Can you charge an electric car with a regular outlet? This is actually a very common question. Many people even skip past asking this question and assume the answer is “no.”
After all, a car is a giant machine. Both phones and computers use normal electricity plugs and outlets (or potentially a USB outlet in the case of phones), but a car is much larger and must have to use a much larger cord and a special charging station, right? A car can’t use the same plug as a computer, can it?
Almost as soon as one is exposed to the world of electric vehicles, they see that there are all kinds of EV charging stations on the market. They see pictures of EV charging stations — 350 kW ones, 125 kW ones, 50 kW ones, 25 kW ones, and 6 kW ones (the home chargers many companies sell, for example). For sure, you have to use one of those to charge an electric car, right?
I remember when I finally learned, even after covering this market for quite a while, that electric vehicles could charge from normal outlets. I was shocked! I had thought that you needed to use those special charging stations that were always in pictures or being marketed on their own. I was sure way back then that most people didn’t realize you could charge from a normal electricity outlet, and I’m sure that’s still the case today.
That said, Volvo Cars might have helped quite a bit to dispel this myth. It has run a few electric vehicle ads either far more than any other electric vehicle ads or its ads have just been highly tailored to me and/or the platform I mostly use for watching or listening to stuff (YouTube). I think I’ve seen these Volvo ads more than all other electric vehicle ads combined, and the ads have basically just been Volvo electric vehicles plugging into the wall with a cord that looks like the cord of an Apple MacBook Pro. I assume there were two main aims Volvo Cars had with these: 1) show how easy EV charging is, and 2) show that you can charge with a normal plug in a normal outlet. (Admittedly, these were ads for Volvo plug-in hybrids, but I think a useful point was made nonetheless — I think a normal consumer would assume any electric car can charge like that, which is indeed the case.)
Yes, many EV owners decide that they need faster home charging and purchase a “Level 2” home charger. However, many others decide that charging with a normal electricity outlet is fine and that’s all they do. I’m in the latter group since we recently moved to a home with a garage, and that has been frequently reminding me of this question and helped to stimulate this article.
Even using basic 110V charging, I don’t charge every day, and I’ve stopped charging above 71%. (Why 71% instead of 70%? I don’t know. That’s just where I set the max charging.) I often charge every other day, and I may even go two days without charging. Then I just plug in when arriving home and let the trickle charge do its thing. It may spend hours and hours charging on this regular electricity outlet, but that doesn’t really matter to me if I’m in the house eating (too much), watching tennis, working, or sleeping. Even simply charging from late evening till morning would easily get the job done.
As it is, even with our Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus (SR+), whose range has dropped down to ~205 miles (last I checked several months ago), I charge between about 30% to 50% on the low end to 71% on the high end. Americans drive about twice as much as Europeans on average, but that still amounts to just about 40 miles a day on average (less than that on a regular basis if you consider that the national average includes road trips, which pull the average upward). I drive approximately that amount but without the road trips. Adding 40 miles a day or 80 miles every other day via trickle charging is not hard at all. The car is sitting parked about 96% of the time (that’s the US average), and 110V trickle charging adds about 4 miles an hour. So, even 10 hours of charging (e.g., 7:00 pm to 5:00 am or 9:00 pm to 7:00 am) will add 40 miles of range. If you’re not out for 14 hours a day, then it’s even easier to get those 40 miles in.
There are certainly some patterns of driving that make it worth it to some EV owners to get a Level 2 charging station that can charge at a much higher rate. However, I think that assuming there isn’t a gigantic chunk of the market that can easily live with 110V charging on a regular outlet is a bad assumption.
Anything I’m leaving out here? Anything else to add on the topic of regular 110V electric vehicle charging?
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