Autel Energy Introduces EV 101: Charging and Battery Basics

If you’re considering an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid, you also need to consider how you’ll keep your new vehicle’s batteries charged. You’ll need a home charger that matches the capabilities of your new electric vehicle and your driving routine.

Note: If any of the topics and terms mentioned below make you want more information, check out the Autel Energy EV Glossary 101, Learn to Speak EV.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV)

If you buy a traditional hybrid (like a Toyota Prius), you don’t need a charger. Although these vehicles benefit from battery power and electric motor boosting to improve fuel economy, HEVs cannot be plugged in. No home charger is needed.

Plug-in electric vehicles (PHEV)

PHEVs are the next step in electric vehicles with larger, higher-voltage batteries than hybrids. As their name suggests, PHEVs can be plugged in. And because PHEVs have gasoline engines to supplement battery power, these vehicles actually have two fuel doors; one for electricity and the other for gasoline.

Most new PHEVs come with a Level 1 charging cord as standard equipment. These are typically used for home charging and run on standard 110 volt/12 amp service. During the development of this story, we had a 2022 Kia Niro PHEV in our fleet. The Niro PHEV travels about 26 miles on electricity before its engine fires up to propel the small SUV.

2022 Niro Level 1 Charger in car garage

The Niro’s Level 1 charging cable (think really big phone charging cord) adds about 4 miles of range per hour and works well for charging PHEV batteries overnight (6 hours). Like most manufacturers’ Level 1 chargers, Kia includes clear graphics that confirm charging connection and service amperage (the higher the number, the faster the charge).

Faster home charging is available with 240 Volt Level 2 Home Service. Level 2 charging adds up to 10 miles of charge per hour, allowing the Kia Niro to reach its “full” EV range of 26 miles in less than 3 hours.

Keep in mind that charging times, like estimated fuel consumption for traditional gas-powered vehicles, vary by manufacturer and model.

For many PHEV owners, the standard Level 1 charger is all they will need.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV)

BEVs use batteries for power. Just batteries. There is no built-in gasoline generator to add juice to the battery like with a PHEV. You can only drive so far before you need to reload. It’s like with a traditional car before the fuel tank runs dry.

To achieve the 250+ mile range offered by the new BEVs, these vehicles are fitted with large battery packs. These big packs contain a lot of energy. For convenience and practicality, fast charging is essential. Where and how your load is essential to a good ownership experience.

While BEVs usually come standard with a Level 1 charger, Level 2 home chargers are necessary for most people to practically use their BEV. Let’s see why this is the typical case.

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Using the standard Level 1 home charger on a 2023 Chevrolet Bolt EV, for example, only adds four miles of range per hour. The Bolt is capable of over 250 miles on a full battery, meaning it would take over 60 hours (almost three days) of charging to get a full charge from empty.

This truth makes Level 2 home charging a necessity for BEVs. Level 2 home units can add 25 miles per hour, with a full charge completed in around 10 hours. Very handy for recharging at night.

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When driving away from home, more powerful Level 2 public chargers can add around 37 miles of range per hour, while DC Fast Charge units can add up to 95 miles in just 30 minutes.

Again, charging times vary by manufacturer and model.

Smart Chargers vs Dumb Chargers

When shopping for Level 2 home chargers, you’ll find a range of ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’ deals.

The smart chargers are compatible with the Internet via WiFi/Ethernet, a telephone network or Bluetooth. Smart chargers and their mobile apps allow users to access charging status, charging history, battery condition monitoring, and charging scheduling. This latest feature helps users set charging schedules to minimize energy costs by charging when utility rates are lower. Another intelligent function available allows the charger to prioritize incoming energy sources, for example, to use free energy from household solar panels instead of expensive electricity from the grid.

A “dumb” level 2 charger is not internet compatible, but does the job of providing a convenient and powerful connection to charge your BEV. Many of these basic chargers have screens built into their cases that show connection status and charge levels. Also, some features of smart chargers are offered through apps provided by the EV manufacturer, so a cheaper “dumb” charger may not be so dumb after all.

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Make a decision about a home charger

Once you’ve decided between smart units and “dumb” units, it’s time to choose a particular unit. Here are some considerations.

Most 220 volt home systems are rated at 40 amps. To ensure adequate safety, 40 amp circuits only carry 32 amps. However, some homes can accommodate high amperage service (50 to 80 amps). Chargers capable of delivering more power are more expensive, so confirm your electrical service before making a decision to maximize your charging potential without paying for capabilities you don’t need.

Next, assess your parking situation and the location of the charger. If you park and charge in your home’s garage, a wall charger with a 15-foot cable may be fine. Pole-mounted units are also available for aisle installations, with cable lengths up to 25 feet.

For those who need to mount their charger outdoors in a more public space, such as a condominium carport, Autel offers the innovative security-enhancing charging card with RFID security to prevent unauthorized use.

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