Electric cars will become more prevalent over the next few years, and as charging infrastructure expands, range increases, and vehicle prices come down, more consumers will flock to the technology. Electric vehicles will sell in just about every segment including compact cars (Chevy Bolt, Nissan LEAF), sedans (Tesla Model 3 and Model S), crossovers (Hyundai Kona Electric), Audi e-tron), and eventually pickup trucks (Rivian R1T, Tesla Cybertruck).
For now, EV technology remains a bit obscure to the uninitiated, and some folks just don't want to be inconvenienced by long charging times of 4 hours or more using home chargers. But DC fast charging is becoming more available, and it provides fast charging speeds while you're on the road. We're here to explain how the technology actually works.
AC Charging (Level 1 and Level 2)
AC charging is the conventional method. Think about how your home is normally wired for pretty much every electrical device or appliance you own. Just insert it in the wall outlet, and that's how things work. The charger for your car that's located in the vehicle connects to the wall via a manufacturer cable that converts the AC power from the outlet to DC power to charge the vehicle’s on-board battery pack.
There's Level 1 (120 Volts), which adds about 4 miles of range per hour. Slow, to say the least. It uses the conventional wall plug we all know and use. Then there's Level 2 charging (220 or 240 Volts) that will add more than twice as much mileage of range per hour. Your home charging outlet for your car will have to be wired for the additional voltage, but it's worth it for the faster speeds. Nevertheless, the AC charge has to be converted to DC in order to be useful, so maximum speeds aren't possible even with Level 2.
- LEVEL 1: approximately 16 hours for 80 miles of range (overnight)
- LEVEL 2: approximately 4 hours for 80 miles of range
DC Fast Charging (Level 3)
The diagram above (image credit: EV Charging Solutions) shows the vast differences between conventional Level 1 and Level 2 AC charging compared to DC Fast Charging, which actually bypasses the conversion process and avoids the constraints of AC charging. The power goes right to the car's Lithium-ion battery and doesn't need conversion at all. This speeds up the charging process, but that speed is dependent on battery size. DC Fast Charging has the capability to juice up your EV's battery to about 80% in an hour or less, making driving without delay a reality. But one caveat is that you can't really get DC Fast Charging for your home in most cases, and they're usually available only on public networks.
Newer EVs capable of DC Fast Charging can accept more power thanks to improved tech and bigger batteries, and charging stations have increased output to match. Older ones could accept about 50kW via DC Fast Charging, but newer vehicles like the latest Tesla Model 3 can take about 150kW. This essentially equates to on-the-go capability that's unprecedented. Range anxiety is dispelled not just by bigger batteries and increased distances but the reduced time it takes to charge up on a DC Fast Charging-capable network.
- LEVEL 3: 30 minutes for 80 miles of range
DC Fast Charging Types
The diagram above (image credit: Matteo Boccadoro) shows current DC Fast Charging port types. Keep in mind that not all charging stations work for all EVs. It can get a little bit complicated if you're not paying attention. CCS and CHAdeMO are not interchangeable, but you can get an adapter for your Tesla Model X or S to use on the CCS network. Companies like EVgo will provide some adapters for Tesla models at their CCS and CHAdeMO combined stations. Luckily, the Tesla Model 3 has a CCS port and requires no adapter.
And things are a bit complicated for the other EV manufacturers like Nissan and Mitsubishi, which use CHAdeMO, while premium brands like Jaguar and BMW use CCS. And in case you'd like to know which way to go when buying an EV that can use the DC Fast Charging network, it helps to know what's the most prevalent method right now. According to Green Car Reports:
"CCS still lags behind CHAdeMO in the number of stations by more than 250, while it has about 500 more connectors... Tesla has 678 Supercharger locations with 6,340 connectors."
The bottom line is to do your research on the EVs on your shopping list. Find out what charging setup works best for you, and don't just look at the range, styling, or technology. It's just as important, if not more so, to find the right charging capabilities as it is to get the best range for your driving needs.