As the world switches away from internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, many people are starting to experience EVs for the first time, driving them, but also charging. Compared to the familiar gasoline or diesel pump, an EV charging station might seem complex and daunting. To help you navigate through all these new developments, this article answers the 7 most asked questions about charging an electric car.
Charging via a home EV charging station (or charging on the go) works differently. While it depends on the charging station, generally, the process is as follows:
Identify yourself to the charging station – this may be through a mobile app, an RFID tag or card, or even using a contactless credit or debit card.
Plug the charging cable into the vehicle and the station. Some stations come with built-in cables, in which case you can plug that directly into your car.
Charge. You should see confirmation through your vehicle’s display as well as the charger’s indicator lights.
Once charged, you can end the charging session via the station or mobile app, depending on how you started it.
However, manual authentication may soon be a thing of the past. A new international standard known as Plug & Charge (ISO 15118) provides a direct communication interface between chargers and EVs, allowing a charger to automatically recognize and identify your car. With Plug & Charge, payment is arranged automatically, meaning users only need to plug their vehicle in to start charging.
How do you pay for electric car charging?
When charging from your home network, the electricity used by your EV will simply be added to your electric bill. On a public charger, payment depends on your mobility service provider. Often, charging costs are added to a monthly bill based on a contract or subscription, or, in some cases, can be paid on the spot by card.
2. What powers electric car charging stations?
Throughout the world, electric grids work on AC power: as the name suggests, the electrical current alternates, or changes direction, a given number of times per second. By contrast, direct current flows at a fixed rate.
While EV chargers come in many different shapes and sizes, the main difference is whether they provide alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC).
AC vs DC electricity
All batteries, including those in EVs, store DC power, so the AC current coming from the grid must be converted. It’s not a question of if, but rather where this conversion happens that highlights the key difference between AC and DC chargers.
AC chargers are the most common (and generally slower) type. Without getting too technical, this is because the conversion happens inside your vehicle and is limited to the power it can process. In most cases, AC charging can reach up to 11 kWh or 22 kWh.
With DC charging, the electricity is converted from AC to DC by the charging station before it reaches your car. This allows it to bypass the car’s slower onboard converter and achieve much higher power outputs, up to 350 kWh as it feeds power ‘directly’ to the battery. As a result, charging an EV with a DC charger takes mere minutes rather than hours. However, DC charging infrastructure is expensive and bulky, making it unsuitable for most residential, commercial, and municipal environments.
Another common question that many prospective EV drivers have is about the time it takes to charge an electric car. The charging speed for any given car and situation depends on various factors such as the battery size, the car and chargers’ charging capacity, and even the weather.
One of the main determinants of charging time is the car’s battery size. Just as a large fuel tank takes more time to fill up, generally speaking, the larger the battery, the longer it takes to charge it.
Another important factor that will affect an EV’s charging time is the battery’s state of charge. Because of their chemistry, batteries can accept more power at lower charge levels: as they get closer to 100%, the charging power, and thus speed, slows down considerably.
So while charging a car from 20% to 70% might only take a few minutes, charging it from 70% to full will take substantially longer.
Beyond battery capacity and state of charge, another element influencing charging time is the car’s charging capacity. Not all EVs are rated to accept the same charging power: while some may be able to take up to 350 kWh fast charging, many are limited to much lower power inputs, often between 100 kWh and 150 kWh. The same applies to slower AC charging: while the theoretical maximum charging power is 22 kWh, many cars can only use 7.4 kWh or 11 kWh.
EV charger types
Linked to the car’s charging capacity is the charger’s capacity, in other words, how much power it can provide. Broadly speaking, there are 3 types of charging stations.
Level 1 chargers are the slowest, most common type. They can be connected to a wall socket at home and deliver up to 2.3 kWh, or around 6 to 8 km of range per hour.
Level 2 chargers provide higher speeds but require professional installation. They are the most common type found in residential, commercial, and municipal settings. Most level 2 chargers can deliver at least 7.4 kWh or 11 kWh, with some capable of up to 22 kWh. Charging on those power outputs adds about 40 km, 60 km, and 120 km per hour respectively.
Level 3 chargers, also called DC or fast chargers, can deliver the most power and highest charging speed. They require bulky transformers and are not cost-effective for residential and most municipal uses. The highest-rated level 3 chargers can deliver up to 350 kWh, although lower outputs such as 50 kWh, 125 kWh, and 150 kWh are more common. At those rates, most EVs can charge up to 80% in less than an hour, sometimes even as little as a few minutes.
Finally, weather conditions, particularly temperature, can impact charging speed. Indeed, batteries have a narrow optimal operating range of around 21°C. When the temperatures are significantly higher or lower, the battery will use some energy to heat or cool itself, increasing the time it takes to charge it.
EV charging speeds are highly variable, and we’ve only scratched the surface of the topic. For a more detailed explanation of EV charging times, check out our in-depth blog.
4. What does it cost to charge an electric car?
Charging times are not the only concern for EVs: another important consideration is cost. As with charging times, costs vary greatly depending on your location, utility company, and tariff, to name a few. However, two key determinants of charging costs are the kWh price of electricity and the size of your vehicle’s battery.
Regardless of your specific location, charging your EV at home will likely increase your electric bill – at least, unless you generate your own electricity, for example, using solar panels. Still, the cost of the electricity to power your EV is far less than what gasoline or diesel would cost. For a complete overview of EV charging costs, check out our blog on the topic.
5. How often do you have to charge an electric car?
Compared to a gasoline or diesel vehicle, which only needs a refill every few weeks, a question many new EV drivers have is how often they will need to charge their car. As with the previous questions, the answer depends greatly on your driving habits and car’s range.
Should I charge my electric car every night?
The answer to this question depends, but looking at the average driving behavior of drivers and the growing range capacity of an EV: no.
Electric car range
While EV ranges vary greatly, the current average range is around 320 km on a full charge. Similarly, although driving distances vary between countries, the average urban short trip in the EU is 43 km, well within the vast majority of EVs’ range. Taking these average numbers, you would only need to charge your EV fully approximately every week. Of course, if you drive more or your car’s range is significantly lower, you’ll need to plug in more often. Even then, an EV will typically last multiple days before needing a charge.
6. Where can I charge my electric car?
Driving an EV can be very different from an ICE car, and one of the ways it stands apart is in terms of the possible charging locations. Unlike gas or diesel, electricity is available almost everywhere, meaning there are nearly endless possibilities to charge your car.
Of course, a key benefit of EVs is waking up in the morning and starting the day with a full charge. According to our Mobility Monitor report, home charging is the most popular among EV drivers, with 64% regularly charging at home. The workplace is the second most popular charging location, with 34% of drivers charging at work. Another 31% charge regularly at public and commercial parking spots, while 29% of them charge at gas stations. Finally, 26% of current EV drivers charge regularly at supermarkets, while 22% charge at shopping malls and department stores.
As the above data shows, the benefit of EVs lies in their versatility: charging locations adapt to your needs, lifestyle, and vehicle use.
7. How much maintenance does an EV charger need?
If you’re thinking of investing in an EV charger, you may be wondering: how much maintenance does a charger need? In most cases, the answer is very little.
For Level 1 and 2 home chargers, the most maintenance you’ll typically need is an occasional quick check for any damage to the cables and plugs to ensure they’re in good working order. With everyday use, these chargers are designed to last years before they require servicing. If you experience any problems with your charging station, we recommend you to contact your supplier.
For publicly accessible level 2 or 3 chargers, the required maintenance depends on their use and location. Cables, plugs, and the charger itself should be inspected regularly to check for any damage and ensure good operation. Touch screens, card or RFID readers, and software systems also need to be checked and updated regularly.
Generally, charger manufacturers offer extended warranties and service plans for a yearly fee, which include preventative maintenance and quick repairs if something goes wrong. However, with new connectivity and modularity features built into modern chargers, problems can often be diagnosed remotely.
Switching to electric mobility is a consequential decision that requires some habit changes compared to a gasoline or diesel car. Charging an EV, in particular, is an entirely different process compared to refueling an ICE car, but one that can offer increased flexibility and adapt to your lifestyle.
We hope the above questions have helped answer some of your doubts about electric car charging. If you want to know more about any of the sections, or have unanswered questions, check out our complete guide to EV charging which offers a comprehensive overview of the topic.