“Wait a minute,” you may be thinking. “How could you be into EVs for so long and even work for CleanTechnica and not already have a professionally-installed Level 2 charging station at home?”
Well, let’s turn on Baba O’Riley by The Who and I’ll explain a bit about how I got here. Before it’s over, you’ll realize that I’m just a cheapskate lesbian with a decent toolbox and access to YouTube when I need to learn how to do something for myself. But, bailing wire, chewing gum, WD-40, duct tape, and JB Weld can only take you so far in life.
The Things I’ve Done To Avoid Installing A Charging Station
I’ve owned EVs and PHEVs for some time now, but I’ve used a lot of janky DIY charging setups over the years. The obvious first move for a new EV owner is to just plug the car into a normal household outlet (aka Level 1). For many people, this is enough, and there’s no need for faster home charging. That was true for me for a few months.
But, with my Chevy Volt, I found that a change to my routine was forcing me to burn some gas every day. I was taking a short highway drive twice daily that depleted the car’s charge, and there wasn’t enough time while the kids were at school for the car to get a full battery again. So, I broke out the soldering gun and cracked the case on the car’s L1 EVSE.
I even had a convenient hole in the wall I could put the NEMA 14-50 plug into, so I did that, too. Charging times for the Volt went from 8-10 hours down to around 3-4 (3.3 kW charging). This enabled me to make both trips every day without using any gas, and it only cost me around $50 to set it all up.
Later, when I didn’t have a garage and I had my 2018 Nissan LEAF, I had to break open the plug for my dryer and add some extra wires for the car. The property owner let me drill a small hole in the wall, which I then ran outside to the EVSE that came with the LEAF. From the outside of the apartment, it didn’t look that bad.
Sharing a circuit with my dryer may sound like a bad idea, but I set the charge timer so that it wouldn’t charge until 3AM. This meant that by the time it started pulling power, we would not only be in bed sleeping, but any load of laundry we had left drying would have also been done for hours. We actually never tripped the breaker, so I must’ve done something right.
But now, I own my own home, and I don’t have any convenient DIY janky options at my disposal. Why? Because I’m up against a pretty hard limit on the home’s electrical power. With only 80 amps coming in from the electric company, there’s just not much to spare for Level 2 charging. I could probably get away with 20 amp Level 2 (4.8 kW), but that’s about all that would be safe. 6.6 kW, 7.7 kW, and especially 11.5 kW (my new Bolt EUV’s max pull) are all out of the question unless I want to cause myself some serious relationship problems with El Paso Electric.
I figure 20 amp Level 2 charging isn’t worth all the hassle. With 250 miles of range, I can bring the car up to 85% almost every night even on Level 1, and if I do drive more than I manage to charge at night (40-60 miles’ worth), there’s some spare battery capacity to cover those odd days. It’s worked out pretty well so far. If I’m going to go through the hassle, I figure I might as well go for the full 48 amps the car can draw for maximum flexibility.
So, I’ve been making do with Level 1 charging again, with an occasional boost of Level 3 from a nearby dealership if I get into a bind. But, rest assured, I’m using a heavy-gauge (and heavily expensive) extension cord, so what I’m doing for now is perfectly safe. I even stashed it all under my house so that the dogs couldn’t get to it (I lost an EVSE that way once).
Luckily, There’s Help Available
I know some of you would probably go without caviar for a few days to come up with money to upgrade electrical service and have a professional install everything, but I’m all out of caviar money. But, I know I’m far from the only new EV owner who faces (or will face) the challenge of putting in a charging station at home. Manufacturers, utilities, and governments all know this, too, and there’s often help for people who can’t just skip the fine wine for a few weekends.
One program I quickly found out about after buying the Bolt EUV was GM’s promise to pay for installation if you buy a GM EV. The Bolt EUV comes with a dual-level EVSE that includes a NEMA 14-50 plug and a standard household plug (NEMA 5-15) that swap out. GM says it is going to eventually offer more plugs, like the NEMA 5-20 or TT-30, and make it kind of like a Tesla Mobile Connector kit.
So, instead of installing an EVSE, GM just sets you up with a NEMA 14-50 receptacle to use the included charger for Level 2 at home. That job of adding a breaker, some #8 wiring, and the receptacle can cost hundreds of dollars, and thousands in some cases, but it’s a great way to get a new owner started with home charging.
Not everyone’s going to do that, though. The company also offers up to $1,250 for “non-standard” installations that don’t use a receptacle (and I’ve heard on forums that they sometimes pay more to help you out with a complex install). For the people who don’t want or need help with an installation, they’ll give you $500 in EVgo credit (which you can also use at ChargePoint stations).
Another thing I found out was that my utility (El Paso Electric) also offers help with home installations. For higher incomes, they’ll help you buy a smart EVSE. For lower-income people, they offer up to $2,300 in installation costs. I already have a smart EVSE sitting around, so I won’t need that, but the $2,300 plus GM’s $1,250 might be enough to cover the upgrades I’m going to need, or at least leave me with a smaller bill.
Applying for both of these was pretty easy. El Paso Electric had a form-fillable PDF file with instructions, and GM had a simple web page where you answer questions about your home and garage (if any), and upload some pictures. The only rules for the photos is that you can’t send them nudes (the web page really says to not do that, on penalty of losing the charging installation incentive), and that the photos must be under 4 MB (so be sure to reduce them if they won’t upload).
I’ll write some follow-up pieces as the process for the incentives goes forward, so be sure to subscribe or follow CleanTechnica on social media if you find this story interesting!
Featured image provided by GM. All other images by Jennifer Sensiba.
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