The electric vehicle market is budding in the United States, and that means adoption is shifting from the very early adopters who know more about these vehicles than the people selling them to more normal mainstream buyers. The ecosystem of electric vehicle (EV) products and networks is still quite nascent, though, and that can make entry into this market challenging for people who don’t want to learn every detail about the ins and outs of their cars and how to charge them.
So, we decided to help out a bit by creating an EV charger guide. Admittedly, this is still quite detailed and covers a large variety of topics. Though, we tried to keep it as simple as possible and we had someone not immersed in this field write the bulk of the guide. In other words, we tried to keep it in “English” as much as possible.
Shockingly, we found while creating this guide that many details are lacking from the websites of pretty much every EV charging station company. We were surprised at how much we had to reach out to companies to fill in the gaps. That said, realizing that’s the reality of the market made us feel that much more convinced that this is an important guide for potential EV drivers and station owners.
Note that this guide focuses on home and commercial EV chargers but does not cover the very fast chargers that are mostly used to enable road trips.
Before we get into a little more detail on these topics, the following are a series of core points people should learn as they enter EV life or the EV market:
1. “Level 1 charging” simply means plugging into a normal electricity outlet — just like you charge your computer or phone (unless you use USB charging for your phone). Yes, electric vehicles can plug into a normal electricity outlet and charge without any special charging station at all.
2. “Level 2 charging” is somewhat faster charging that uses an electricity outlet like a clothes dryer uses or that is hardwired into the wall. Level 1 charging adds around 4 miles of range in every hour of charging, whereas Level 2 charging can add around 25 miles of range per hour. When you buy a home charging station, you do buy an extra piece of equipment (the cost is typically a couple hundred dollars or more) and plug it into that 240V outlet or have it hardwired into the wall.
3. Many EV owners decide to buy a Level 2 charging station to use at home, but many others just charge via a normal 110V electricity outlet. (The authors of this report do the latter.) What a person feels they need depends on their driving habits, and those can vary greatly.
4. Level 2 chargers utilize a 240V outlet, typically used for electric dryers or EV-specific outlets. Installation may require some electrical work unless you have an existing 240V outlet and share the outlet using a 240V Smart Splitter, which can save you a large chunk of money if this solution works for you.
5. Aside from residential use, Level 2 charging stations are the prime type of charging infrastructure used at grocery stores, big box stores (like Target and Walmart), coffee shops, city parks, hotels, malls, restaurants, etc. These are still far cheaper than “fast chargers” or “ultrafast chargers,” but they offer a decent electricity boost if you will be at the location for an hour or more.
6. There are “smart chargers” and, well, I guess we can call them “dumb chargers,” in the Level 2 charging station market. The former are the bulk of what’s covered in this guide. They are stations connected to the internet that come with smartphone apps and various types of monitoring and virtual control. The latter, “dumb chargers,” are most appealing for their somewhat lower prices.
7. Many Level 2 charging stations are on the market, but they often split between home-oriented stations and more commercial stations, or sometimes even differentiate a bit more to be tailored to multi-unit dwelling communities or other specific use cases.
8. Once split out into those different use cases, though, there are many stations from different brands that are very similar at their core. Some differentiate themselves in one nuanced/niche way or another, but you often have to look closely to catch the technical differences between models. Perhaps the most useful thing in this guide is the table we include comparing specs and features of the different models included in our analysis.
9. There is also “Level 3” fast charging, which is a whole other animal than Level 1 or Level 2 charging. Level 3 fast charging is several times faster than Level 2 charging, but it is not for home use. Level 3 fast chargers cost far more money and are typically installed in large charging networks aimed at providing convenient infrastructure for long road trips or very long commutes.