Learn About the 3 EV Charging Station Types

There are 3 EV charging station types commonly used. Each has pros and cons when it comes to charging electric vehicles.

These charging station types go by the following names:

  • Level 1 charging
  • Level 2 charging
  • DC fast charging (Level 3 charging)

I’ve designed most of these chargers for various clients, so I’ve learned a lot about them. More specifically, the pros and cons of their various use cases, which are important to know. Especially if you’re looking to swap out your gas-guzzling car with an EV.

To set the stage, below is a summary of important basic information for each charger type.

 Level 1 ChargerLevel 2 ChargerLevel 3 Charger
Cost per charge$$$$$$
Charging speedSlowMediumFast
Primary locationResidentialResidential, PublicPublic
Sample power rating120V, 15A, 1.4kW240V, 40A, 7.7kW480V, 100A, 48kW

Level 1 charging

Level 1 chargers use the same single-phase 120-volt power found in your everyday home. I’m talking about the regular wall outlets fed from your 20 Amp circuit breakers.

So you can plug your EV power cord and equipment that came with your car into your standard outlet to charge. You don’t need to install anything else either. It’s super simple!

You can even install a dedicated 120V outlet for charging EVs only. You’ll get the same power output though as using an existing 120-volt outlet.

To point out, from all the charger options, Level 1 chargers are the slowest. They can for sure test your patience. For this reason alone, they’re not an ideal option if you need to fully charge your car every day. This is a big consideration for people who travel far distances daily.

BUT, Level 1 charging is an underrated option in many use cases. Especially since you don’t need to install fancy electrical equipment in your home.

In short, it’s best to use Level 1 chargers at home only if you meet the following conditions:

  • Your work commute is short and you don’t frequently travel long distances.
  • You have the option to charge your EV at your workplace using a Level 2 charger. Then at home, you do minimal Level 1 charging only.
  • You have a garage with a standard outlet. Because if you live in an apartment, you can’t run an extension cord to your parking lot.

Pros

  • Minimal impact on your electric utility peak demand charges.
  • Doesn’t need the installation of extra electrical equipment. Simply re-use the existing electrical equipment in your home.
  • No extra money to spend.
  • Ability to carry and charge almost anywhere, since all you need is access to a standard outlet.

Cons

  • Slow charging time.

Important Note: with Level 1 charging, you’re trickle charging your battery. You may get around 30 or so miles of charge a night with a Tesla Model 3. 

So with several long trips,  you won’t be able to recharge your battery fast enough. Then if you have a high-capacity Tesla battery, it may take 3 days to fully charge an empty battery. 

Level 2 charging

tesla vehicle charging
Photo Credit: Jannis Lucas

Level 2 chargers use 240-volt single-phase power. This is the same voltage your clothes dryer uses.

This higher-rated voltage allows for faster charging. But you no longer can just use a dedicated 120-volt outlet like Level 1 chargers at home. Instead, you need to buy a Level 2 charger separately. Then, install any necessary electrical equipment.

The average cost of installation is around $750 to $3,000, for both the materials and labor. The cost variance comes down to the complexity of your specific installation job. If you install the equipment right next to your electrical panel the cost will be cheap. But, if you install 50-feet from your electrical panel, the cost will naturally rise. Because you need to pay for more wiring, conduits, and possibly trenching.

In general, Level 2 chargers are most commonly found in homes and around town. You can compare their output to a Level 1 charger below using ChargePoint’s data.

 Level 1 ChargingLevel 2 Charging
Electric and Power Specs120-volt, 20 Amp circuit, 1.4 kW208 to 240-volt, 40 to 50 Amp circuit, 6.2 to 7.6 kW
Time to fully charge an EV with a 100-mile battery17 to 25 hours4 to 5 hours
Drivers served per station per day 13 to 4 or more

Pros

  • Greater energy efficiency compared to Level 1 chargers. More of the power you pay for goes in your battery versus ending up as heat in the battery and charger equipment.
  • Enjoy fast charging times. Can normally charge an EV 5 to 7 times faster than using a Level 1 charger.
  • Accepted by all EVs.

Cons

  • Initial installation cost.
  • A higher impact on your electric utility peak demand charges than Level 1 chargers.
  • Less mobility as the chargers are wall-mounted in your home.

DC fast charging (Level 3 charging)

dc fast charger
Photo Credit: Sophie Jonas

DC fast chargers charge fast as their name implies. They’re also known as Level 3 chargers.

To give you this added charge speed, these chargers use 480-volt three-phase power.

To point out, every EV can’t charge with DC fast chargers. Also, DC fast chargers aren’t meant for residential use, rather industrial.

At your home, you typically have a 120/240-volt single-phase 100 Amp electrical service. So it’s much easier to upsize your service to 200A, versus applying for a new 480V three-phase service. Plus, most electric utilities won’t bend over backward and give you 480-volt power, even if you pay up. It’s not happening!

BUT, if you own a Tesla, you’re more than likely familiar with Tesla’s supercharger network. The Superchargers are DC fast chargers. And DC fast chargers have industrial-rated AC to DC converters inside. This bypasses the limitations of the onboard chargers of EVs. Thus, allowing for faster charging.

To accommodate all drivers, Tesla has “destination chargers” too at various public locations. These destination chargers are Level 2 chargers.

You can read here to learn more about the cost to charge varying Tesla model vehicles.

Pros

  • A fast charging time. Much faster than even Level 2 chargers.
  • Most closely emulates the “fuel up” time of a normal gas-fueled vehicle.
  • Great charging option for long-distance trips.

Cons

  • Greater charging cost than Level 1 and Level 2 chargers.
  • A higher impact on your electric utility peak demand charges than both Level 1 and 2 chargers.
  • Generally, repeated use of Level 3 chargers can increase battery degradation. The fast-charging leads to an increase in battery heat.

Important Note: DC fast chargers can bring your battery to 80%  charge fast. I’m talking about 30 to 60 minutes. But after an 80% charge, you should switch to a Level 2 charger.

The last 20% of charging with a Level 3 charger is the same as using a Level 2 charger, but much cheaper. 

To learn more about the charging time of EVs, read here

Conclusion

Each EV charging station type has its own pros and cons. This is why you need to find what works best for you and your needs.

I find the best solutions are always somewhere in the middle. So use a combination of EV charging station types to get the best of all worlds. Because your needs are always changing, and a single charger type isn’t always the best choice.

To add to this, in many commercial projects I design, I typically design a mix of Level 2 and DC fast chargers. This is the most practical approach to meet the needs of everyone and in all situations.

One day you may be okay with slow charging your battery as you only have a 5-mile commute. But the next day, you need a quick full charge as you’re late for a meeting that’s a 100 plus mile drive away.

Which of the EV charging station types do you use at home and/or your workplace? Do you have any complaints about the EV charging station types you use? 

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