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Charging Your EV – It’s not as Hard as you Think

By John Hipchen Technical Marketing Consultant, Excel Consulting Group, Palatine, IL

I’ve had my Nissan Leaf for nearly two years now (33,000 miles) – and I’ve never been in a situation where my battery has run out of juice. People who are unsure about buying an EV talk about “range anxiety” and worry they’ll be stranded far from a charging station with a dead battery. For me, those worries went away soon after I started driving the Leaf.

These days there’s interest in charging stations – not only how many there are and where they’re located, but also the level of charge they provide. There are three levels of EV chargers. Level 1 is the equivalent of plugging your car into an ordinary household outlet. In my Nissan Leaf, I’ve had as many as seven miles of range per hour of charging on a Level 1 charger. For my average 30-mile commute to work, Level 1 charging easily replenishes that range when I’m parked at the office. My understanding is that Level 1 charging produces the least amount of stress on the battery.

Electric utility companies are also proponents of Level 1 charging and they claim it can cover almost all EV charging needs. So I decided to use my Level 1 charger to see if they were right. Although it takes a lot longer to charge, I’ve found that most of the time I can get by with Level 1 charging. I’ve also found I can charge my car overnight on a Level 1 and still be ready for the next day’s commute.

Level 2 charging supplies 240V (what an electric dryer or oven uses). Level 2 charging units for home use can now be purchased for as little as $550. Commercial units range in price between $3,000 and $6,000. Because Level 2 charging stations can charge a battery from dead to full in as little as 3½ hours, most EV owners living in single family homes purchase a Level 2 charger for their garages. On a busy day, I’ll drive my Leaf well over 100 miles. A Level 2 charging station makes that possible.

Level 3 charging stations provide a 480-volt DC charge. They are also called “DC Fast Chargers” and they come at a hefty price, as much as $30,000 a unit. EVs charging at Level 3 stations can reach 80% capacity in just 30 minutes. That final 20% MUST be done on Level 1 or 2.

At first I was skeptical about the value of Level 1 charging, but with a few years of experience under my belt, I now believe that Level 1 charging has definite advantages in a surprising number of situations.

There is a Place for Level 1 Charging

Denver International Airport is one of the first sites to install commercial Level 1 charging stations for electric vehicles.

Why? If you’re driving to work and spending eight hours there, a Level 1 charger will do just fine and save your company some money. The electric rate for most facilities is based on their “peak energy demand.” If enough EV drivers plug into Level 2 chargers at the same time (like in the morning when energy use is already near its maximum), the extra energy required by the EVs could move that facility’s electric rate into the next tier for the entire day. Level 1 charging minimizes these energy spikes. Also, an EV driver is less likely to take advantage of a perk like plugging in if it’s only a Level 1 charge.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 90% of commuters drive 30 miles or less to get to work. Level 1 charging can replenish this range easily during a typical workday and the equipment is less costly. It’s true that Level 2 charging will replenish the range much quicker, but is it really cost effective if a more expensive piece of equipment is then idle for a good part of the workday?

Denver International Airport (DIA) has the right idea. It’s one of the first sites that installed 10 commercial Level 1 electric vehicle-charging stations (120 volt, 16 camps). Designed by Telefonix, these charging stations are perfect for an airport because people park there for hours or days at a time. The slower charge rate is not an issue. And the retractable cord on these Telefonix units is terrific, like nothing I’ve ever seen on other charging units. It should also be noted that DIA is not charging their customers for the energy. The actual cost of electricity is surprisingly low, less than $1 in most cases, which makes the whole process simple and easy.

When it comes to paying for energy used to charge an EV, some facilities are finding simple methods that avoid networks and credit card readers. In fact, a recent investigation showed that when a charging station is down, in most cases it’s because the payment system failed. The charging equipment was still functional. How frustrating is that!

I really like the DIA model because it keeps costs low and doesn’t add extra equipment that adversely affects functionality. It also doesn’t seem practical for EV users to move their cars around during the workday to allow shared use of EV chargers.

If you worry about inconveniences you might experience in charging your EV, consider the savings you’ll have by not filling up your car with gas. It costs me slightly more than $2 to charge my Leaf from dead to full, and that gives me 80 miles of range. I calculate that I save more than $300 monthly on gas, based on a 20 miles per gallon average. That always makes me smile.

If you’d like to learn more about the advantages of EVs and Level 1 charging stations, feel free to contact me, johnhipchen@exelconsultinggroup.com.

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