Electric Vehicle Charging 101

Charging Levels

EVSE is an a widely used industry acronym that stands for Electric Vehicle Service Equipment. An EVSE is any smart device that dispenses electric charge to the vehicle. It may be wall-mounted or free-standing, and includes one or more cords with special connectors that plug into the vehicle. EVSEs fall into three categories based on speed.

Level 1 Charging

The simplest, cheapest, slowest technology, producing a “trickle” charge. Most EVs come with a Level 1 device, which plugs into any standard (120V) wall socket and is suitable for home use.

It uses power equivalent to running a hair dryer (~1500W). A Level 1 device adds about 4 miles of range per hour of charging, so an overnight charge will give you 40-50 miles of driving.

Level 2 Charging

The most common form of public charging equipment, these devices look something like a gas-station air pump and are increasingly seen in parking lots, in front of public buildings, etc. Many EV owners install them in their home garages.

They require 240V (like a clothes dryer) and are capable of adding about 22 miles of range per hour. This level of charge is what carmakers are talking about when they say you can fully charge overnight, typically within six to eight hours. Many public Level 2 chargers require payment by credit card or app.

Level 3 - DC Fast Charging

The fastest charging technology. It’s fast because it delivers DC (Direct Current) straight into the battery, unlike the other two levels which require inefficient conversion from AC. Fast-charging devices are typically operated by one of a few commercial networks, and in our area are currently limited to a relatively few locations along major travel corridors.

They add 100+ miles of range per hour, and have various fee structures (a ballpark figure is about $10 per 30 minutes of charging).

Charging Connectors

There are four main types of connectors that plug into the vehicle

J1772 : This is the go-to connector for most everyday EV charging, as it’s standard equipment on pretty much all Level 2 devices and it works with nearly every EV model. (Teslas need to use an adapter, however.) The big pins correspond to the blades of a common 120 or 240 volt household power outlet, while the small pins handle communication between the car and the charge source.

CCS and CHADeMO : When it comes to fast-charge stations, these are the two non-proprietary (i.e., non-Tesla) choices. CCS, at right, top, (which stands for Combined Charging System) is basically a J1772 with two extra pins. This plug format is the most widely used by both European and U.S. based auto manufacturers.

CHAdeMO, at right, bottom, is the standard for Japanese-made models such as the Nissan Leaf.

Tesla : Tesla (not shown) has its own proprietary plug standard. Its connector accommodates Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 fast charging.

Station locators

Visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) EV charging station locator.

The AFDC is also available as an app for mobile devices
Apple devices     /    Android devices

PlugShare.com is another popular station locator that offers a trip planner feature, allows users to filter stations by plug type, and includes helpful advice uploaded by actual station users.

Plugshare is also available as an app for mobile devices
Apple devices   /   Android devices

A Chevrolet Bolt getting a DC fast charge at an Electrify America station in Colby, Kansas.
Commercial Charging Networks

EV drivers can create online accounts with multiple EV charging networks that serve communities that drivers plan to travel to. Most networks have an app for mobile devices as well as a customer card. Either the app or the card can be used to activate the charger for that network.

Tesla has its own network of Supercharger stations, and these account for nearly half of the fast-charging stations in western Colorado. Only Tesla vehicles can use them because they require a proprietary connector.

ChargePoint operates the nation's biggest network of standard (non-Tesla) hookups. In our part of western Colorado, it offers mostly Level 2 outlets, along with one of Aspen’s fast-charge stations.

Electrify America is a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen, and is rolling out DC fast charge stations under the legal settlement over its diesel emissions scandal. It operates fast-charge stations in Grand Junction, Denver and Flagler, Colorado, and another is to be built in Glenwood Springs.

Other networks and public entities maintain charging stations around the region and statewide, including EVConnect, Greenlots, EVGo, SEMA Connect and others. 

Charging Networks and the Driving Experience

Given the current limited availability of fast-charging stations, EV owners need to plan their longer driving trips. Happily, technology makes this fairly easy.

The driver can consult the car’s navigation-based system or any of several EV-charging apps to locate nearby stations and calculate the range required to get to them. Vehicle manufacturers are developing ever more seamless and intuitive navigation interfaces to provide a more “gas-like” user experience.

The Plugshare website offers a trip-planner feature that allows drivers to map out charging stops on their route ahead of time.

EV drivers quickly get into the habit of topping up their battery at every opportunity: charging overnight at home, and plugging in wherever the car is parked for some time (at work, while shopping, etc.).

Level 1 and 2 charging can suffice for most daily driving purposes, but longer trips or heavier use will require some planning around extended pit stops at fast-charging stations.

Find local EV charge station installers here