Electric vehicles are refueled from electricity, meaning those of us with decades of gasoline experience must learn a new way of refueling. Fortunately it's easy, but there are some questions you must learn the answers to. Where do you find electric car charging stations? How far can you go on a charge? How (or why) does it take so long to recharge an electric car? Can I charge the electric car more quickly? Where can I go with my electric car? How do I get an electric car charging station installed at home? What kind of charging station can I carry with me?
Electric vehicles go only as far as the battery pack allows, just as a gasoline car only goes as far as the gas tank allows. Run out of gasoline and you're stuck at the side of the road, right? The difference is that for gasoline it's usually possible to take the gas can out of the trunk, walk a few blocks, find a gas station, fill the gas can, return to your car, and get enough fuel to get you to a gas station. That's not possible with an electric car. But, it's common for an electric car driver to quickly learn where their car can go, what they can do with the car, and so forth. (read more on how driving range is estimated and how to decode the EPA ratings label)
Typically an EV owner recharges their car at home either plugging into a regular household outlet, or by installing a charging station that has a high power connection to the house electrical system. That limits you to traveling within a short distance from home, because you'll always have to return there to recharge the battery pack. Your driving area is easily extended with public charging stations or even random power outlets. With some cars it's possible, with fast charging, to travel long distance at a reasonable speed, because fast charging stations rapidly refill the battery pack. (read more on learning range confidence, rather than being trapped by range anxiety)
This gives three charging scenarios to implement in order to have the freedom to drive (almost) where-ever you want with an electric vehicle
- Home charging - either from regular household outlet, or from high power outlet
- Public charging - either at medium-speed (level 2) or high speed (DC fast charge)
- Portable high power charger - plugging into any power outlet you find
Let's quickly take care of the last two first, then spend the bulk of this page on home charging.
Public charging - The first thing you need to know is charging station locations in your region. Thankfully there are many smart phone apps with that information. The second thing is membership in the necessary charging station networks. I've put together a list of charging station networks and smart phone apps for electric vehicle owners.
At a public level 2 charging station you'll gain about 25 miles of range per hour of charging. At a fast charging station you'll instead gain about 150 miles to 300 miles of range per hour of charging, depending on the charging technology being used.
Portable high power charging - The car makers supply a portable charging unit with the car designed for a 120 volt 12 amp charging rate. That works out to about 4 hours of range gained per hour of charging, which is pretty slow. While that charging speed works at home fairly well, you don't want to use that while traveling. A portable charging station is meant to help you recharge if you cannot find a regular charging station. What's needed is a portable charging station that runs at the same speed as non-portable charging stations - or 6 kiloWatts of power (or more). These do exist, and when fitted with a NEMA 14-50 plug, along with a set of power adapters, you can be gaining 20-25 miles of range per hour of charging. See: Full guide for using extension cords to charge electric cars, electric motorcycles, electric bicycles
What we have now to discuss is charging at home. The considerations to ponder are
- How fast to charge at home
- If you live in apartment or condo - will the landlord/HOA allow you to charge at home
- The process to legally install charging at home
How fast to charge your car at home? Level 1 or Level 2
Level 1 charging is the common household outlet, 120 volts 12 amps or so. It supplies about 4 hours of range per hour of charging, and overnight it will provide quite a bit of range. Level 2 charging is higher power, 240 volts at 16 or 32 amps (or more), and provides 12 miles range, or 20-25 miles range, per hour of charging depending on the power level. Some electric cars allow even higher powered charging.
Typically with level 2 charging a full recharge takes 3-4 hours.
Many people live fine on level 1 charging - their office might be a short distance, for example, or might allow charging at the office.
It's trivial to get set up with level 1 charging. Just drag an extension cord out the garage door - making sure it's a high power extension cord, and it's plugged into a good quality reliable power outlet. Every electric car is sold with a 120 volt charger which will work on normal power outlets. You just have to make sure the outlet you're using is reliable enough.
Read more on electric car charging rates, and what charging speed is needed at home or at work or elsewhere.
Apartment/Condo dwellers and electric car ownership
Whether apartment/condo dwellers can charge at home is tricky. Typically the parking spot is far from the apartment, making it impossible to drag an extension cord to the car. Doing so might create a tripping hazard, for example, and the landlord would rightfully get upset. Or you might see a power outlet in the parking area, but then you'd be "stealing" electricity from the landlord who might rightfully get upset.
It's possible to talk with these people and discuss the situation. Make sure to express the fact that electric car sales are increasing rapidly and they'll sooner or later begin to see more and more tenants asking for charging at home. But expect the landlord to be resistant to allowing you to charge at home.
If you do it guerrilla style - run the extension cord so it doesn't create a tripping hazard - use a heavy duty extension cord - ensure it has GFCI protection - don't just plug into the landlord's power outlet without permission. All those steps will show seriousity and sensibility, and if the landlord does discover your guerrilla charging setup they'll appreciate that you took measures to do so safely.
Installing electric car charging at home
Suppose you own your house or otherwise have permission to install a charging station, what do you do?
If it's someone else's property (you have permission) make sure to do it within the parameters they laid out.
The simplest and most ideal is to have a 240 volt 50 amp power outlet installed, perhaps with a weather proof cover. To match the power outlet, get a 240 volt 6 kiloWatt charging station, with a matching 240 volt plug. Get creative and figure out how to mount the charging station so you can easily unplug it and carry it along - say if you'll be taking a longer trip.
It's probably necessary to get a permit with the city, hire a licensed electrician, and have it inspected by the city, before you can plug in the charging station. Check with the city the process for this because some locale's make it unnecessarily complicated. The purpose of going with the 240 volt 50 amp power outlet is simplifying the process. It's almost certainly trivial to get one of those outlets installed. Electric car charging stations are out-of-the-ordinary and therefore the city inspectors might be leery.
Again, if you do the 240 volt 50 amp outlet - just get a 6 kiloWatt charging station, attach a matching plug, attach it to the wall, and you're done.
See Full guide for using extension cords to charge electric cars, electric motorcycles, electric bicycles for more information. That page lists a number of charging stations that can be plugged in at home, or are small enough to carry with you on travels. Many of the portablizable charging stations can run at the 6+ kiloWatt charging rate, meaning charging while on the road can be as fast as charging at home.
In some cases the requirements will be laid down that the charging station must be hardwired to the house wiring. You should try to avoid doing this, because having it connected to a power outlet allows you to unplug the charging station and take it on trips.