate of vehicle:You can only charge a vehicle’s battery at the maximum charge rate the vehicle can accept. For example; if your vehicle’s max charge rate is 7kW, you won’t charge any faster by using a 22kW chargepoint.
Max charging rate of chargepoint:The time it takes to charge will also be limited by the max charging rate of the chargepoint you are using. For example; even if your vehicle can charge at 11kW, it will only charge at 7kW on a 7kW chargepoint.
Environmental factors:A colder ambient temperature can make it take slightly longer to charge, particularly when using a rapid charger. Colder temperatures also mean vehicles are less efficient, so less miles are added per time charging.
In cold weather, bringing the cabin space (and battery) up to temperature takes energy not used to drive the car. If the car regularly heats then cools down after short journeys, you use much more energy and your range significantly reduces. This means it’s a good idea to use regular top up charges. On longer trips the effects of cold weather are less pronounced, though still noticeable.
Why does my charging speed slow down?
Most consumers assume that Fast charging will charge your EV from 0-100 and typically the
same speed and rate of charging throughout. However, the truth is that fast charging is often
only fast to a point.
This happens because, at a certain point of charge, your electric vehicle (EV) battery management software will usually request that the charger slow down because the battery is becoming too hot.
By design, EV rapid charging slows down as the battery draws near to being completely charged to prevent overheating. This is because prolonged high heat will stress the battery and impair its capacity to hold a charge and thus speeding up its degradation. Therefore it is wise for the charging pace to begin to slow down as the battery approaches 80% and that's why 80% is a suggested limit for daily charging cycles.
Fast charging is currently the quickest of the three charging levels - L1, L2, and L3. With Fast charging, you can typically recharge your EV to 80% in 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the speed of the fast charger and the maximum charging speed your EV will allow.
When doing a cross-country road trip, fast chargers are the most effective at getting you to your destination quicker. Recharging with a Level 2 charger, such as the one you'd find in your garage, may take up to five or six hours.
When you plug in most electric vehicles, it will inform you how long it will take to get a full charge. An EV is always communicating with the charging station and can request more or less electricity dependent on battery temperature and capacity.
Early EVs were more vulnerable to battery degradation from repeated fast charging, which might
limit a battery's life and reduce the maximum charge it could take as time goes on. For safer
rapid charging with minimal battery deterioration, modern EVs now include more complex
battery-management systems that employ fans and liquid cooling/heating."
Many EVs get frequent software updates over the air that assist to keep the battery cool, which means you may notice quicker charging speeds - and even slightly higher range if the update advises the car to dip into spare battery space that it hasn't been utilizing. This was a method pioneered by Tesla and not standard with most EVs today.
Today, depending on the manufacturer, it's not uncommon to have the battery management modified for faster-charging speeds via over-the-air updates or dealership visits.
While rapid charging on older generation EVs often slowed once the battery reached 80%
capacity, this is beginning to change on newer EV models with quicker charging speeds and larger
Outside of Tesla's Supercharger network, the quickest fast chargers are used to deliver up to 50 kilowatts. There are quicker chargers available, the fastest being 350 kilowatts, but most automobiles cannot manage that charging speed. EVs have a maximum charging rate, regardless of how fast the charger is. So if your EV is not designed to accept 350 kilowatts of charging, its battery management system will restrict the intake to its maximum allowed capacity.
The 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5, for example, can charge at up to 350 kilowatts, a 2022 Porsche Taycan at up to 270 kilowatts, and a 2022 Audi E-tron SUV at up to 150 kilowatts. So, if you're at a 50-kilowatt charging station with a car that can handle a quicker charge, it might not slow down at 80%.
Almost every modern electric vehicle can charge at or over 50 kilowatts, and most EVs designed to charge at 250 kilowatts or more can easily handle 50 kilowatts to over 90% before slowing down.
How far can your EV go on one charge?
According to the UC Davis Plug In Hybrid and Electric Vehicle (PHEV) Research Center, the average figure for how far a single charge can get you 250 miles. Some models will get less mileage, and some can get 350 miles or more. But what causes that variance in range? Why don’t all EVs get the same mileage out of a charge?
The answer depends on, among other things, the size of an electric car’s battery and how new the vehicle is. Driving behavior and weather also play a big role in how much range you’ll get out of an EV once you charge up.
Data collected by the Electric Vehicle Database shows a wide margin between the lowest and highest average ranges for an electric car on a single charge. At the bottom end of the spectrum is an average real-world range of 55 miles, though it can get up to 90 miles in ideal conditions. At the high end, an estmated average range of 430 miles.
Most vehicles in the mid range get somewhere between 200-300 miles on average, at the time of writing. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates people drive an average of 13,476 miles per year or about 36 miles per day, making even mid-range EVs more than sufficient to meet typical daily driving needs.
It’s worth noting that pretty much all of the EVs on the market at the time of writing with the highest numbers are expensive, and probably won’t be what most drivers deal with in terms of range. Most people buying into the electric car market today will get something closer to the UC Davis Research Center’s average figure of 250 miles. As battery tech improves, we’ll probably see the average range increase over the next few years
Another important note is that these milage estimates are for all-electric, battery-powered vehicles. Hybrid cars that switch between a gas tank and a battery for fuel will get higher average mileage.
What Can Affect an EV’s Range?
Multiple variables, from weather to battery size, can affect an electric car’s range.
Cold weather, for example, saps an electric car’s battery more quickly as the liquid component becomes viscous and the reactions that produce electricity slow down. Built-in battery heating and cooling systems help mitigate this problem, but it’s something potential EV buyers should know. Running the car’s heating systems also uses power, since electric motors don’t generate their own heat the way a gasoline engine would.
The size of an EV’s battery pack is critical to its range. The larger the battery pack, the more lithium-ion cells are there to store electricity to power the engine. The more stored energy, the longer the car’s range. EV battery pack capacity is measured in kilowatt-hours, and the higher the number the more it can hold.
Types of EV connectors and NEMA sockets
In an ideal world, all electric vehicles would plug into the same kind of outlet. EV drivers wouldn’t have to think twice before charging up, and incompatibility would be a thing of the past.
Of course the world is a very different place, making the basic act of pulling up your EV for a charge is a potentially complicated process. While those standards will inevitably shift— after all, modern EVs are still rapidly evolving— here’s a guide to current different charging standards and how to make life with your electric vehicle as streamlined as possible.
That said, the easiest way to understand current charging standards is to break them down by speed.
The most basic (and often excruciatingly slow) charger is a Level 1, or the standard 110/120 volt plug you’ll find in any North American home. While slow, regular outlets are everywhere and available for a slow trickle charge in a pinch— though you’ll only add 3 to 5 miles of range per hour. This typically comes with an EV during purchase.
Level 2 chargers run at 240 volts, and can be installed by an electrician with relative ease to existing setups, just like a clothes dryer that runs on electricity. Expect a Level 2 charger to add approximately 25 miles of range per hour.
Level 3 is where charging speed gets serious. Also known as DC Fast Chargers, this standard (which encompasses Tesla Superchargers as well) requires a robust, DC (not AC) stream of electricity running in excess of 480 volts and 100 amps.
Because of these massive amounts of oomph, Level 3 units can fully charge a battery in as little as 20 to 30 minutes. Though they’re essentially unheard of in homes, DC chargers are ideal for commercial or retail setups where drivers can gain rapid battery replenishment so they continue driving lengthy distances without a long wait time.
Where Connectors Come In
All the electrons in the world can’t do a thing for your electric vehicle if it’s not equipped with a matching connector. Here’s a rundown of the major charging connectors you’ll find on virtually every modern electric vehicle.
J1772 is the standard Level 2 charging connector you’ll find on most vehicles. While capable of charging at Level 1 speeds, J1772 chargers are typically running at Level 2 in most residential, commercial, and retail settings.
CHAdeMO is an early form of DC quick charging that was established by a consortium of Japanese carmakers. Short for CHArge de MOve, or “move using charge,” CHAdeMO connectors appear alongside J1772 connectors in order to maximize charging options. However, these chargers have been waning in popularity and are unlikely to hold significant market share in the future.
CCS Type 1 / CCS Type 2 connectors, short for Combined Charging System, enable both AC and DC charging using the same port, offering Level 2 or Level 3 charging via the same connector because it incorporates a J1772 outlet. European and American carmakers have embraced the CCS format.
Tesla uses proprietary connectors that link any Tesla vehicle to Level 3 charging. With over 23,000 Tesla Superchargers in the world, there’s a remarkably robust infrastructure open to those who choose to join Elon’s side. (note: Tesla is opening up access to its Superchargers for all EVs in late 2021.)
How Adapters Fit Into the Picture
If the conversation about EV charging has gotten uncomfortably complicated, don’t worry: It gets easier to navigate these waters once you’ve established a groundwork for how charging standards work with each other.
While some carmakers have chosen to wall themselves in by their charging standards, adapters can enable two otherwise incompatible connectors to charge a vehicle. However, many of these compatibilities seem to occur without rhyme or reason.
For instance, Tesla’s connectors are primarily proprietary, though CHAdeMO, J1772, and/or CCS adapters can be fitted for alternative charging sources.
However, it doesn’t currently work the other way around at a Tesla Supercharger, which is why you’ll only see Teslas there. Rather than relying on an adapter between, say, CCS and CHAdeMO units, most charging venues instead offer both connectors in order to optimize their use.
There’s a range of US electrical sockets, one or more of which you’ll find in your garage. All of the 240v interfaces are suitable for the fast, Level 2 charging necessary for modern EVs with long range, high-density batteries.
NEMA sockets explained
Many US homes have either a NEMA 10-30 or 14-30 dryer-plug already installed in the garage. Happily, these are perfect for EV charging without the additional costs and potential disruption of installing a new socket, as discussed in our article. For new, dedicated installations, the NEMA 14-50 socket is preferable, provided the home’s electrical wiring and power panel can cope and it won’t result in a circuit overload when charging the EV.
EV charging terms explained
EV (Electric Vehicle): A broad category that includes all vehicles that are fully powered by Electricity or an Electric Motor.
PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles): PHEVs contain a battery that is able to be charged with an external electric power source, PHEV’s are a mixture of all electric vehicles and ICEV’s.
AC (Alternating Current): A charge of electricity that regularly changes direction, which is the kind of power that comes from the power plant to homes and businesses.
DC (Direct Current): A charge of electricity that flows in one direction and is the type of power that comes from a battery.
kW (Kilowatt): A unit of electric power.EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment): Infrastructure designed to supply power to EVs. EVSE can charge a wide variety of EVs including BEVs and PHEVs.
Level 1 Charging: Charging your EV using a common household outlet up to 120v. Level 1 is the slowest method of charging and can take up to 24 hours or more to full charge your EV.
Level 2 Charging: Charges your EV at 240v using an installed outlet. Level 2 chargers are the most recommended chargers to EV owners. Depending on your EV model and charger, Level 2 can give you vehicle 5x as quickly as Level 1 which translates to up to 26 miles per hour of charging.
Level 3 Charging: Also known as DC charging, the fastest method of charging for all EVs. It can fully charge an EV battery in about half an hour. Level three chargers are currently rare as they’re very expensive and require more power.
SAE J1772: The standard North American electrical connection for Electric Vehicles. Generally works with Level 1 and Level 2 systems.
Tesla Supercharger: A super-fast charging system that can provide up to 120 kW directly to the car’s battery. Currently these systems are only available to Teslas.