How do EV charging stations work? Level 1, Level 2, and DC Fast charging
Last updated 4/5/2018
Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are an integral part of owning an EV. All-electric cars don’t have a gas tank – rather than filling your car up with gallons of gas, you simply plug your car into its charging station to fuel up. The average EV driver does 80 percent of their car charging at home. Here’s your guide to the type of electric car charging stations, and how much you can expect to pay to charge your EV.
Types of electric car charging stations
Charging an electric car is a simple process: you simply plug your car into a charger that is connected to the electric grid. However, not all EV charging stations (also known as electric vehicle supply equipment, or EVSE) are created equal. Some can be installed simply by plugging into a standard wall outlet, while others require a custom installation. The time it takes to charge your car will also vary based on the charger you use.
EV chargers typically fall under one of three main categories: Level 1 charging stations, Level 2 charging stations, and DC Fast Chargers (also referred to as Level 3 charging stations).
Level 1 EV charging stations
Level 1 chargers use a 120 V AC plug and can be plugged into a standard outlet. Unlike other chargers, Level 1 chargers do not require the installation of any additional equipment. These chargers typically deliver two to five miles of range per hour of charging and are most often used at home.
Level 1 chargers are the least expensive EVSE option, but they also take the most time to charge your car’s battery. Homeowners typically use these types of chargers to charge their cars overnight.
Level 2 EV charging stations
Level 2 chargers are used for both residential and commercial charging stations. They use a 240 V (for residential) or 208 V (for commercial) plug, and unlike Level 1 chargers, they can’t be plugged into a standard wall outlet. Instead, they are usually installed by a professional electrician. They can also be installed as part of a solar panel system.
Level 2 electric car chargers deliver 10 to 60 miles of range per hour of charging. They can fully charge an electric car battery in as little as two hours, making them an ideal option for both homeowners who need fast charging and businesses who want to offer charging stations to customers.
Many electric car manufacturers, like Nissan, have their own Level 2 charger products. Other Level 2 EVSE manufacturers include ClipperCreek, Chargepoint, JuiceBox, and Siemens.
DC Fast Chargers (also known as Level 3 or CHAdeMO EV charging stations)
DC Fast Chargers, also known as Level 3 or CHAdeMO charging stations, can offer 60 to 100 miles of range for your electric car in just 20 minutes of charging. However, they are typically only used in commercial and industrial applications – they require highly specialized, high-powered equipment to install and maintain.
Not all electric cars can be charged with the use of DC Fast Chargers. Most plug-in hybrid EVs don’t have this charging capability, and some all-electric vehicles cannot be charged with a DC Fast Charger. The Mitsubishi “i” and Nissan Leaf are two examples of electric cars that are DC Fast Charger enabled.
One of the big selling points for Tesla electric vehicles is the availability of “Superchargers” scattered across the United States. These super-fast charging stations can charge a Tesla battery in about 30 minutes and are installed across the continental U.S. However, Tesla Superchargers are designed exclusively for Tesla vehicles, which means that if you own a non-Tesla EV, your car isn’t compatible with Supercharger stations. Tesla owners receive 400 kWh of free Supercharger credits each year, which is enough to drive about 1,000 miles.
Charging your electric car: Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S and X, and Chevy Bolt
Not all electric car batteries are created equal. The type of electric vehicle you purchase will impact how long it takes, and how much it costs, to charge your car’s battery.
Charging the Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf is an electric car designed for shorter trips, which means that it has a relatively low range (and a smaller battery to match). It can take as little as 30 minutes to charge a Leaf at a DC Fast Charging station, while charge times for at home Level 2 charging stations range from 4 to 8 hours. The cost to “fill up” a Nissan Leaf battery ranges from just over $3.00 (in Washington state) to almost $10.00 (in Hawaii).
Learn more in our Nissan Leaf charging guide.
Charging the Chevy Bolt
The Chevrolet Bolt is the first widely available electric car that can travel over 200 miles on a single charge. It takes approximately an hour and 20 minutes to charge a Bolt at a DC Fast Charging station, while charge time for at home Level 2 charging stations is around 9 and a half hours. The cost to “fill up” a Tesla battery ranges from just over $6.00 (in Washington state) to approximately $20.00 (in Hawaii).
Learn more in our Chevrolet Bolt charging guide.
Charging a Tesla EV
Tesla electric cars, including the Model S and the Model X, are luxury vehicles designed for long distance travel. If you have a Tesla Supercharger near you, it can take an hour or less to charge your car; at home charging ranges from 6 to 10 hours for a full charge. The cost to “fill up” a Tesla battery ranges from just under $7.00 (in Washington state) to almost $22.00 (in Hawaii).
Learn more in our Tesla EV charging guide.