How do you charge an electric vehicle? How long does it take? How much does it cost?
As interest in EVs rises with the arrival of vehicles such as the Ford F-150 Lighting, Cadillac Lyriq, Chevrolet Silverado EV, Nissan Ariya and Tesla Cybertruck, drivers and shoppers will need to understand the differences between EVs and gas-powered vehicles.
Most EV owners usually charge their vehicles at home, often overnight, when they get a break on electricity rates when demand is low.
Anybody with an EV should have a 240-volt charger at home. That’s the same current appliances such as electric ranges, washers and dryers use. The cost for a charger and installation varies depending on your house and other factors – and is more complex for a condo or apartment dweller – but often comes within $800 to $2,000. Utilities frequently grant credits for charging if you install one with a dedicated meter.
A full tank every morning
A 240v charger will fill most EV batteries overnight. It's like filling up your traditional car every day.
“Home is where people do most of charging,” auto writer and EV advocate John Voelcker said. “It’s like your cellphone. They both take a few hours.”
You can charge an EV using a regular household 120v socket, but that would take most of a day.
Charging at home should save you significantly compared with driving a gasoline vehicle. The EPA estimates driving an all-wheel-drive Ford Mustang Mach-E SUV with a 277-mile range will cost about $700 a year for electricity. A roughly comparable AWD Ford Edge SUV with a 2.7L V6 engine will use $3,000 of gasoline a year. Both figures assume energy current prices and 15,000 miles a year, 45% on highways.
Looked at another way, charging the Mach-E to full at 12 cents a kilowatt-hour (kWh), costs about $11.90. Compare that with $76.04 to fill the Edge with gasoline at the national average of $4.11 a gallon.
Where do I charge my EV in public?
Many parking structures and surface lots have a few spaces with chargers set aside for EVs. They’re usually 240v units, the same as most home chargers. That will add about 20 miles charge an hour. Not enough to cover a day’s driving but a pleasant bonus if you spend a couple of hours at a movie or dinner. (By comparison, plugging into a 120v outlet adds about 3 miles of range per hour.)
Charging in these lots is often covered by the cost of parking. Municipalities do that to encourage people to use EVs, which are quieter than combustion vehicles and don’t emit exhaust.
It’s a major breach of protocol – and in many places a parking infraction – to leave a non-EV in a spot with a charger. Some EV opponents do it intentionally. Don’t be that guy.
How do I find a public EV charger?
EV chargers are easy to overlook. Unlike gas stations, they seldom have big lighted signs, and unless they’re at a gas station, there’s no nearby store with snacks and restrooms.
In a busy downtown, you can drive right by a group of EV chargers and not even notice them. Parking structures frequently have unobtrusive little exterior signs announcing the presence of chargers, or no signage at all.
The best way to find chargers is with a smartphone app. Apps vary, but some include driver’s reports on how well the chargers work, list the number of chargers and how many are available and help with route planning. I recommend downloading several and figuring out which you prefer.
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Charger companies with apps include Electrify America, EVgo, ChargePoint, EV Connect, Greenpoint and Chargeway. Some independent apps lead you to chargers from all companies. PlugShare and ABRP (short for A Better Route Planner) are among them.
Ford’s an early leader in this area. Its Ford Pass app helps you find chargers, and the automaker searches for malfunctioning chargers and pushes providers to fix them. The app links to your vehicle for status checks, remote start and other features.
Charging on road trips
Charging at 240v is fine when you’re at home or a movie, but sitting for hours isn’t an option on long highway drives. The solution is DC fast charging, but it’s a multipart answer.
DC chargers deliver electricity much faster than 240v, but they’re not all alike. There are three main types, two of which you’ll want to avoid if you have any chance.
The earliest DC fast chargers delivered power at up to 50 kilowatts. Nice try, but you’ll still be waiting for hours. Next came 50-150 kW chargers. The higher end of that range can get you back on the road with a decent charge in 45 minutes or so, but getting that much power is a bit iffy.
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The preferable DC fast chargers deliver power at 150 kW or higher. The most common will be identified by 150 kW or 350 kW labels. 150 kW is about 400 volts. Almost all modern EVs can charge at that rate. Vehicles that can take more are less common, but better: 350kW equals 800v.
That will fill a battery to 80%-90% in 20 minutes or less. At that rate, charging an EV on a long highway trip approaches how long most of us spend at a gas station when we grab a drink, stretch our legs and use the restroom in addition to pumping fuel.
DC fast chargers are less common than 240v chargers, but numbers are increasing, in part because of investments included in the 2021 federal infrastructure act. DC fast charging is the key to making EVs as convenient for weekend getaways and vacation trips as they are for day-to-day use.
DC fast charging is far more expensive than off-peak home charging, though. I pay Electrify America $4 a month for a discount to 31 cents a kilowatt for DC fast charging. Without the discount, it’d cost 43 cents/kW.
Why charge to only 80%?
Pumping gasoline is like filling a bucket: You pour it as fast as possible, the bucket fills to the top.
Charging an EV battery is more like filling an ice cube tray. Its battery consists of hundreds of small cells, each of which is charged individually. A computer in the battery directs electricity to the cells that can take it.
That’s easy when the battery’s been drained to 20% or so, but finding cells with space becomes harder, and filling them requires more precision, as you near "full." The rate of charging slows as the battery fills.
Charging a battery from 20%-80% at 150 kW may take 40 minutes. Filling the last 20% could take twice that long.
For that reason, the most time-efficient way to charge on a long trip is to stop when you get low, fill to 80% and stop when you’ve used that energy, not to fill the battery to its metaphorical rim. That assumes plenty of charging stations along your route; that’s not always the case, but it’s getting better. A good app will consider your range and the distance to the next charger in its recommendations.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: EV charging: What you need to know about cost, time, charging stations