A Simple Guide to Electric Vehicle Charging
If you talk to green car enthusiasts, many will tell you the biggest thing holding back electric vehicle adoption is a lack of public charging stations. You can’t simply plug in whenever and wherever you’d like, and these limitations can keep people and organizations from buying EVs for their daily driving.
In fact, the number of stations is only one of the issues EV drivers currently face when it comes to charging in 2016. Variables in pricing, separate parking fees, and limited access hours further complicate the matter.
Yet driving an electric car does not have to be difficult or expensive. You can get the most out of driving electric when you have:
- A plug for home or workplace charging
- Accounts for public EV charging
- A clear idea of the cost and time needed to charge
EVs make the most sense when fueling (i.e., charging) costs remain low and access is convenient.
In this guide to electric vehicle charging, we will break down the different things you need to enable charging at home, keep your vehicle charged while on the road, and make it all happen at an affordable price.
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Among other things, we’ll take a look at: How long does it take to charge an electric car? How much does it cost to charge an electric car? And what do electric car charging stations cost?
Defining the Terms
Before we get into detail about different aspects of charging, let’s define some of the key terms:
On-board charger: The actual charging device for Level 1 and Level 2 charging comes factory-installed and is called the “on-board charger.” It converts AC power from the wall to DC power that charges the battery in the vehicle. The charging speed may vary, but the most common on-board chargers are 6.6 kW on battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and 3.3 kW on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). DC Fast Charging uses its own off-board charger.
EVSE: Stands for “electric vehicle service equipment.” It is the intermediary between a power source and the vehicle’s charging port, and is typically mounted on a wall or up on a pedestal. Its role is to simply relay the AC power to the vehicle safely.
Level 1 Charging: The slowest form of charging. Uses a plug to connect to the on-board charger and a standard household (120v) outlet. This setup provides between 2 and 5 miles per hour. While this does not sound at all impressive, it can work for those who travel less than 40 miles a day and have all night to charge.
Level 2 Charging: Uses an EVSE to provide power at 220v or 240v and up to 30 amps. Drivers can add 10-25 miles of range in an hour of charging at home or at a public station.
DC Fast Charging: Some refer to this charging as Level 3 charging. In this case, the charger is a gas pump-sized machine. There is no single standard for fast-charging – Tesla has the Supercharger network; Nissan Leaf and other models get their quickest jolt using CHAdeMO, and another group uses SAE Combo. All of the above fast chargers deliver about 80% charge in 30 minutes.
EVSE Product Manufacturer: A company that manufactures charging station hardware. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean they provide a network as well (see below).
Electric Vehicle Service Provider (EVSP): An EVSP provides the connectivity across a network of charging stations. Connecting to a central server, they manage the software, database, and communication interfaces that enable operation of the station.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car at home?
Most consumer-owned electric vehicles are primarily charged at home, where installing a Level 2 system is often recommended. These systems cost approximately $500-600 from manufacturers, though you will see slightly lower prices (and more expensive options) on the market.
In addition to the EVSE are the installation costs, which can start at around $300 depending on the setup of your home and the electrician providing the service. Once you are ready to charge, electricity prices in your area dictate what you pay for power.
Business owners who want to install charging equipment for employees and consumers face similar costs.
Note: Federal and state incentives are available for both commercial and home chargers. At least 30% of charging station costs may be covered by tax credits and other rebates. In Ontario Canada, the government covers 50% of EVSE and installation costs up to $1000.
Assuming you pay near the national average of $0.11 per kilowatt hour (kWh), adding 75 miles to a Nissan Leaf would cost less than $3.00. Put another way, the EPA estimates this vehicle costs $0.96 to drive 25 miles.
The Tesla Model S, which has a range exceeding 250 miles in several trims, would cost closer to $5 for a range of 125 miles and $10 for a full battery from zero. Compared to the average fuel cost of $2.25 per gallon and the average fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon, it would take about $22.50 to get the same range (250 miles) on a gasoline car.
If you are charging a lower range PHEV, the cost is negligible. You can forego the Level 2 charger and plug into any outlet at home. In models like the Ford Fusion Energi (9 hours), you can plug in overnight and find yourself with 19 miles of range in the morning.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car at a public station?
When you drive your EV into the wild and look for a charge, the situation gets a bit more complicated. Electric car owners often hold multiple charging station provider accounts to cover various needs when traveling.
If you only drive your EV in and around the city, a ChargePoint account is likely to cover your daily needs with Level 2 plugs. While membership is free, ChargePoint has users pay in $25 increments. The stations have different price levels set by the actual property owner or lessee. (ChargePoint has no control over pricing.)
In the course of your travels, you may see pricing set at $1 per hour up to $5 per hour for Level 2 stations. Some stations are also free. These prices do not include the cost of access to the parking facility, which depends on the location.
Electric vehicle drivers who hope to save time with DC fast-charging will usually pay more for the convenience. A popular provider in this department is NRG EVgo, which has plans available in Los Angeles for $15 per month plus $0.10 per minute for fast-charging sessions ($1 per hour for Level 2 charging). Other plans come without a monthly fee and cost $11 for 30 minutes of fast-charging.
Note: New EV buyers can take advantage of free charging packages from manufacturers that run through the first two years of ownership.
How long does it take to charge an electric car?
It takes less than 10 minutes to fill up a tank and pay for gasoline at the average fuel pump. EV drivers face longer charging times, no matter which speed you have at your disposal. To make things clearer for prospective electric car owners, we break down typical charging times for popular vehicles on the various power sources, leaving aside Level 1 charging.
- Nissan Leaf: 11-22 miles per hour
- Ford Focus Electric: 22 miles per hour
- Volkswagen e-Golf: 24 miles per hour
- BMW i3: 28 miles per hour
- Tesla Model S: 29-60 miles per hour
- Chevy Volt: 11 miles per hour
- Nissan Leaf: 60-95 miles in 30 minutes
- Ford Focus Electric: (no fast-charging)
- Volkswagen e-Golf: 60-83 miles in 30 minutes
- BMW i3: 60-82 miles in 30 minutes
- Tesla Model S: 170 miles in 30 minutes
- Chevy Volt: (no fast-charging)
Level 1 charging times don’t get better than four miles an hour, which makes standard outlet charging only viable for low range plug-in hybrids or a minor top-off for EVs when stopping somewhere for several hours.
Where can I find public charging stations?
Most charging station providers do not show competing brands on their station locator maps, which can be less than ideal for the consumer looking for the closest available station.
Fortunately, third-party providers have aggregated the data to create maps that are all-inclusive. While each offers its own set of features, three of the most common apps are PlugShare, ChargeHub, and CAA (Canada Only). Having one or two of those apps installed should give you coverage of most of the charging stations available in your area.
EV Charging: How to Prepare
Getting started with plug-in cars can seem intimidating, especially when there are so many factors that go into charging your vehicle. Here are a few ways to avoid common mistakes:
- Know the incentives before you buy. This tip applies to purchase incentives as well as charging incentives. Knowing your final (post-incentive) price will make your decision easier. Factor in the reduction in fuel and maintenance costs as well to project cost-of-ownership over the upcoming years. Many incentives start phasing out in 2017.
- Make sure your electrical system is ready. Amperage is important when installing a charging station, so make sure that the area in which you plan to put the station can handle 30amps. Check around with electricians in your area to find out how much installation will cost.
- Find stations near work and other regular stops. Knowing you have charging options near your job, favorite park, or another regular stop will make it easy to get Level 2 power while you go about your routine.
- Know where the free chargers are. In addition to the many fee-based public stations, there are numerous free options available. Find out where they are in your area and take advantage when the circumstances make sense. In some cases, dealerships selling your EV model allow customers to charge for free.
- Note convenient fast chargers. Having a fast-charger near your home will come in handy when you need a full battery on demand. Before you subscribe to a charging provider’s package, have an idea where you can power up in a flash.
- Investigate savings at off-peak times. Peak electricity costs may be as much as three times the cost during off-peak periods. Find out if your utility provider offers any programs for EV drivers to find the lowest rates.
What Is Smart Charging?
To handle heavy grid demand without turning to expensive, dirty electricity sources, many utilities have initiated time-of-use (TOU) pricing for business and residential customers. The idea is to charge higher rates for peak periods in order to encourage users to move high-demand power needs to off-peak hours.
Smart charging goes one step further in that it allows for variable power use within peak and off-peak times. Some pilot programs have already begun with EV owners who want to charge their vehicles at the lowest possible price. Using such a program, a utility provider will slow charge when demand gets high, then return to regular charging when demand on the grid lightens.
Solar Power and EV Charging
Since even the greenest U.S. energy grids use some fossil fuel power, EV drivers looking for true zero-carbon driving have looked for the answer in solar panel installations at home. Where there is sufficient sunlight, electric car owners may be able to get a significant amount of charge from the sun.
To encourage this type of zero-emissions driving, Ford and SunPower offer incentives for Focus Electric buyers who opt for solar panel installations. Likewise, Tesla offers its Powerwall battery solution for solar power consumers hoping to store energy to use later in an EV or other application.
When Tesla finalizes its merger with SolarCity, consumers can expect more products geared toward a zero-emissions lifestyle with electric car-charging as a key focus.
The Future of Electric Vehicle Charging
If access to charging stations and vehicles with longer ranges are the main obstacles for consumers hoping to adopt EVs, the situation should change as affordable 200-mile EVs arrive and more charging stations are deployed. In July 2016, President Obama announced $4.5 billion in loan guarantees to accelerate the deployment of charging infrastructure.
With more capable EVs entering the mainstream by 2018, consumers could begin to see lines at public charging stations, and the focus could shift heavily to DC fast charging. Wireless charging is another upgrade that could change the status quo for good.
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