Supercharge, J-Charge, or Emergency Charge?
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Written by a BEV member
Now that I’ve got an electric car (or close to it), how do I plug it in? Plug it in like a toaster? Where can I “gas up” quickly on the road, so to speak?
Plugging in an electric vehicle (EV) is very different than it was 20 years ago. Early EV standards included different plugs and paddles, but no universal standard. Today, we finally have one common standard for most EV charging, but there are still a few tips and tricks to know about fueling up your electric car.
Electric Vehicle Charger: The device that actually performs charging of the battery in the car. In many cases, the car’s onboard charger is doing the charging. Fast chargers are typically located outside of the vehicle in larger pedestals such as the Tesla supercharger and Chademo chargers. In practice, “Charger” and “EVSE” are often used interchangeably to describe a “filling station” for EVs.
Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSE): A device that connects an electric vehicle to a live power supply. Think of it as an automatic safety switch for connecting your car to the grid. EVSEs have safety features like ground fault interruption and arc fault interruption, as well as special communication features that allow the vehicle to signal when it’s ok to turn on the juice.
EV charging systems are divided into three “levels” that provide slow, average, and fast charging methods for getting the battery filled up. Charging can be as fast as 30 minutes, or as long as 12 hours or more, depending on the Level and the need.
Level 1: The Home Outlet
Level One charging is also known as “emergency charging” or “slow charging”. Level One is equivalent to a home wall outlet, 120 volts and 16 amps, or around 2000 watts. Level One charging takes a long time for even the most basic EVs, and is often used when the car will be parked for a long time in the same place. EVs are also typically equipped with a portable Level One charger that is used for emergencies or off-the-beaten-path travel.
Level 2: The J Charger
Level Two chargers are the universal standard that all modern electric vehicles in the US are designed to work with. The J1772 standard that these units are designed to allows up to 80 amps of charging, but the majority of chargers are capable for up to 32 amps of continuous charging power, with some limited to 16 amps. Voltage is 208 or 240 volts, which means up to 7680 watts of charging power. Also called “EV Plug”.
Level 3: Fast DC Charging
To simulate a charge experience that is comparable to a gasoline “fill-up”, the charge has to happen quickly, in 5-30 minutes. A few technologies allow this type of charging, and the vehicle must be equipped to handle the fast-charge. Three standards currently dominate this landscape for personal vehicles: Chademo, SAE Combo, and Tesla Supercharger. In all cases, the charger is actually outside of the vehicle, in a much larger charging system that are often installed in multi-unit banks of chargers.
Chademo is the original fast-charge technology, developed in Japan by Mitsubishi and Nissan, and used primarily in Japanese model vehicles. Japan has the world’s most extensive network of fast-chargers using Chademo, and adapters are available to convert from Chademo to Tesla. The Chademo standard is often used to charge up to 120kW.
SAE Combo is the newest fast-charging technology, building on the SAE J1772 universal standard Level 2 charger. SAE chargers are available on non-Japanese and non-Tesla vehicles that are built to handle fast charging, including BMW, Chevrolet, Mercedes, and many more. No converters currently exist to adapt Combo chargers to other standards.
Tesla’s Supercharger network is the country’s most advanced in quantity and distribution. Most major interstates have Superchargers every 150-170 miles, enough to provide 20-50 minute fill-ups for any model Tesla available. This allows an owner to reliably travel cross-country using the company’s own network, and plan the trip using on-vehicle mapping software.
While many Fast-DC charge sites will feature one standard, some manufacturers such as ABB offer Fast-DC charging units that feature all three of these standards to provide the most accessibility to EV owners.
How do I find chargers?
There is no definitive source for all charging stations, just as there is no complete source for gas stations. But there are sites that people can register their own charging points, and these sites show the vast majority of publicly-accessible charging units. Here are a few: