We’ve mentioned that there are different types of plugs, and different charging speeds. Now let’s cover how to identify which is which.
As mentioned previously, charging speed is measured in kilowatts (kW). The higher the number, the faster the charger is capable of charging your car’s battery (up to your car’s maximum charge rate). To make this easier to understand, we’ll also measure charging speed in “miles per hour”, as in, "you've gained 10 miles for every hour that you've been plugged in".
All EVSEs fall into one of 3 speed categories:
There are several different types of charging stations and plugs that fall into these categories, so let’s take a look at each.
Most EVs come standard-equipped with a level 1 EVSE, in the form of a charging cable that connects your car's higher-powered charge port to a standard 120 volt plug in your home.
That’s right, you can plug your car into the wall like a toaster. Convenient, right? Except it will charge at a very, very slow rate. You’ll gain just 4 miles per hour charging this way. Depending on the size of your battery, Level 1 charging will take hours to days to charge your car fully. A 100kW battery (like those in a fully electric Tesla Model S) would take closer to 2 full days to charge from 0% to 100% with this method.
That might seem incredibly slow, but if you only drive 40 miles in a given day you could conceivably gain that mileage back overnight, over the course of 10 hours. If you buy a car with a smaller battery like a plug-in hybrid, level 1 charging may be all you’ll ever need.
If your EV comes with this Level 1 charging cable, there is no additional equipment to buy or install with this charging method.
Level 2 refers to 240V AC power, similar to the connection needed for large appliances like clothes dryers or electric stoves. As a result you may already have one or more of these plugs in your home (you'll want to verify with an electrician that it will support electric vehicle charging). If that plug is capable and within reach of your car, a simple adapter and plug-and-play level 2 EVSE charging cable may be all you need. Some cars come equipped with a Level 2 EVSE charging cable from the factory, others offer it as an optional extra. Your other option would be to install an EVSE wall unit, which could plug into an existing 240 volt outlet or be hardwired by a qualified electrician.
Level 2 is faster than level 1, but it’s not exactly fast. Depending on available amperage, it these EVSEs can deliver a rate between 22kw and 50kw, or about 12-60 miles per hour. That means it’ll still take hours to charge fully, ranging from a couple of hours for a plug-in hybrid to a full overnight for something like a fully electric vehicle.
Out in public, there are two types of Level 2 connectors to be aware of…
“J-1772” for short. That’s a mouthful, right? Despite the terrible name, these are the most common EV plugs by far. They can be found in the parking lots of grocery stores, malls, town centers, and more. Because these plugs take hours to charge your EV, most are used just for topping up your battery while you’re otherwise occupied with shopping, etc. Some people have charging units with these plugs at work, and will leave their cars plugged in while at the office.
EVs that are compatible with SAE CCS DC Fast charging (covered below) are also compatible with J1772. While Tesla vehicles use a different connector (which we'll cover below) they can use a J1772 EVSE with an adapter.
In North America, Tesla cars use their own type of proprietary plug. They can still use J-1772 plugs with an adapter (which is included with the purchase of the car). Tesla sells Level 2 EVSE wall units for home charging, and has also organized a network of Level 2 chargers at hotels, restaurants, and public garages and refer to it as “Destination Charging”. These plugs are different than their faster “Superchargers”, which are DC Fast plugs that we'll cover below. Both types use the same "Tesla" connector.
Some non-Tesla EVs can use Destination Chargers if they purchase a special adapter, but this is not a guarantee for non-Tesla vehicles.
DC Fast is the fastest form of charging for your EV. These are charging units that are meant to be used on-the-go, similar to stopping for gas. These are big, powerful charging units that are very expensive to install, so it is not feasible to have one of these at home. Instead, these are found at highway rest stops, gas stations, and shopping centers. If your car is capable, these charging stations are able to charge incredibly fast - up to 1,000 miles per hour! That means a 300 mile battery might take just 20-25 minutes to charge up to 80%. You’d be amazed at how fast 20-25 minutes passes when you’re grabbing a drink, using the restroom or checking your email.
Let's cover the 3 types of DC fast EVSE…
NEMA plugs are AC power connectors that you might have in your home already. The 240v variety typically power large appliances like clothes dryers or electric ovens. These are also the connections you might find if you pull into a campground with an RV. If you happen to have one of these plugs in reach of your car park, you might be able to use an adapter to charge your car with a Level 2 EVSE charging cable. Always check with a qualified electrician to ensure that any existing plug can deliver enough power, and do so safely.
SAE CCS (or “CCS” for short) is the other very popular DC Fast charging standard. If your car is new in 2020 and isn’t a Tesla, odds are this is the plug it will use. “CCS” stands for “Combined Charging Standard” because this plug is really two plugs in one - it starts with the same connector as the Level 2 J-1772, but then integrates a 2nd connector for DC current on the same plug. CCS plugs are operated by a variety of charging networks, which we’ll cover in the next chapter. Cars that use the SAE CCS plug are also compatible with Level 2 J-1772 plugs.
Tesla has been expanding their Supercharger network for over 8 years, and it shows. This network is one of the largest and most robust charging networks in the U.S. Currently, all Tesla Supercharger locations are available to Tesla vehicles. A limited number of stations have been updated with CCS adapters, allowing cars with a CCS plug to charge. Starting in 2024, Ford will adopt Tesla's connector and all Ford vehicles will have access to Tesla's entire network. Older Ford models with the CCS connector will need an adapter, but will have access to all chargers.
To use a Tesla Supercharger, you'll need an account and credit card on file with Tesla. When you plug into a Tesla Supercharger, it will automatically recognize your car and bill the credit card that the owner has on file.
Tesla vehicles are deeply integrated with this network, and that brings some advantages. For example, Tesla vehicles can automatically route their GPS Navigation based on available Superchargers, and can even see how many plugs are currently occupied by other cars. As the car gets close to the charging location, it will begin to manage the battery’s internal temperature before you arrive. This helps the car charge faster when it gets there, because the battery is at the optimum temperature for charging. All of this helps make those trip estimations from the car's GPS more accurate and reliable.
The Tesla Supercharger network continues to expand locations rapidly across the globe, and in North America has one of the most complete coast-to-coast networks.
Who names these things anyway? CHAdeMO EVSEs are the most popular charge plugs in Japan, and are often associated with Japanese vehicles (like the Nissan Leaf). These plugs are becoming less common in the U.S., although some networks do offer the choice of CHAdeMO or CCS on the same charger unit.