There are a number of different ways to charge your electric car’s battery pack. Being faced with normal and fast charging methods, and different connector types can be a little daunting at first. But in fact, it is much more straightforward than it first appears!

Essentially, it comes down to two main considerations: Where you decide to charge and how fast you decide to charge. These are interconnected, and the charging speed will depend on which particular EV you own, its battery capacity and what sort of charging system you are using.

What are the different types of EV charging?

There are three categories or types of charging: Trickle Charge, AC Charge and DC Charge.

  • Trickle Charge– The slowest method of charging your EV at home, using a standard (three-prong) 220V plug. It is only recommended in urgent cases, with caution and consultation with electricity providers.
  • AC Charge – Having a wall box installed lets you charge 3-4 faster using AC Household Charging . AC Public Charging is also available.
  • DC Charge  – The fastest way to charge your EV – is at a public DC Fast charging station with power from 50kW and above. With this method, you can top up your battery from 20 to 80% in approx. 40 minutes. Some ultra-fast charging stations already provide more than 150kW.

But let’s first understand what is kW/kWh?

Electric vehicles are, in many ways, simpler than conventionally powered cars in that they have far fewer moving parts or things that can go wrong.

However, anyone new to EV’s would be forgiven for being a little confused at all the numbers relating to their power, battery capacity and how long they take to charge, as their respective units of measurement all contain a reference to kilowatts (kW).

So what do the numbers and letters mean and how do you tell them apart?

EV motor power (kW)

The car’s power is fairly straightforward and refers to the electric motor’s maximum output. This is measured in kilowatts (or 1000 watts) just like a normal internal combustion engine (ICE). The higher the kW figure, the more oomph you’ll get at the expense of energy consumption.

As the following list shows the power ratings of EVs aren’t too different when compared with similarly-sized and performing ICE vehicles.

  • Nissan Leaf – 110kW
  • Hyundai Kona Electric – 150kW
  • Mercedes-Benz EQC – 300kW
  • Porsche Taycan Turbo S – 560kW
  • Tesla Model S Performance – 595kW

Battery capacity (kWh)

The total battery capacity of an EV is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh or kW-h). This rating tells you how much electricity can be stored in the battery pack. It’s a unit of energy just like calories; one kWh equals 3600 kilojoules (or 3.6 megajoules). Unlike kW, it is not a unit of power.

Lower-powered EV’s require a smaller capacity; for example the Nissan Leaf stores 40kWh and the Hyundai Kona Electric 64kWh. The Porsche Taycan Turbo S meanwhile stores a maximum of 93.4kWh.

How does trickle EV charging work?

Trickle charging is using your home 3-pin plug to charge your car. As it is using the standard 3kW it can take much longer to charge, however, it does mean you can simply plug your car into any wall socket. 

Charging can vary depending on the size of your battery. You can expect to get up to 15 miles range from 1-hour charging. This means for a full charge could take up to 14 hours for certain vehicle batteries.

This is dependent on the power rating as they range from 3.7kW to 7kW.

In comparison, trickle chargers are much slower than even a wall-mounted home charger. Trickle chargers may not be convenient if you need a full battery in a hurry or if you are unable to park your EV near your home. 3-pin plug charging is also not protected like a charging point would be. Many charging points have surge protection, are weatherproof and can shut off once the car is fully charged, whereas the 3-pin method has none.

Using trickle Charge is only recommended in urgent cases when you have a low battery charge and cannot drive to a public station or access an AC wall box at home.

How does AC EV charging work?

In the case of AC charging, conversion of the electrical current to DC happens inside the EV. All EVs come with onboard chargers capable of converting the current before supplying it to the car’s battery. AC chargers allow the EV to be connected to a 240V receptacle, like that used for an electric range or clothes dryer.

AC chargers are currently available up to around 20kW and continuing our example would add 60 miles for each hour of charging at 20kW. Many AC chargers are in the 7kW to 10kW range. Enough to fully recharge most EV’s overnight. A long-range car or a delivery van might have a battery capacity of 100kWh and could be recharged over a little more than 10 hours by an AC 10kW charger taking system losses into account.

AC chargers are readily available and moderately priced. Higher capacity AC chargers are fixed in place, but lower capacity portable ones are available. Finding a 240V receptacle to plug into can be much more challenging than a trickle 120V receptacle though.

While these may be used to charge two-, three-, and four-wheelers, the larger the battery, the more time it takes to charge. These are suitable for overnight home charging, charging in parking spaces, and charging vehicles for daily use.

How does DC EV charging work?

DC chargers enable the conversion of current from AC to DC outside the vehicle. This transformation takes place inside the charger itself. DC is then directly fed into the EV, surpassing the need for onboard conversion. These chargers require a lot more power from the grid.  Reduced time for charging is the result of a larger converter present inside the charger in charging stations, as compared to the on-board charger of the car. As a result, a higher output of power is provided to the EV battery in lesser time.

DC EV charging uses DC to charge the EV battery without needing to go through the onboard AC battery charger. This charging level allows for a much higher capacity battery charging system. DCEV chargers, due to the cost and need for 480V electrical service, are usually limited to commercial use, either in commercial fast charging stations or in fleet operations. A 100kW DCFC can recharge an EV with a 100kWh battery in about an hour. At this rate, a 3MPkWh EV will gain 300 miles for each hour of charging.

DC chargers are significantly more expensive than trickle charging or AC chargers and require 480V 3-phase power. This limits them mostly to commercial EV charger installations.

DC fast chargers are suitable mainly for four-wheelers with large batteries that require instant charging and may be found on highways or other locations where an EV might require a quick charge-up in minutes. They are suitable for vehicles travelling long distances or for commercial fleets.

Conclusion

The average driver of an EV expects to be able to travel farther without a charge, whether it’s within an urban area or on a longer inter-city trip on rural roads and highways. Charging needs to be easier and faster — finding a charging station should be no different from finding a gas station to quickly top off the vehicle with enough power to get them to where they need to go.

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