Updated 6 days ago

Explained: EV charging and Tesla charger options

Written by Zeeshan Hyder

Charge your EV with solar panels

Image courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

If you own an electric vehicle (EV), having an at-home charging station installed is a must. 

For Tesla owners, you have a mobile connector as well as a wall connector as a battery charging option. Tesla is one of the leaders in the EV industry – so how do their chargers hold up against the competitors? Are they a solid option for your EV?

Keep reading to find out if Tesla’s charging options are worth it for you – and how solar can save you more money on charging costs!

Find out how much it would cost to charge your Tesla with solar panels

How does EV charging work?

You plug things in to charge every day - your cell phone, your computer, a tablet. EV charging is similar to that. You plug in an EV so it can charge the battery in order for the car’s motor to run. EVs are powered by large battery packs that store DC energy. 

High-speed chargers, which are found in public spaces - and not in homes - provide DC power. This is the most direct and fastest way to charge a battery: DC electricity flows from the charging station directly into the battery. 

However, things are a bit different when it comes to charging an EV in a home. At your home, as with most places in general,  you only have access to AC power.  For this reason, all EVs are equipped with an on-board charger that converts the AC power that comes from the charger to DC power, so the energy can be stored in the battery. The conversion from AC to DC power adds some time to the charging process. 

The size of the onboard charger also dictates how fast an EV will charge. All Teslas in 2023 have an 11.5 kW onboard charger, except the Model 3 Rear-Wheel Drive RWD), which has a 7.7 kW onboard charger. That means that the Model 3 RWD will accept AC electricity charging at a lower rate than all other Teslas.

EV charging options explained

You’ve probably heard wildly conflicting stories about how long it takes to charge an electric car. EV critics say it can take 20 hours to fully charge a battery, while electric car buffs will breathlessly tell you that Tesla Superchargers can add up to 200 miles of range in just 15 minutes.

So how long does charging actually take? Well, actual charging speeds depend on a few different factors: the charging equipment, sometimes called Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE), the power source, and the EV’s own onboard charging capacity.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds - charging options are divided into three broad categories:

1. Level 1 charger (120-volt)

You can consider Level 1 charging as the default EV charging option. It works on all-electric vehicles and at all places with a standard power outlet. Level 1 charging equipment is included with every EV. 

With Level 1 charging, all you do is plug your EV into a standard 120-volt AC wall outlet. This is the same kind of outlet you plug your laptop or phone charger into. Easy. 

The problem with Level 1 EV charging is that it’s slow – very slow. They are typically powered at a measly 12 or 16 amps and provide just 2-6 miles of range per hour. Level 1 is the lowest charging option available and is often referred to as “trickle charging”.

2. Level 2 charger (240-volt)

For faster charging, homeowners can upgrade to Level 2 chargers. These use a 240-volt power outlet, the same as those used by air conditioners or clothes dryers. 

Level 2 charging is a lot faster than Level 1 charging, providing 14 to 35 miles of range per hour by taking advantage of the circuit’s higher amperage. These charging cords are traditionally sold as a separate add-on for your EV. 

Some homes might not have a 240-volt outlet, so you may need to work with an electrician to get one set up. You’ll want to ensure that the circuit supports a high enough amperage to allow your charge to operate at its peak output to charge your car as fast as possible. 

For now, level 2 chargers for every EV brand other than Tesla and the Nissan Leaf use a J1772 port, but that will change soon. Tesla’s formerly proprietary Level 2 charging port (which the company calls the North American Charging Standard, or NACS) is currently in the process of becoming a new industry-wide United States standard called SAE J3400.

Major manufacturers including Ford, GM, Hyundai, and Kia have all announced plans to adopt the NACS charger, but even after they do, public chargers will likely retain a mix of J1772 and NACS ports, and owners will have to keep adapters handy.

Find out how much you can save with solar

3. DC charger (aka “Level 3 charger”) (480+ volts)

Unlike the first two options which use residential AC current, DC fast chargers (often called Level 3 chargers) use – you guessed it – DC current.

Because Level 3 chargers provide DC current, they bypass the on-board charger and directly charge the EV’s battery. This allows for very fast charging speeds: they can provide 100 miles of range per hour or more. 

While Level 3 chargers are fast, manufacturers warn that you should not rely on them as your main charging source. The large amount of power that fast-charging stations use can damage your EV battery’s health, and potentially shorten its lifespan. It's recommended to only use fast-charging if you need it for long-distance travel or if you are pressed for time. 

Level 3 chargers are not feasible for home use, as they require special utility connections, hardware, wiring, and permits. They also have extremely high setup and energy costs. You’ll only find Level 3 DC charging stations along highways or in other public areas. 

Before you stop at a Level 3 charging station, make sure that the station is compatible with your EV’s charging port (or you have an adapter). There are 3 different connectors used by Level 3 chargers:

  • SAE Combo (CCS) connectors - work with BMW, Chevy, Ford, Genesis, Hyundai, Kia, and Volkswagen EVs, and many others not mentioned

  • CHAdeMO connectors - work with modern Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi OUtlander PHEV cars, and certain older models from Honda, Subaru, and Toyota

  • Tesla Supercharger connectors - currently work exclusively with Tesla vehicles

What Tesla charger options are available?

When you buy a Tesla car, you will have two home charging options: The Tesla Mobile Connector and the Tesla Wall Connector. Let’s take a look at each of these Tesla charger options.

Tesla Mobile Connector

The Tesla Mobile Connector comes standard with all-new Teslas. The Mobile Connector comes with an adapter for a standard 120-volt (NEMA 5-15) outlet and serves as a Level 1 charger. On its own, this is a very slow option, and is not adequate for regular use: you will only get about 3 miles of range per hour on a Model 3. As the name suggests, it is portable: it can easily be wrapped up and used as a mobile backup for charging on the go. 

To get faster charging, you can purchase a Gen 2 NEMA adapter for Tesla’s Mobile Connector for about $35-$45, which allows it to be plugged into a 240-volt (NEMA 14-50) outlet. With the NEMA 14-50 adapter attached, your humble Level 1 Mobile Connector is transformed into a Level 2 charger.

When operating as a Level 2 charger on a 50 amp breaker, the mobile charger can provide a Model 3 with up to 30 miles of range per hour.

Many drivers will find this rate of charging sufficient, especially if they can leave their cars to charge overnight.

In short, as long as they have the additional adapter attachment, Tesla owners who use their cars for short commutes will probably find the Mobile Connector perfectly adequate for their needs.

Tesla Wall Connector

The Wall Connector is the charging option that Tesla recommends as the best home-charging tool for Model S, Model X, Model 3, and Model Y. The Wall Connector is a hard-wired setup that is easy to use, suitable for outdoor installations, and charges faster than the Mobile Connector that comes with each Tesla.

Tesla’s Wall Connector is considered a Level 2 charger. It uses a 240-volt power supply and, depending on the Tesla model, works best on a 60 or 40 amp circuit breaker. The Wall Connector is slightly more powerful than the Wall Connector with the NEMA 14-50 adapter, as it provides up to 44 miles of range per hour of charging (Tesla does not provide exact figures by model).

The catch is that the Wall Connector does not come standard with Tesla vehicles. You will have to shell out $475 to buy it from Tesla, and then spend a bit more to have an electrician install it for you. You may also have to pay for the installation of a 240-volt power source with sufficient amperage to power the Wall Connector.

Given that the Tesla Mobile Connector, when connected with a $35-$45 Gen 2 NEMA adapter, provides 30 miles of range to a Model 3, shelling out all that money for ‘up to 44 miles of range’ may not be worth the additional cost.

Are Tesla chargers the best option for my EV?

 The Mobile Connector included with all Tesla vehicles is one of the best charging options that come with an EV.  It can be turned into a more powerful Level 2 charger with the purchase of a $35 adapter. Most other EVs do not offer similar adapters to transform their Level 1 chargers. 

However, it is probably not worth it for owners of non-Tesla EVs to go out of their way to purchase a Tesla Mobile Connector. The Mobile Connector kit costs $275 on its own. For that price, EV owners could purchase a Level 2 charging cable from the manufacturer of their EV, which guarantees that it will be compatible with their vehicle. 

When it comes to the Wall Connector, there’s much less to differentiate it from comparable third-party offerings such as those from Clipper Creek.

Rather than worrying about the brand, focus more on your own energy needs and which style of charging makes the most sense for you. Do you use your EV primarily for short commutes and not much else? The standard 120-volt charger included with your EV might be all you need. Do you need to have a full battery ready at all times? The extra speed and security of a 240-volt charging station might suit you better.

Where else can I charge my EV?

At-home charging is great and will result in lower charging costs for your Tesla. But what happens when your battery needs a boost while you’re on the go? Typically, you’ll see three options while on the road (one of which is limited to Tesla only):

1. Local spots 

Many towns and cities are adopting the EV charging trend. You’ll find small Level 2 plug-in stations at local grocery store parking lots, alongside street parking spots, and more. Download handy apps to find EV charging stations near you.

2. Public DC stations 

Often situated alongside highways or other heavily-traveled routes, these Level 3 charging stations offer powerful charging options for those on the go that far outperform residential charging options. They allow you to quickly charge your car, so you can get back on the road. 

3. Tesla Superchargers (Tesla DC fast charging) 

Tesla has its own network of Supercharging stations that is exclusive for Tesla owners. These high-powered Level 3 charging stations can fill up a battery faster than any other charging option - often in as little as 90 minutes. If you own a Tesla, you can significantly reduce your travel charge time by planning routes around Superchargers.

Can I use solar power to charge my EV?

 Yes, you can. This is a popular option, as it provides clean power for your clean vehicle and helps to offset the increased energy bills that come with owning and charging an electric-powered vehicle. There are two ways to do so: directly and indirectly.

The direct method is to set up a solar power system in your house and use it as a source of charging power for your EV. For example, solar carports are becoming popular for homeowners who have space. Just as they sound, these installations involve placing solar panels above your carport to route electricity into an integrated EV charging station. It’s an efficient way to make use of your carport’s roof space.

The indirect – but more financially lucrative – option is to get solar panels for your entire home. In this case, you not only generate solar power for your car, but you produce enough to cover most – or even all – of your home’s energy needs. Excess solar power produced during the day can then be used to charge a solar battery like the Tesla Powerwall which costs $15,600, or sent back to the grid for credits on your power bill through net metering.

Solar panels for homes already save homeowners tens of thousands of dollars in most states. But the potential savings will be even higher if you have higher energy needs because of an EV. If you just bought your desired model, this is an option to explore while waiting on your Tesla delivery date.

Talk to a local solar installer to see how big a system your home and EV would require.

Written by Zeeshan Hyder Content Specialist

Zeeshan is a solar journalist who has long been passionate about climate issues and developed a deep interest in solar power after witnessing its successful adoption in Australia. He has previously worked as a journalist for a major news organization, covering energy, climate, and environmental stories, among other topics. He also served as an organizer for the Pakistan Youth Climate Network, an advocacy group aimed at raising climate awareness...

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