If you drive 20-40 miles or less per day, a Level 1 charger is all you need

August 7th, 2017 by   This story about electric car chargers was first published on Gas2.

The folks at Consumer Reports are very good at offering people good, practical advice. Whether the issue is which vacuum cleaner is best for homes with long-haired pets like Golden Retrievers or the best electric car charger to buy, Consumer Reports (CR) can be relied upon to do the research people need to make informed decisions that are right for them.

As more and more electric cars come to market, many people considering buying an electric car are curious about whether they need to install charging equipment at home. The answer, according to Consumer Reports: “It depends.”

Image by EV-Box

The idea that is foreign to most people driving an electric car for the first time is that the car can be plugged in all night and begin each new day with a fully charged battery. It’s as if someone came by the house and filled the gas tank of a conventionally powered car each evening.

In North America, 110 volts is the standard for residences and small businesses. It’s enough to charge most electric and plug-in hybrid cars overnight so they have a full battery in the morning. Chargers that operate on 110 volts are called Level One chargers (or, technically, EVSE). They are plentiful and fairly inexpensive, topping out at about $300. The more expensive models have an internet-enabled app that allows the driver to monitor the charging rate and level of battery charge remotely.

Level 2 chargers operate on 220–240 volts. That’s the same as an electric stove or clothes dryer. Chargers that operate on the higher voltage can recharge a battery much more rapidly than Level 1 equipment is capable of. What takes 10 to 12 hours with Level 1 needs only 4 hours or so with Level 2 charging equipment.

Level 2 chargers cost a bit more. They also require the services of a licensed electrician to install properly. Charger and installation may cost $1,200 to $1,500, but keep in mind there is a federal tax credit available that will cover 30% of that cost. Consult a qualified tax professional for details. The credit is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2017, unless extended by Congress. Having a Level 2 charger installed at your home may also increase the resale value of your property.

Level 3 chargers can replenish a battery in one tenth the time but are usually not appropriate for residential applications. They can cost $10,000 or more for the unit itself plus installation. For the vast majority of people, the cost is more than saving a few hours of charging time would be worth.

Consumer Reports suggests that for people who drive less than 20 miles to work and have access to a charger during the work day, a Level One charger is fine. Even if no workplace charger is available, the vast majority of electric cars can go 40 miles during the day and still be fully charged overnight.

Longer distances driven daily may justify the decision to install a Level 2 charger. People who live in cold climates should keep in mind that some of the electricity stored in the battery is used to preheat the battery pack and interior of the car. A Level 1 charger may not be able to perform those functions and charge the battery at the same time.

In general, owners of plug-in hybrid vehicles have less to worry about. It they run out of battery power, the onboard gasoline engine takes over to provide as many miles as needed. Consumer Reports does suggest that people with a pure electric vehicle like a Chevy Boltor Tesla Model 3 are more likely to benefit from having Level 2 charging available.

CR also recommends that EV shoppers check to see what the “acceptance rate” is for the vehicle they are considering. The higher the acceptance rate, the faster the battery will be recharged. Some cars have only a 3.3 kW acceptance rate, which means they could take up to 20 hours to fully recharge if the battery is completely depleted. A 6.6 kW acceptance rate cuts charging times dramatically. The lesson is that even if you have a Level 2 charger, your car may take a long time to recharge if it only has a 3.3 kW acceptance rate.

Gil Tal, a researcher at the University of California at Davis who specializes in transportation and travel behavior, says EV and plug-in hybrid owners should drive their cars for a while first and learn about how they fit into their driving habits before deciding on which charger is best for them.

“Buy it and drive it,” Tal says. “Drive your car and see what makes the most sense for you.” You may find a less expensive Level 1 charger is more than adequate for your needs.

Source: Consumer Reports