Explained: EV charging and Tesla charger options
Electric vehicle (EV) fanatics need no introduction to Tesla. Since 2003, Tesla has been an industry leader in the EV market with the company setting the standard for EV production across all fronts: vehicles, chargers, and charging stations.
Image source: Tesla
A lot has been written about Tesla cars here and on other websites. But what about Tesla’s charging options–are they any good?
Let’s review all the charging options available to EV users and see how Tesla stacks up.
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.
However, most homes only supply AC power. So, 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.
High speed chargers, which are usually found in public areas, not in homes, provide DC power. So, when charging with a high speed charger, the on-board charger is bypassed and the battery is charged directly.
The size of the onboard charger also dictates how fast an EV will charge. For example, the Chevy Bolt has a 7.2 kW onboard charging capacity, which means that regardless of the Level 2 charger used, the onboard charger will only allow a maximum of 25 miles of range per hour.
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 172 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 pretty much every EV brand except Tesla, Level 2 chargers use a J1772 port. Tesla has their own Level 2 charging port, however, all Tesla’s come with a J1772 adaptor for charging. So, all EVs should be able to take advantage of most public Level 2 charging stations.
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. There are 3 different connectors used by Level 3 chargers:
- SAE Combo connectors - work with BMW, Volkswagen, and Chevy EVs
- CHAdeMO connectors - work with Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Kia EVs
- Tesla Supercharger connectors - work exclusively with Tesla vehicles
What Tesla charger options are available?
When you buy a Tesla car, you will have two home charging options: TheTesla Mobile Connector or 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. This will provide about 4 miles of range per hour to a Model S. As the name suggests, it is portable: it can easily be wrapped up and used as a mobile backup for charging on the go.
You can purchase an additional adapter for Tesla’s Mobile Connector so it can 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 S with 23 miles of range per hour.
Tesla owners who use their cars for short commutes will probably find the Mobile Connector perfectly adequate for their needs.
Tesla Wall Connector
Also known as the High Power Wall Connector (HPWC), this is the charging option that Tesla recommends as the best home-charging tool for Model S, Model X and Model 3. 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 34 miles of range per hour for a Tesla Model S.
The catch is that the Wall Connector does not come standard with Tesla vehicles. You will have to shell out $500 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.
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 comes 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 other EVs to go out of their way to purchase a Tesla Mobile Connector. The Mobile Connector kit costs $275 on it’s 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, 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 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 2, or sent back to the grid for credits on your power bill through net metering.
Solar panels for home 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.
Talk to a local solar installer to see how big a system your home and EV would require.
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Author: Zeeshan Hyder | SolarReviews Blog Author
Zeeshan is passionate about promoting renewable energy and tackling climate change. He developed these interests while studying at beautiful Middlebury College, Vermont, which has a strong focus on sustainability. He has previously worked in the humanitarian sector — for Doctors Without Borders — and in communications and journalism.