AC? DC? Type 1? Which is which?
Most of us have spent our whole lives driving vehicles that run on either gasoline, diesel, or even LPG.
By now, we feel like we almost know its every nook and cranny of that system called internal combustion. Learning about cars took years, even decades. In fact, some new car owners are just starting to know stuff about their rides.
But as we can see, we are entering the electric age of mobility. While it's fundamentally the same as its combustion-engined counterpart when it comes to the chassis, the suspension and its cabin, the mode of propulsion is entirely different from what we've become accustomed to. That means there's a new set of things to learn about, and it could get daunting as the new technology comes with a different set of terminologies that we never encountered before with gas-powered cars.
To make things easier, it's always best to start off learning the basics. For this particular feature, we'll talk about the EV charger, or at least the types of chargers available.
EV Charging isn't as simple as Plug and Play
Like a gas station's fuel pumps, the charger provides the fuel (or should we call it juice?) for the batteries that will power the electric motor.
It sounds simple enough, but it's far more complex because EV charging technology is very much an evolving one. That's why there are different types of EV chargers. Each of them affects things such as the charging time, the maximum supported charging speed of your EV, and the vehicle's battery capacity.
Think of it like today's USB chargers and cables. Before it was just USB, but now you have USB-B, USB-B Micro, USB-B Micro Super Speed, USB-C, and even the newer USB-C to USB-C cables. You even have the derivatives from Apple like the old flat iPod connector or the newer Lightning.
Universal Serial Bus didn't become a universe. It became a multiverse.
The first question we need to ask: Is it AC or DC?
No, this is not the famous rock band from the 70s, but the type of current. AC is short for alternating current; this is the type of electricity powering most of our homes, or the ones coming from Meralco. DC on the other hand stands for direct current – now this is the electricity that's being stored and consumed in batteries.
Both of these could provide energy for an EV's batteries. And currently, the generally accepted types of chargers are the AC Level 1, AC Level 2, and the DC Fast Charger. Each type has its own pros and cons which we'll get to know more about later.
The charging time of an electric vehicle generally depends on its battery size and the charging power of the outlet, but many factors and variables can affect the actual numbers. Moreover, most EV manufacturers trickle down charging speed when batteries are below 20% or above 80% to optimize battery life and prevent overcharging.
So for the sake of this feature, we'll assume the ideal conditions and set aside the external factors to crunch the numbers. The formula is simple: (battery size in kWh / charging power in kW) = estimated charging time in hrs.
AC Level 1 - J1772
The AC Level 1, simply called the Level 1 charger is the most basic type. This charger comes with the electric vehicle when you purchase one, much like when you buy a smartphone. The Level 1 charger plugs into any regular 220V outlet. So wherever you go as long as there's an outlet, you can charge your EV.
In terms of convenience and cost, the Level 1 charger is the one to have. However, it's the slowest when it comes to charging speed. Let's take for example the Nissan Leaf's battery size (40 kWh) using a 1.8kW Level 1 charger. Charging it from 0 to 100% would take approximately 22 hours, so it's not the ideal type when you've drained the juice and will need to get going quickly.
AC Level 2 - J1772 Level 2, Mennekes
Level 2 chargers are a step up from the standard Level 1 type chargers given by manufacturers, as it's the faster means of charging an EV from your home. Unlike the Level 1 charger that takes more than 10 hours to fully charge an EV, this one gives you less EV downtime. Again, using the Leaf EV as reference, its 40 kWh battery can be fully charged (20% to 100%) by a 7.4 kW Level 2 charger by around 4 to 5 hours.
However, Level 2 chargers would require additional equipment, and some will even need to be especially hard-wired from your home's electrical panel, meaning there's an additional cost for putting up one in your garage.
Since Level 2 chargers can charge quickly, these chargers are being used commercially on parking buildings in malls, or public charging stations where users can be charged for a fee depending on the number of kWh used.
DC Fast Charger - (CCS1, CCS2, CHAdeMo, GB/T)
When it comes to charging speed, the DC Fast Charger wins hands down. These are capable of charging an electric vehicle's batteries to 80% in less than an hour, as it basically bypasses the EV's onboard charger limitations, and the required AC to DC power conversion. The lesser downtime makes it ideal for quick battery top-ups on long trips.
Let's say for example we have a 50 kW DC fast charger, and use the Leaf EV's battery as a reference (40 kWh). Charging it from 20% to 80% will only take around 30 minutes.
But as good as DC fast chargers are when it comes to charging speed, it's not the most practical type. Some DC fast chargers require a 440-volt DC power supply or even more, making common residential units incapable of reaching these power requirements. Not to mention, the complexity of the installation and maintenance means it's expensive to put one up for personal use. This is why DC Fast Chargers are normally reserved for use on roadside public charging stations, similar to gasoline stations.
In addition, frequent use of DC fast chargers may not be good for an EV battery's performance and durability. Since it's sending large amounts of electricity, it also causes extreme heat generation. If the battery does not dissipate the heat efficiently, this will have a negative effect on its overall life cycle. As a result, car manufacturers usually set a limit as to how frequently should EVs be charged using DC fast chargers.
Using these three types of EV chargers will largely depend on the usage rate of your vehicle. If your EV is only being used for short distances, then it might be best to stick with AC chargers. But for those going on long trips, plugging in a DC fast charger from time to time could be the more ideal practice. Either way, it's good to know these beforehand should you decide to make the (electric) switch.