What Do Level 1, 2, 3 in Electric Vehicle Charging Mean?

In recent years, our environmental awareness has constantly evolved and more and more people are choosing to trade in their gas-powered cars for electric vehicles. This is certainly beneficial to our environment, but it is important to be aware that even without fuel, electric cars need a charging infrastructure in order to be usable.

In this perspective, it is very important to know the different alternatives in terms of electric vehicle charging levels in order to be equipped according to our needs.

The Different Charging Levels for electric vehicles

You should know that to charge an electric vehicle, there are several different charging infrastructures. The main difference between each of them is the time it takes to charge your car. You must, therefore, choose the one that best suits your needs. Obviously, whether it’s for personal travel or work, your transportation needs will influence your choice of charging level when it’s time to charge your vehicle.

Statistics on charging habits show that the vast majority (more than 80%) of charging takes place at home. Thus, offering residential type charging stations is very important. Some of the terminals offered are made in Quebec, such as the EVduty terminal and the Flo terminal. Many others are also available through a distributor such as ChargeHub, which offers a wide choice of residential and commercial terminals.

This article provides a quick overview of the charging concept for electric vehicles according to the three generally accepted charge levels in the industry (level 1, 2, 3), in order to quickly become familiar with the basic concepts.

Charging stations electric vehicles

Level 1 Charge

A level 1 charge is a basic charge that works by plugging an adapter directly into a normal 120 volt (V) outlet, the adapter is included with the purchase of a chargeable electric car. It allows a rather slow charge of batteries to reach full performance, between 5 and 30 hours of charge, depending on the type of vehicle you have. Thus, to recover the energy for about 40 km of autonomy in town, it takes about 8 hours. This type of infrastructure is adequate for an individual who averages 15,000 km annually or if it is a plug-in hybrid vehicle with a range of 20 to 40 km. But 120 V charging is not at all suitable for more intensive use when it comes to an all-electric vehicle.

(H3) Level 2 Charge

Depending on the car’s battery capacity, which is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh), a level 2 charge (208-240 V) will charge an electric vehicle faster. Indeed, connected to a terminal offering a power of 7200 watts (7.2 kW), an all-electric car with 30 kWh of batteries will charge in just over 4 hours.

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Thus, to recover 40 km of all-electric range, it takes less than an hour with a level 2 terminal of 7.2 kW, the current standard (30 amperes at 240 V AC).

Level 2 terminals in North America generally conform to the SAE J1772 norm (also known as J plug) for plug and gun type. The exception to this rule is the Tesla, which uses its own norm and therefore requires a special adapter to connect to a J1772 terminal. Note that the level 1 refill is done with the same type of connector.

The power of level 2 terminals can vary from 4 to 16 kW, but the charging capacity also depends on the vehicle’s capacity which can be limited to the level of charging power it can receive. Indeed, some vehicles will not be able to use the full power of the charging station to which they are connected. This information is normally found in the operation manual of the chargeable vehicle.

A level 2 charging infrastructure is therefore desirable for users who wish to spend only a few hours charging their car. Subsidies are available for the installation of level 2 charging stations at home or at work.

(H3) Level 3 Charge (rapid or CC)

Offering in some cases,  a complete battery charge in 20 to 30 minutes, or 40 km of autonomy in only 12 minutes, the level 3 charge, often referred to as “fast”, is particularly effective for very busy environments where people only stop for a brief moment.

The level 3 charging terminal is a direct current (AC or DC) type that produces a voltage of up to 400 V and can only be used by fully electric cars with a level 3 CHAdeMO or Combo 1 type plug (see images above), depending on whether it is an American or imported car.

Since plug-in hybrid vehicles have fewer batteries, they are not offered with a level 3 plug and are therefore not equipped for electric vehicle charging levels.

It is also useful to know that level 3 charging is really fast only if your battery is between 20 and 80%. Above 80%, the charging speed decreases so as not to damage the batteries and is then similar to a level 2 charge. For any business wishing to purchase such a terminal, the total acquisition and installation bill can be between $40,000 and $100,000 per terminal. It should be noted that the Circuit électrique has a business plan that can greatly contribute to lowering the total amount of the bill.

(H2) Can we mix the charging levels of electric vehicles?

Yes, we can use more than one charge level if our car is equipped with the necessary plugs. However, only one charge level can be used at a time. The least expensive ones are level 1 or 2, so the one used at home or at work, because it is done without direct charging. Only the cost of energy at the distributor’s price is then applicable, excluding of course the cost of the installed terminal.

When the Level 2 charging station is in a public space, it can be directly priced, typically at a cost of one to two dollars per hour. In comparison, the same 7.2 kW terminal at home, therefore not priced, has an energy cost that is about $0.60 per hour, or $0.08 per kWh.

Level 3 refills cost about $10 per hour. However, it supplies much more energy than the level 2 terminal, but at an equivalent price per kWh about three times higher. This is mainly due to the considerable cost of equipment, but it is also for convenience to receive the same energy much faster.

In addition, it is generally accepted that rapid charging too frequently can significantly shorten battery life, as it is done at a higher temperature than slower charging. It can also be said that slow level 1 charging will preserve or increase the life of the batteries, which will then be able to maintain their original capacity (or almost) for many years.

In short, today’s lithium batteries don’t do well in heat when it comes time to charge them and fear the cold when you want to discharge them. In fact, in the winter time, they lose up to 50% of their autonomy, which they will fully regain during the summer.

When it comes to electric vehicle charging levels, there is something for every type of person and place. Whatever your needs, whether you are an individual or a company, there is a charging infrastructure that will meet your expectations.