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What you need to know about electric vehicle chargers

Electric vehicles are increasing in popularity. In fact, the odds are good that the next car you purchase will be partially or fully electric. (I know mine will be!) With that transition from an internal combustion engine vehicle to an electric vehicle (EV) comes one major difference: how you fill the “tank”.

While driving to a gas station to refuel is second nature to anyone with a car, plugging into an electric vehicle charger is likely a new experience that comes with a series of questions. Here’s what you need to know about EV chargers.

Key takeaways

  1. EV chargers are an EV’s version of a gas pump

  2. If you’re looking to charge your EV at home, you’ll use either a Level 1 or a Level 2 charging station

  3. Level 3 chargers provide quick charging when you’re on the road

  4. Check out EV charging options on EnergySage, and be sure to power them with solar!

What is an electric vehicle charger?

An EV charger is the EV equivalent of a gas pump: it’s how you fill your EV’s “tank”. Except instead of a gas tank, your EV has a battery. And instead of using gasoline to power the engine of your car, an EV’s motor runs on electricity.

EV chargers–often also called EVSE for electric vehicle supply equipment–come in a few different shapes and sizes. There are residential EV chargers, commercial EV chargers, and even portable EV chargers! But the two biggest differences between an EV charger and a traditional gasoline pump are: where you can put it and what comes out of it.

This may sound elementary, but it’s an important distinction: with a gas pump, you can only refuel at gas stations–you wouldn’t put a gasoline pump in your home after all. But with an EV charger, you can install (or bring!) an EV charger wherever you are, meaning you can charge at work or at home, and not just by finding gas stations.

What types of electric vehicle chargers exist?

Electric vehicle chargers differ in two key ways: the level of charging, as well as the type of EV charger connector.

Levels of electric vehicle charging

There are three different levels of EV charging, conveniently known as Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 charging.

  1. Level 1 charging is what you get when you charge your EV from a regular wall outlet. It’s typically 120 Volt charging, and works very, very slowly. This type of charging can work in a pinch but you’re unlikely to get more than 5 miles of range per hour of charge.

  2. Level 2 charging is the most common type of charging used in homes. While Level 2 charging requires special equipment, it provides significantly faster charging times than a Level 1 charger: it operates at 208 or 240 Volts, and charges up to 10x faster than a Level 1. Generally speaking, you can charge your car overnight with a Level 2 charger, though you will need a professional electrician to install it.

  3. Level 3 charging is also often referred to as direct current (DC) supercharging. Typically, these operate at 400 Volts, which is a higher level of service than most homes have. It’s best to think of Level 3 as where you top off or fill up on road trips–these chargers provide a significant hit of energy quickly, helping you fill your battery in half an hour or less.

Do you have to charge your electric vehicle every night?

Short answer: probably not! Longer answer: it depends! Based on the range of your car (basically, the size of your battery) as well as how far you typically drive per day, you may or may not have to charge your car every night. But think about it like this: how often do you fill up your gas tank for your existing car? Maybe once a week or so? If an EV has the same range as a standard tank of gas, then you’ll likely have to charge your battery about as frequently as you currently fill your gas tank.

Types of electric vehicle charger connectors

Just as there are a few different types of EV chargers, there are a few different types of EV connectors.

The first major distinction between types of EV charger connectors depends on the level of charging. Level 1 and 2 chargers use the same connector, the SAE J1772, or J-plug. This connector is standard on any EV charger you’d be using at your home. Level 3 chargers, on the other hand, use a different type of connector. Within Level 3 chargers, there are three different types of DC charging connectors that are used in the US: either (CCS) Combined Charging System, CHAdeMO or Tesla’s connector.

You might guess what comes next: you’ll have to be aware of which connector your EV uses. Most manufacturers selling EVs in the US use the CCS connector for Level 3 charging outside of Tesla (hence their own, proprietary connector) and Nissan and Mitsubishi. If you’re on the road looking for a Level 3 DC charging location, most will offer multiple different connector options, though to charge a Tesla you’ll need to find one of their Superchargers.

What to look for in an electric vehicle charger for your home

There are a few key characteristics to look for when choosing the right EV charger for your home and needs. Here are some questions to answer as you compare your EV charging options:

  1. How long does it take to recharge your car? Certainly, the most important factor to consider is how quickly an EV charger will refill your EV’s battery. Most EV owners use a Level 2 charger at home to charge their car, but there are differences in amperage (read: power output) even within Level 2 chargers, so all Level 2’s aren’t created equal.

  2. Is the EV charger WiFi enabled? Does your EV charger have an app that connects to WiFi and allows you to check in on the state of charging remotely? Or is it a product that you just plug in and let do its thing?

  3. Does the EV charger or its app provide scheduling? Being able to determine when your car charges can significantly reduce the cost of charging your car. In many areas, it’s less expensive to use electricity overnight than during the day, so having an EV charger that you can plug in but then decide when to charge is definitely an important factor.

  4. Is the EV charger rated for indoor or outdoor use? Depending upon whether or not you have a garage, or plan to put the EV charger in the garage, the indoor vs. outdoor rating of the EV charger will help determine which product is right for you.

  5. Does the EV charger plug into the wall or is it hardwired? Whether or not the EV charging station is hardwired impacts the cost of installation: if you can plug it into a wall outlet, you can install the EV charger yourself. But if it’s hardwired, then it will require a certified electrician to install.

  6. Is the EV charger eligible for tax incentives and rebates? As of 2021, the Federal government provides a 30% tax credit (up to $1,000) for EV chargers and their installation. There may also be local incentives to help defray the cost of installing an EV charger in your home.

Top companies manufacturing EV chargers

The easiest way to find an EV charger for your home is to check out our list of the best EV charging stations. Some of the most popular manufacturers of Level 2 chargers for your home include:

  1. ChargePoint – in addition to over 100,000 charging centers installed worldwide, ChargePoint also offers very popular residential Level 2 chargers

  2. JuiceBox – recently acquired by Enel X, JuiceBox’s residential EV charging solution is a smart charger with voice activation: it integrates with Alexa and Google Assistant. 

  3. Tesla – in addition to building and maintaining Tesla DC Supercharging stations, Tesla also offers its own Level 2 charging station to install in your home.

  4. Wallbox – while they got their start in Europe, Wallbox entered the US market with their Level 2 Pulsar charger. Be on the lookout for their bi-directional charger, which will open up opportunities 

Install an EV charger at home at home with Qmerit

EnergySage partners with Qmerit, a home EV charging installation leader who works with a trusted network of certified installers. They can help you quickly and easily install your home EV charger.

Power your car with the sun

If you plan to or already own an EV, pairing it with a solar panel installation provides two key benefits. First, it locks in the price you pay to “fill the tank” for the next 25 years, meaning you won’t be subject to any fluctuations in the electricity rate where you live. Second, it allows you to run your car on the sun, powering your EV with clean, emission-free electricity. To get started powering your car with the sun, sign up for EnergySage to receive free, custom quotes from local solar companies.

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