Are All Electric Car Chargers The Same?

are electric chargers all the sameChoosing an Electric Vehicle (EV) charger that perfectly matches your requirements can be tricky unless you learn about the differences. I was recently researching the difference between EV chargers, and I was amazed to see the variety of EV chargers available online.

Are all electric car chargers the same? All EV chargers are not the same. EV chargers are different in terms of output power, input voltages, output voltages, charging connection standard, weight, physical appearance, and their installation procedure also varies from charger to charger. Furthermore, not all EV chargers are compatible with all EVs.

There Are Four Types of EV Chargers

The cable used to charge the car also differs from brand to brand as the connectors, and current rating is different for every EV.

There are mainly three to four types of EV chargers, which are:

  1. level 1
  2. level 2
  3. DC fast
  4. DC superfast charger

All of these types have different technical specifications and serve different purposes.

A level 1 charger can take all night to charge your EV, but a DC superfast charger can do the same job within 10 minutes. You can buy a level 1 charger online for $200, but DC superfast chargers start from $18,000. Accordingly, level 1 chargers are most commonly used for domestic needs, and the DC superfast chargers are used at Public Charging Networks.

A perfect EV charger can ensure the longevity of EV batteries, whereas an improperly chosen charger can severely damage EV batteries and can cause serious hazards. Understanding primary differences between EV chargers before selecting a charger can help in making the right decision.

The use of multiple connector standards by different EV manufacturers is an obstacle in enhancing public charging networks. Nevertheless, the chargers and connectors are standardizing, and now several EV manufacturers prefer universal standards.

The most commonly used sockets and plugs are:

  1. Type 1 – SAEJ1772
  2. Type 2 – IEC62196 for AC chargers rated between 16-70Amps.
  3. While the in DC chargers, CHAdeMO and Combined Charging System (CCS) are used. CHAdeMO’s revised version and CCS2 have a current rating between 125-500A and even more in some cases.

Converter Cables

Converter cables are also available in the market for connection between different connection standards. The converter cables enhance compatibility between different standards of chargers and cables. Modern EVs are equipped with an EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) charging cable, which makes their charger compatible with standard power mains and enables the driver to charge the EV almost anywhere.

AC and DC Chargers

The major categories of EV chargers are AC chargers and DC chargers. As the name suggests, AC chargers operate at alternating current, and DC chargers operate at direct current. There are mainly two types of AC chargers; Level 1 and level 2 chargers.

Level 1 Charger:

Level 1 chargers operate at 110-120v, and typically, their current rating is around 16A. They are usually rated around 3.8kW, which is why they can take several hours to charge a PHEV and almost a day to charge an EV. On average, a level 1 charger can add approximately 4-5 miles to your EV ride for every hour of charging, and in the case of PHEV, it can add 20-50 miles for every hour of charging.

Normal level 1 chargers operate at 110-120v, but there are universal level 1 chargers that are compatible with 220-240v too. Their voltages and current can be varied as needed.

This feature enables their compatibility with even more power standards, and the charging process can be boosted by 200% in places where 220-240v supply is available.

Overall,  level 1 chargers are slow and impractical for long drives and frequent usage. But still, level 1 chargers are sold in high volume, and even today, most of the in-use EV chargers are level 1 chargers.

Although level 1 chargers do not match the efficiency of level 2 and DC rapid chargers, they are preferred over other types for domestic use. Why? Level 1 chargers are portable as they weight around 5-10lb and do not require to be fixed.

They support SAE J1772 plugs, which are globally used, making level 1 chargers compatible with most of the EVs. Furthermore, level 1 chargers are cheapest among all types of chargers, and you can easily find a level 1 charge under $200 at e-stores.

Furthermore, the installation cost is also low when compared to other types as level 1 chargers come with the necessary equipment (including an approximately 25ft cable). On average, a level 1 charging setup costs around $500 (depending upon the length of cables needed and if a dedicated distribution line is to be installed). The only disadvantages of level 1 charger are its low efficiency and connector’s incompatibility with some EVs.

Level 2 Charger:

Level 2 chargers are almost 200-400% more efficient as compared to level 1 chargers as they operate at 220-240v and support up to 50A. There is a wide range of level 2 chargers available in the market ranging between 3.8kW to 12kW and even more in some cases.

A Level 2 charger can add almost 15-25 miles to your EV drive for every hour of charging. With its robust charging capabilities, a level 2 charger can completely charge a long-range EV in eight hours.

Although level 2 chargers are far more efficient than level 1 chargers and they are best suited for quick charging, but level 2 chargers are expensive, and they cannot be moved frequently.

Level 2 chargers are available with a variety of technical specifications. A standard single-port 50A level 2 portable charger costs around $700, whereas in case of a dual-port level 2 chargers (capable of charging multiple EVs simultaneously), the price starts from $2200.

Portable chargers are cheaper as compared to hard-wired chargers, and the installation is also less expensive. As compared to level 1 chargers, the installation cost is high as the cables and distribution line needed for a level 2 charger has higher technical specifications.

Hard-wired level 2 charging station installation costs around $4000. The average weight of a portable level 2 charger is approximately 18lb, and they support all standard ports. A typical level 2 charger comes with approximately 25ft long cable.

Many manufacturers are offering smart chargers that are not only technically robust, but they have more exciting features such as WiFi support. The connection between level 2 chargers and the network enables the user to control and monitor a charger over the network. The user can schedule a charger, set charging period, change charging frequency & amperage.

Accordingly, the charging can be minimized during peak hours, and bills can be reduced. Some modern level 2 chargers include a power management system that is capable of controlling the demand and supply of power within a building.

EV chargers consume high power, and if they operate at high power when other high power appliances are in use, it can cause serious power malfunctions. To avoid any potential threats to the power distribution system, the charger itself monitors the loads required by the other appliances and accordingly shifts its input power.

Furthermore, it enables the user to track the power usage throughout the month and provides complete statics regarding power usage. Smart EV chargers are incredibly efficient as compared to conventional chargers, and they are most commonly used at commercial scale.

Unfortunately, level 2 Chargers cannot be used with single-phase 110-120v power supply as they are designed to operate at 220-240v. However, with little modification, level 2 chargers can be used with 110-120v.

A converter can be used for amplifying 110-120v to 220-240v, which also boosts the charging rate. However, the available converters operate on a two-phase supply. 

DC Fast Chargers

DC chargers are often referred to as “level 3” and “level 4” chargers, which is incorrect. The DC chargers are further divided into two categories,

  1. DC fast chargers
  2. DC superfast chargers.

The primary difference between these two is the charging capacity.

DC fast chargers typically operate around 380-480V, and they support up to 120A. A standard DC fast charger has 22-50kW output power, which is almost 400-500% efficient then level 2 chargers.

Some DC fast chargers have even higher output. DC superfast chargers are an advanced form of DC fast chargers,  but since old DC fast chargers could support only up to 50kW, the higher-powered DC chargers are termed as DC superfast chargers.

Since DC fast chargers do not involve power conversion (AC to DC and DC to AC), the power losses are low, unlike in the case of AC chargers based charging systems. Consequently, DC chargers save energy and provide higher output as compared to AC chargers.

With 50kW of charging capacity, DC chargers can add almost 125km to an EV in barely half an hour, which means, they can completely charge an EV in 30-60 minutes.  This is why DC chargers are superior as compared to AC chargers.

DC fast chargers support both CHAdeMO and CCS, which are most commonly used around the World.

DC chargers are a perfect match for public networks, but they are not a good match for domestic use.

Why? Because DC fast chargers operate at DC voltages, which is not available for domestic use in most countries, which means DC fast chargers cannot be powered directly through most power sockets.

Even though a DC power supply can be used with an AC supply for powering the DC fast charger, it is impractical due to power losses and high cost. Alternatively, a DC power generation system such as a Solar Power Plant can be installed, which might be a good option for commercial buildings but not for a domestic user.

Furthermore, DC fast chargers are within proper charging stations, which is why they are expensive. A standard 50kW DC fast charger’s price starts from almost $9,000 and goes up to $20,000.

They are heavy as compared to level 1 and level 2 chargers, which is why they cannot be moved frequently. A DC fast charger can weight around 150-350kg (depending upon the number of charging ports and technology).

DC Superfast Chargers

DC superfast chargers are successors of DC fast chargers; they use similar technologies except DC superfast chargers are almost 700-1500% faster at charging. Typically, DC superfast chargers have 100kW or more output capacity. The most powerful DC superfast chargers available in the market have 350kW output, and they operate at up to 950V at 500A and have dual ports.

BMW and Porsche claim that they have developed a prototype that can power up to 450-kW, and it is capable of adding 62miles to an EV in barely 3 minutes. This means a driver can charge his EV for a 200 miles drive in less than 10 minutes. Many other brands are working on developing even more powerful superfast chargers.

Tesla is one of the earliest brands that developed DC superfast charger up to 250kW capacity. Most of the DC superfast chargers are being developed for all DC connection standards. DC superfast chargers have the advantage of low power losses, just as discussed in the case of DC fast chargers. However, DC superfast chargers have their challenges.

The availability of DC voltages as high as 950V with current up to 500A is not possible at the domestic scale; it is possible only at the commercial level. However, several manufacturers have developed DC superfast chargers that operate at 380VAC.

DC superfast charging stations are being set up all over the World, and soon they’ll be everywhere. Nearly 15,000 DC superfast chargers are already operational in North America. They are most suitable for large-scale commercial charging stations.

DC superfast chargers are bulky and can weigh up to 400kg, which is why they are installed only on the ground inside charging stations. The price of a single port 100kW DC superfast charger starts from almost $18,000 and goes up to hundreds of dollars (depending upon charging capability and number of ports).

Major differences between AC and DC Electric Vehicle Chargers

The most significant difference between DC chargers and AC chargers is their output. AC charger’s output is AC, while DC charger’s output is DC. But since the EV’s batteries are charged at DC voltages, the process of rectification is involved in both types but at different stages. Rectification is a process in which the AC voltages are converted into DC voltages. The rectification process occurs inside the EV between the charging port and the batteries.

DC chargers operate at AC input voltages due to in availability of high voltage DC supply. The process of rectification occurs inside the charger, and the generated output is DC. Since the generated output is already DC, the rectification process is not needed at the output’s end. Hence the rectification process occurs outside the EV, typically inside the charger. However, many DC chargers operate at DC input voltages and involve no rectification process at either end. In such cases, the power losses are minimal since no conversions are involved.

Furthermore, DC chargers are much more expensive and bulkier than AC chargers.

Fast Chargers at Public Charging Network

The trend of public EV charging stations is rising with time. Many countries have already developed a public charging network where people can drive over and charge their EVs. These stations are usually equipped with multiple types of chargers and connectors to ensure compatibility with all EVs.

However, the best a public charging station can offer is a superfast DC charger, which is so far the most efficient. EV companies such as Tesla have are expanding their public charging stations. Fast charging stations are already operational in most of Europe and America.

The traditional EV charging stations are mostly equipped with level 2 chargers with dual ports. They are good enough for old EVs that have charging limitations.

Domestic Charger for EV Charging at Home

The heavy-duty batteries installed in EVs take time to charge, and that’s it is feasible to charge your EV at night when you are sleeping. Next morning your EV be charged enough to run all day. If you are looking to buy an EV charger for your home, a single port level 1 or level 2 EV charger would be enough; Unless you have multiple vehicles or your travel a lot.

A 3.3kW level 1 charger is typically used for domestic purposes as it is economical, easy to install, and can fulfill the needs of an average driver. Level 1 chargers are commonly used for domestic needs, and this is why they are also known as domestic EV chargers.

To avoid current overflow and for the safety of other devices, domestic EV chargers are connected with the central metering unit through independent wiring. During charging, the EV must be parked off-street to ensure the cables do not trail over a footpath or across the road. However, on-street parking based EV charging units are being introduced, and soon the drivers will be able to charge their EV on the street.

EV Charger for Workplace

With the rising trend of EVs, many companies are adding EV charging units to their infrastructure. But, the EV charging unit in commercial buildings must be efficient enough to charge multiple cars in a short time.

Conventionally level 2 chargers are used at workplaces, but since DC fast chargers have been introduced, they are getting attention. The EV chargers installed in commercial buildings are mostly DC fast chargers, which are rated between 22kW to 50kW, usually with dual ports for charging multiple EVs simultaneously.

However, level 2 chargers are also used at workplaces since they are also good enough to charge an EV within a few hours.

Why are fast chargers installed in commercial buildings? Why not level 1 chargers? Level 1 chargers are not a good match for workplaces due to frequent and quick charging needs, whereas fast chargers can efficiently charge multiple EVs.

Doing so not only enables the employees and the visitors to charge their EVs during work and save time, but it also saves cost for expensive charging at public charging network.

The facility of EV charging in commercial buildings is an attraction for many customers. Many companies offer free or low-cost charging for encouraging EV usage by employees and visitors.

Factors You Need to Consider Before Choosing an EV Charger

If you are planning to buy an EV charger, you need to consider the limitations of your EV’s technical specifications. Make sure you consider these points before choosing a charger.

  • The charging specifications (Voltage/Current/Power) and connection standard of the charger must be compatible with your EV.
  • Choose a charger whose input voltage and current requirements can be fulfilled in your area. Some chargers operate at high voltages, which are difficult to manage in many areas.
  • If you love technology and would like to stay updated regarding your charger’s analytics, consider buying a smart charger.
  • In case you are already using multiple high power devices in your building, maybe an EV charger with a power management feature would be a better choice. Modern smart chargers contain building power management systems.
  • EV chargers are available in the form of both indoor and outdoor units. Indoor chargers have low weather resistance, and they are not compatible with the extreme atmosphere.
  • Ensure your charger’s manufacturer offers long-term warranty within your country.
  • The cost is an essential factor; make sure you consider the installation cost too before choosing a charger. Some charger’s installation cost is more than the charger itself.

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