Level 2 or Level 3: What are the Best Electric Vehicle Chargers?

With the growth in the sales of electric vehicles in Canada, and around the world, comes a growing issue for the automotive industry, and more importantly, the consumers who are purchasing these electric vehicles (EVs), and/or planning to purchase them. How do they ‘fill-up’ their EVs when the batteries run down? 

Every automobile owner or user today is familiar with the process of filling up their gas tank as the needle approaches empty. You pull into your local gas station, put the nozzle in the tank, and start pumping fuel. Once you’ve finished, you pay for it, and away you go, whether you’re just driving locally, or on a road trip. There are almost always gas stations around when you need them, and when there aren’t, well, there’s always a gas can, so we don’t really concern ourselves with that. 

But what about EVs ? You can’t pull into a gas station and fill up with electricity (in most places), and you’d have to tow your electric car to the nearest EV charging station if you run out of electricity on the road. So what’s the solution?

The Future of EV Infrastructure

Governments, municipalities, automotive manufacturers, multi-residential properties, commercial and industrial buildings are all looking at investing in the infrastructure required to charge the EVs on the market today, and for the future. Without that infrastructure in place, the market will not grow as planned. Tesla is a perfect example of “if you build it they will come”, since they provided the infrastructure to charge their vehicles (exclusively), and they have approximately 50% of the EV market today.

Other automakers are involved in providing the infrastructure (VW, GM, Ford, Hyundai, etc.) in conjunction with ‘Electrify America’, ‘Electrify Canada’, and with EV Charger suppliers and other large corporations. If 40% of the automotive market is going to be EVs by 2025, then it stands to reason that all the interested parties want that infrastructure in place. 

What will this infrastructure look like, and how do you decide what’s best for you?

EV Charger Types

There are 3 basic types of EV chargers:

 

1. Slow Charge (Level 1)  115v single-phase AC power  15A max 1.8KW

This is the simplest method of charging, from a 115v wall receptacle. All EVs sold in Canada today are capable of charging this way with an accessory cable that comes with the EV.

2. Fast Charge (Level 2)  208-230v multi-phase AC power  32A -80A max 7.7 – 22KW

This is the most practical/economical charging solution, but requires installation by certified electricians. The SAE J1772 Connector is universal to all EVs, so you can charge any vehicle with this type of charger.

3. Rapid Charge (level 3)  400-850V DC Power 25-350KW

This is the fastest type of charger available. The Charger provides the EV with DC power, unlike the Level 1 and Level 2 chargers, and is considerably more expensive. There are (2) different styles of connector, and they are not compatible.

3a) Tesla Rapid Charge – this DC power charger is only compatible with Tesla EVs by design, although the Tesla EVs can also use the Level 1 and Level 2 chargers with an adaptor.

This chart (courtesy of ChargeLab) lists a variety of EVs, the time required to charge based on the type of charger used and the driving range.

EV Charger Types
Image courtesy of ChargeLab

Applications

So, how do determine which type of charger is best suited to your application? That will depend on a number of factors, but let’s start with:

Residential

A slow charger (Level 1) is most economical, providing power to your EV while parked at home, it does not require an expensive outlay to install (plugs into wall plug) and does not tax your electrical system (15 amp max. draw) too heavily.

If you require a faster charge, then the Level 2 charger may be a better choice. Although there are installation costs involved as you may have to add a separate power circuit (208/230v @ 40 amp), this charger will provide much more power to your battery in a shorter length of time. Level 2 chargers are also available with software that will allow you to do a variety of things, including track your usage, control your usage for specific time periods, and control who has access to the charger, as well as many other software features.

Multi-Residential

Whether the application is for communal use, or individual parking spots, the fast charger (Level 2) makes the most sense. A communal EV charger has to be universal in order for all residents to be able to access it, regardless of the make of EV, and Level 2 is universal. It also requires the ability to charge the user for the use of the charger, in order to pay for the electricity used, and the cost of providing the charger, therefore the built-in software can communicate with the user through a phone app or an RFID card.

The condo corporation, through the property manager, maintains control over all aspects of the communal charger, from who has access, and when, to the length of charging time, and how much is charged. All this information is provided to the property manager on a monthly basis, along with payment of the money collected for the service.

In the event that the residents request that chargers be available for private parking spots, infrastructure will be required to supply the power required for the individual chargers. Again, the Level 2 is best suited to provide a reasonable charging time for any make of vehicle, and the software allows the payment for usage to be collected, and the power to be managed when multiple units are in use. This eliminates the need/cost for sub-metering to be installed, and through the power management system increases the overall number of chargers that can be installed.

Commercial

A fast charger (Level 2) is well suited for most commercial applications, as units are available up to 22KW that operate on AC power. As there are no EVs on the market today that accept more than 9.6KW of AC charging power, this will provide a charge at a reasonable rate. The infrastructure costs are relatively reasonable as well.

Should the location require a very fast charge, at a high turnover rate, then the obvious choice would be the Rapid charger (Level3). This would involve considerably higher infrastructure costs due to the higher voltages and currents involved, and the initial cost of the charging station.

Rapid chargers are most commonly found along major highways and large shopping malls where customers want to be able to charge their EVs quickly and are prepared to pay for convenience.

Industrial

For companies to accommodate/encourage their employees who own EVs, including workplace vehicles, the most practical choice is the Fast charger (Level 2), as this provides a universal charger with a good charge rate, and with the software available, allows the employer to maintain control the access and usage. The infrastructure costs are reasonable, relative to the number of chargers installed, and the operating costs are determined by the employer.

The Growing Culture of EV

Electricity, AC and DC power, are a constant. The voltage and amperage provided by any charger today will not change tomorrow. What will change, and rapidly, is how that same amount of electricity will charge the batteries in EVs. With the advent of new battery technologies, a (3) hour charge time today could be reduced dramatically, using the same input power, by improving battery efficiency in the near future. Automotive suppliers are constantly looking for ways to increase the charge times and extend the range of the EVs to make their products more appealing.

The ‘culture’ of EV users is somewhat different than that of traditional drivers, in part by necessity, and in part by design. Because today’s EV users don’t have the luxury of charge stations on every corner, and their range is more limited than most gas-powered vehicles, they have to be more aware of their driving habits and distances. This makes the concept of being able to charge their EVs overnight while parked at home a valuable feature to owning an EV. They can leave their residence every day, should they choose, knowing that they have a ‘full tank’ of electricity, without the worry of finding a charging station on the way to work.

The future of EVs may also include ‘bi-directional charging’, where you charge at home during off-peak hours (overnight) and when you arrive at work, you plug into a charger that is capable of using the battery’s stored energy to augment the power requirements in the building during peak-usage times. But that, along with ‘autonomous’ driving is for a future discussion.

Understanding What EV Charger is Right for You

These are early days for the EV market. Everyone involved is working towards better products and solutions, but in the meantime, we have to provide the best solutions available today, with an eye on tomorrow.

There is no ‘one solution fits all’, so the best EV charger is the one that best suits your needs, whether you’re a private EV owner, a property manager, a retailer, or a business owner.

Determining the best EV Charger solution, be it Slow, Fast, or Rapid, or a combination of, should be based on a thorough analysis of your current requirements, and the potential for expansion in the future. 

Our best advice is to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of the reputable companies whose role it is to provide you with the best EV charging solution for today and tomorrow. Contact us to speak with one of our EV experts to learn more.