Although electric vehicles have been around for over a hundred years, they are a relatively new addition to the global transportation mix. As a result of EV’s swift rise to prominence, one of the main changes drivers will experience is the way we fill up our “tanks”.
In the short period since the start of the 21st century, EVs and the electric mobility infrastructure that accompanies them have evolved significantly. For many, this has created confusion around the different types of EV charging, their names, and which is right for particular EVs and drivers.
Today, there are three distinct types of EV charging—Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3—which EV drivers can choose from. Level 3 charging, also referred to as fast charging or DC charging, is the newest arrival to the electric mobility scene. In this article, we’ll answer all the questions you’ve had about Level 3 EV charging.
The difference between Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 charging
The three different levels of EV charging all come down to the power output which flows from the charging station. The power output, in turn, has a direct relationship with charging times. The higher the output, the faster the charge. Similarly, the higher the level, the more power output. Here’s a brief overview of the three different levels of EV charging:
Level 1 charging
Level 1 charging is the slowest way to charge an electric vehicle and mainly reserved for home charging. As Level 1 charging works by plugging an electric vehicle into your regular wall outlet, the maximum output for Level 1 charging stations is between 1.3 kW to 2.4 kW, or the equivalent of approximately 3-5 miles (6 to 8 kilometers) an hour.
Level 2 charging
A Level 2 charging station can charge an EV faster than Level 1, delivering between 7.4 and 22 kW of power to a vehicle. These charging stations are commonly found in public parking lots and are a great option for businesses offering EV charging or electrifying their fleet. At the maximum output of 22 kW, an hour’s charging will provide roughly 75 miles (120km) distance.
Level 3 charging
Level 3 charging stations are the fastest on the market today. Able to deliver between 50 kW and 350 kW power, charging with a Level 3 charging station can add 298 miles (480km) range at the high end and at 50 kW, one hour of charging a passenger vehicle will add approximately 173 miles (278km) of range.
What’s the difference between Level 3 charging, rapid charging, fast and ultra-fast charging, and DC charging?
Because electric mobility in general and particularly the charging infrastructure industry is evolving so rapidly, the terminology for many different technologies has diverged.
Confusing as it may be for drivers, many of these terms mean the same thing. What some may call Level 3 charging, others may call DC charging, quick charging, fast, or even ultra-fast charging or rapid charging.
Essentially, all of the above terms refer to all charging stations that convert the current before it reaches the vehicle—let’s hope this clears up a bit of the confusion.
What is Level 3 EV charging?
When it comes down to it, Level 3 EV charging is the fastest of the three currently available levels for EV drivers. Depending on the power output, a Level 3 charger can charge an EV in minutes compared to the hours it takes for both level 1 and 2 chargers.
For instance, at the highest power output, a Level 3 charger can charge an EV to 80 percent in between 15 and 60 minutes. To find out more about how fast Level 3 charging stations are and the different factors that affect charging speed, we wrote another article exploring exactly that.
Due to the rapid pace of charging, level three charging is perfect for stops along highways, inner-city charging on the go, commercial businesses like gas stations, and for business fleets like taxis or delivery vehicles.
How do Level 3 charging stations work?
To understand how level three charging works, it’s important to understand two fundamentals of EV charging first.
The power from the grid is always alternating current (AC)
EV batteries only accept direct current (DC)
Combined, these two factors mean that at some stage, the current must be converted from AC to DC.
With level 1 and level 2 charging, the conversion (from AC to DC) happens on board the vehicle itself via an onboard charger. With Level 3 charging, the conversion happens before the power reaches the vehicle, bypassing the slower onboard charger and instead charges a vehicle’s battery directly. Whilst Level 3 chargers come in many shapes and sizes, they all have one thing in common: the conversion happens outside the vehicle.
And as a result of the current already being converted by the time it reaches the vehicle, Level 3 charging stations can deliver power at higher speeds and are significantly faster than either Level 1 or Level 2 charging.
How much does it cost to charge an EV with Level 3 charging?
Generally speaking, Level 3 charging will always be more expensive than Level 1, and Level 2 charging.
When you opt for Level 3 charging, you’re charging your electric car extra fast and, of course, that convenience comes at an additional fee.
How much exactly, depends on many different factors: Where are you charging? Are you being billed by kWh, by-the-minute, or maybe even a combination of both?
Making the most out of Level 3 charging comes down to balancing price and convenience and knowing what’s best for your vehicle. For instance, many EVs have a maximum charging capacity in terms of how many kW’s the battery can take. If your vehicle's maximum DC charging capability is 50 kW and you're occupying an ultra-fast Level 3 charging station (250 kW) and paying by the minute, you’ll be paying extra for the same range.
Ultimately, Level 3 charging is more expensive than Level 1 and Level 2 charging, however, if it’s convenience you’re after, then the benefits may outweigh the costs.
Is Level 3 charging suitable for any EV?
Level 3 charging works with almost all passenger vehicles. How much power each vehicle can handle, however, differs greatly and depends on the battery.
While some batteries can take up to 350 kWh, others can only accept 50 kW. There are a few vehicles equipped with smaller batteries, such as the Fiat 500, for example, that are not suitable for Level 3 EV charging.
Tesla owners, although they have their own Level 3 chargers dubbed “Superchargers”, can also use Level 3 chargers, though certain models must use an adaptor.
Can I install a Level 3 charger at home?
Hypothetically yes, if you’re Bruce Wayne, but in reality, it’s probably not possible.
The major benefits of Level 3 charging stations lend themselves to being used in public and commercial settings.
Due to both their price—which is significantly higher than a Level 1 or Level 2 charger—and their complexity, Level 3 fast charging stations aren’t suited to home installation. You can find more information on home charging stations here.
What Level 3 charging means for electric mobility
As Level 3 charging rolls out across highways and cities on both sides of the Atlantic, some are pegging the technology as the tipping point for electric mobility.
Although the percentage of electric vehicles on the road is still relatively small in comparison to traditional gas cars, their uptake is exploding year-on-year. To reach a tipping point and spur the mass adoption of EVs, the average EV will need to be able to offer over 280 miles (450kms) range on a half-hour charge. According to a study by Castrol, 57 percent of OEMs said that 30-40 minute charge time is already available—but just not accessible for most drivers.
The rollout of Level 3 fast charging stations will undoubtedly make 30 minute charging more accessible for EV drivers and put those range anxiety fears to rest. As this technology continues to become more accessible, many forecast this tipping point to mass adoption to happen sometime in the next couple of years.
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