What are L1, L2, and L3 chargers, and why does it matter?
The car industry is rapidly changing and the way we view “fueling-up” our vehicles is changing along with it. Recharging an EV is kind of like that: It can take minutes to hours, depending on the car’s battery capacity, the vehicle on-board charger (OBO), and the electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE). This article will hopefully help you to better understand the differences between each level of charger used, what they do, and why they are district from one another. In other words, it is like choosing the right knife to slice your bread—some just might not cut it.
Level 1 Charging Explained:
Every EV comes with a free L1 charge cable, so you don’t have to panic about going out to buy one before you purchase an EV. These are universally compatible and plug into any standard grounded 120-volt outlet. Depending on the price of electricity in your state/province as well as your EV’s efficiency rating, L1 charging costs just a few cents per mile. Many EV drivers see the L1 charge cable as more of an emergency charger, since it won’t keep up with very long commutes or road trips.
However, the L1 charger can really be a handy tool for EV drivers on a regular daily basis. The L1 charger power rating tops out at 2.4 kW, restoring up to 5 miles per hour, which is about 40 miles for every 8 hours of charge time. This might not seem like a lot for the time spent charging your electric vehicle but considering the most commuters put on an average of 40 miles per day on their vehicle, this works out just fine for many people. The L1 charger can also work very well for people whose workplace offers L1 charge points, allowing their EVs to charge all day while they are working, so that they have a good charge for the drive home. Not to mention, you get to leave the energy bill for work to take care of.
Level 2 charging explained:
The level two charger is a significant upgrade as far as charging time is concerned—while your car may charge much faster, this level charger is not inherently portable like the L1; The L2 charger runs at higher input voltage at 240-volts and will need to have a dedicated circuit in your home to wire power to. Portable models plug into standard 240-volt dryer receptacles (3 or 4 prong outlets meant for heavy-duty appliances). This is a great option for homeowners but may not be the best for people who do not have the space to commit to a charger.
Level 2 chargers cost between $500 to $2,000, depending on brand and installation requirements. Subject to the price of electricity and your EV’s efficiency rating, L2 charging will only cost a few cents per mile, just like the L1 charger. Level 2 charging stations are universally compatible with EVs equipped with the industry-standard SAE J1772 or more fondly referred to as a “J-plug.” You can find public-access L2 chargers in parking garages, parking lots, and in front of many businesses. Level 2 charging stations tend to top out at 12 kW and restore up to 12 miles per hour charged which is approximately 100 miles every 8 hours charge time. So, if your daily commute is a little longer than the average, it might be worth looking into getting yourself access to an L2 charger.
Level 3 Charging Explained:
Level 3 chargers are the fastest EV chargers available to date. They typically run on 480-volt or 1,000-volts and are typically found in high-traffic areas, such as highway rest stops and shopping districts, where the vehicle can receive a full-charge in less than an hour. Charging fees are usually based on an hourly rate or per kWh, and charging stations generally start at 50 kW and go up from there. Depending on membership fees, an L3 charging costs between 12¢ to 25¢ per mile. Such high power is possible because L3 chargers skip the OBC and its limitations, directly DC-charging the battery.
L3 chargers are not universally compatible and there is no industry standard at this time. Currently, the three main types are Superchargers, SAE CCS (Combine Charging Systems), and CHAdeMO (a Japanese language double-entendre “Cha demo?” in English, “Would you like some tea?”) Superchargers only work with Tesla models, SAE CCS chargers work with most European EVs, and CHAdeMO works with certain Japanese EVs, though most EV chargers are cross-compatible with adapters.
All in all, finding the right charger will come down to the capabilities of your EV and how much driving you plan on doing. Generally, do not count on the L1 charging cable that came with the vehicle, unless you don’t drive much. Most EV drivers need to have regular access to an L2 charger, whether it’s a home charger, the one at your place of work, or somewhere else.
Finally, if you’re heading outside of your normal commute, don’t forget to check out these top-rated EV Apps to locate the charging stations along your route, and keep your EV fully charged.