Once you have your new EV, you need to charge it….so, what kinds of chargers are out there, will public chargers be compatible with your EV, and where can you charge?
In the USA and here in Australia almost all new EVs come with the SAE J1772 charging connector. This is what is known as a “Level 1” or”Level 2″ connector, depending on the power supply. It has been designed to charge vehicles at rates of up to 19 kW. This is a round connector with 5 pins which carry the power to the car, signal the car that a charger is plugged in, preventing the car from starting and driving away with the plug in, and a signal pin that allows the charger to communicate with the car to select the appropriate level of charging.
The charger can be either a wall mounted charger installed at your home, a public charge point, or a portable charger that plugs into a regular power point. This will be a cable with a regular plug on one end, a J1772 connector on the other end, and a box of electronics in the middle. This is the EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) and contains the smarts to talk to the car. On a wall mount or a public charger this is built into the wall box.
The EVSE communicates with the car to determine how fast the car can charge, and how much power the charger can supply. A Mitsubishi iMiEV can accept around 3 kW, a Nissan Leaf can draw 3.3 kW, and the next generation Leaf not available in Australia can charge at over 6 kW. The faster your car can charge the less time you have to wait…
The portable supply that comes with your new EV is usually limited to 2.4 kW, which at the Australian power supply of 240v equals 10 Amps, the limit for a conventional power socket. Even so, most of them are fitted with the 15A plug and need a heavy duty power point with the larger earth pin. The EVSE for the Holden Volt (manufactured by Clipper Creek) however is fitted with a 10A plug and regulated to never draw more than 10A of power and can be used anywhere. The Volt EVSE will also work on i MiEV and Leaf, and many owners buy a Volt EVSE to keep in the car when out and about.
The home wall mounted chargers and public charge points can deliver more than 2.4 kW of power, and they will communicate with the car to determine how much power to supply, hence these chargers will charge your car quicker than the portable units supplied with the car.
There is one exception to the rule…the first batch of Mitsubishi i MiEVs sent to Australia in 2010 for trial purposes have the J1772 plug, but not the full electronics. The charge cord does not have the EVSE electronic box, and the car will draw 3 kW when charging. Because the electronics for the communication pin are not present in the car, a 2010 i MiEV will not charge from an EVSE or a public charge station. There is a modification available that retrofits the electronics to the car allowing it to use public chargers. I owned one of these 2010 i MiEVs for two years, but as there were no public chargers in my area during the time I owned the car I did not fit this modification.
The second type of charger you are likely to come across is the CHAdeMO DC fast charger connector which is fitted to all Australian market i MiEVs and Leafs and can be used on several other vehicles such as Tesla with an adapter.
The CHAdeMO uses a heavy duty three phase charge station which is expensive, so not a viable option to install at home. In contrast to the J1772 charge system, which feeds 240v AC power to a charger built into the vehicle, the CHAdeMO system communicates to the car via CANBUS signals, then feeds high voltage DC power direct to the batteries.
CHAdeMO can charge at rates of 62 kW, and can bring an i MiEV or Leaf up to 80% charge in less than half an hour.
The main use for CHAdeMO stations is to allow “electric highways” with quick charge stations spaced out at intervals that allow EV owners to cover long distances. They would also be very useful for electric taxis and delivery vehicles and others that need to cover longer distances in a day.
CHAdeMO chargers are common in Japan, but in Europe they are not so popular. European EVs are more likely to use the Mennekes charge connector than the J1772, and are increasingly moving to the CCS Combo charger for fast charging.
In Australia very few CHAdeMO fast chargers have been installed, but the numbers are rising and the recent installation of an “electric highway” in Western Australia which has CHAdeMO charging is a big step towards making this the default quick charge system in Australia.
The European Union has standardised the Mennekes type 2 connector, which has an advantage over J1772 in that it allows for a higher rate of charge.
Tesla have chosen to use the Mennekes connector in Australia because of its higher rate of charge compared to J1772.
You are unlikely to see Mennekes connectors on other EVs in Australia in the near future.
Tesla also have a network of Tesla only fast charge stations which they call Superchargers.
The Tesla Supercharger stations are capable of delivering 120 kW of charge, which is enough according to Tesla to add 270 km of range in 30 minutes.
The Tesla will also charge slowly from a conventional power point.
Adapters are available to allow Teslas to charge from J1772, CHAdeMO and CCS Combo, although these aren’t cheap!
Tesla Supercharger stations are owned by Tesla, free to Tesla owners, and will not work on any vehicle besides Tesla. Tesla have stated that Model S and Model X owners will be able to use Superchargers for free for the life of the car. They have said that the model 3 will be Supercharger compatible, but that free access to the chargers will not be included in the base price of the vehicle.
Tesla have opened a string of these along popular routes across North America, Europe, and are now building a network in Australia, the first section of which will link Sydney with Melbourne, then be extended to Brisbane and onwards from that.
Teslas also come with a wall charger that can output 40A of power, allowing a full charge overnight.
There is another type of connector which is only just making its presence felt in Australia.
This is the CCS Combo system, which comes in both type 1 and type 2 versions.
The Combo system uses one of the common plugs discussed above, with a small two pin fast DC plug below it. Type 1 uses the J1772 plug as its base, while Type 2 uses the Mennekes, hence we are more likely to see Type 1 here as J1772 is already the default connector in Australia.
The advantage of Combo plugs is that the car can use the normal AC charging units for slow charging, yet the DC quick charge plug goes straight in there as well without having to use a completely different socket as CHAdeMO does. In fact, vehicles already fitted with CHAdeMO could be upgraded with a Combo socket to allow charging by J1772, CCS Combo fast charge, or CHAdeMO.
The BMW i3 uses the type 1 CCS combo charger as an optional extra. The base model has J1772 charging.
There are a few home converted cars around which simply use a normal extension lead to connect the car to the wall. These have the ability to charge anywhere, but slowly.
The most exciting method of charging, which is yet to make its presence felt in Australia, is inductive charging. This is a wireless fully automatic method of charging.
The vehicle is fitted with an induction pickup mounted underneath, and when it is parked directly over an inductive charging pad the power is wirelessly transferred to the car. The smaller the gap between the plates, the faster the potential charge rates. Overseas experiments using electric buses have reached charge rates of 200kW using this method! If most cars are fitted with inductive plates, this opens up the possibility of not only driving into your garage and walking inside while your car charges automatically, but also of embedding inductive plates in parking spots to be activated when the parking meter is fed, and to place them into bus stops to allow electric buses to top up while loading and unloading passengers. With 200kW possible now, a bus on a city route never need run low on power…
The current trend for EVs is for ever larger battery packs and a consequent need for higher charge rates. This means that the charger units get bigger, heavier, and more expensive. With most manufacturers either now selling or in development of EVs with the magic “200 mile” range, charging at 2-3kW just won’t cut it in a few years. Many of the leading minds in the EV field agree that DC fast charging will rise in the coming years, eventually displacing AC charging almost entirely. A possible exception is inductive charging becoming widespread for topping up at car parks, or for the slow overnight charge, but most agree that the “electric highway” model only works if fast DC chargers become the norm.
So, now we know about what types of connectors we are likely to find, where can we hook them up and get juiced?
The answer for most of us is going to be at home. Most of us do most of our driving without needing more range in a day than our EVs will deliver. This allows us to simply charge up each night at home and never need to visit a petrol station again….
Some of us however will need a top up while out and about. Others will want to travel in their EVs. There are many options available to charge while away from home….
Within weeks of buying my EV I had over a dozen offers from friends around the place who all said I was welcome to charge at their houses. I have used those invitations from time to time, but have rarely needed to (the exceptions being when someone else has used the EV and not recharged it, or when I have been asked at the last minute to do extra running around I hadn’t planned on…)
If you are lucky enough to live in one of the larger cities you have access to public charge points. Not very many of these are around yet, but the number is growing. If you are really lucky you will have access to a DC quick charger such as a CHAdeMO…
For the rest of us, we need to make the best of what is out there until demand leads to more public charging stations.
Most service stations have a 15A power point, ring them to see if they will let you charge. They may charge a small fee to do so.
Caravan parks have 15A sockets to cater for caravans and motorhomes, most will allow you to charge for a few dollars.
My sister in law lives a long way off, too far for an EV…but my wife visited her one weekend anyway. Halfway to her place is a pub which with prior arrangement allowed her to plug in while she had lunch then took a quick walk around the scenic country town, which gave her enough charge to make it to her sister’s house. The reverse was done on the way home.
There is a website called Plugshare. www.plugshare.com which allows users to download an app for their mobile device. Anybody who discovers a new charging location can add it to the site, with details of available plugs, times, conditions of use etc. Users can “check in” and report on their charging experience. People wanting a place to charge can use the app to find the nearest charging point.
You can even add your own home as a charge spot if you are willing to allow other EVers to drop in for a top up!