Hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more popular because of their reputation for being environmentally friendly. Anyone who is thinking of buying an electric car should, however, be aware of the need to understand and plan around the importance of charging the battery. EVs run solely on batteries charged by electric outlets or electric car charging stations. This limits their range to the distance that can be traveled before the battery runs out and needs to be recharged.

Electric Car

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The limited range, as compared to hybrids and conventional vehicles, means that EVs are more suitable at the present time for city runs and commutes. Electric car charging stations are springing up everywhere, in locations like parking lots at grocery stores, malls, and hospitals. Using these charging stations is not difficult, but prospective electric car buyers should know the basics of charging and make sure that they can access charging stations or charge their vehicles at home.

Using Electric Car Charging Stations: the Basics

Electric cars, also known as electric vehicles or EVs, are an attractive alternative to conventional cars for a number of reasons. They have no tailpipe emissions, as compared to gas and even hybrid vehicles. Electricity is a cheaper fuel than gas, and the cost of running an EV is so much lower that, over a few years, the vehicle pays for itself. However, there is one major factor that makes people hesitate when thinking of buying an EV, and that is the range or distance that the car can travel with a fully charged battery.

What Is Battery Range?

Most EVs have a range of 100 to 150 miles on a full battery. This is the distance they can travel before their battery runs out. This means that EV drivers have to plan their driving around their vehicles’ range. The currently limited range of EVs creates the phenomenon of range anxiety among drivers, somewhat similar to the fear of running out of gas without any filling stations within reach.

At present, of course, gas stations are far more common and easier to find than electric car charging stations. For city driving and commuters, that’s not a big problem, which is why EVs are becoming so popular. For long distance runs, it takes more planning. Newer models promise ranges of up to 200 miles.

Manufacturers like Nissan, Ford, and Tesla are aware of the problem of range anxiety and are engaged in designing a number of solutions. The solutions include extending battery life, improving charging speeds, and creating a network of high-speed electric car charging stations across the country.

Electric Car dashboard screen display

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How Does EV Charging Work?

You may have seen public electric car charging stations at the grocery store parking lot, at malls, and at other locations where people are expected to park their cars for at least half an hour. EVs can be charged at these public charging locations or at home. The two major considerations when it comes to charging stations are cost and speed.

At the present time, charging an EV can be a slow process. Besides public charging stations, you can charge your EV at home by plugging it into a 120V or 240V outlet. Whether you charge at home or a charging station, it can take anywhere from half an hour or a few hours to overnight to charge up a battery completely, depending on the mileage you want to add.

This is something that you need to factor in when deciding whether to buy an electric car. But first, it may help to understand how EV batteries are charged. EVs use direct current or DC, rather than the alternative current (AC) that most outlets supply. Every electric car has an onboard charger which converts the AC into DC that the car can use. Different types of on-board chargers have different speed levels.

Another EV charging term you will come across is EVSE or electric vehicle service equipment. The EVSE is the intermediary between the outlet and the car’s charging port. It delivers the AC to the car battery while making sure that the battery is not damaged in the process. Depending on where you charge your car and the type of outlet you use, there are several different speeds or levels of charging.

Tesla model x charging

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Level 1

This is the slowest way of charging. For Level 1 charging, you simply plug your car in via the onboard charger to a standard 120V household electrical outlet. This works best for an overnight charge as it delivers between 2 and 5 miles per hour.

Level 2

This connects the car to a standard power outlet with 220v or 240V. It can add10 to 25 miles per hour and can be done at home or a public charging station.

DC Fast Charging

This is delivered through a charger similar in size to a gas pump. It can charge up to 80% of the battery in half an hour. A special onboard charger is needed for DC Fast Charging.

It’s important to remember that charging times and methods vary for different makes of electric vehicles and that all manufacturers are looking for ways to improve these.

Home Charging vs. Charging Stations

What’s the best location to charge up your electric car? Typically, that would be where you park it for a long time. That’s why charging overnight at home works best for most EV owners. The other place where cars are parked for a long time is at work, and office parking lots will be a viable location for future electric car charging stations.

Relative Costs

When it comes to home charging, your car fuel bill depends on how much you pay for electricity. If the source of your home energy supply is solar, you will basically be running your EV for free, which means that the vehicle will pay for itself in just a few years. Many homeowners consider installing their own home solar energy systems or even small wind turbines to power not only their homes but also their vehicles.

Homeowners can also install their own Level 2 chargers. Federal and state governments offer incentives like tax credits and rebates for installing chargers. Public electric car charging stations may not charge for the power but they will have parking fees. Most will list their fees online, and also offer apps that can help you locate the nearest charging stations. You will need to create an account to use most public charging stations. You can do this on your phone or on your computer. 

What to Do at Electric Car Charging Stations

Most public charging stations are run by private companies known as Electric Vehicle Service Providers or EVSP. EVSP networks connect charging stations to the software and communication interfaces that are used to operate the station. For the EV driver, set up is actually very simple. You can create an account online which allows you to use the charging stations run by the company.

While many EVSPs will issue prepaid swipe cards that drivers can use at charging stations, others let you handle the entire transaction with a few taps on the screen of a smartphone. You can use apps and online location maps to find charging stations near your locations. Some maps will even show you which stations are currently in use and which are free.

Once you get to the charging station, all you have to do is tap in to get access, plug in your car, and then head off to complete your business in the area. This could be shopping, groceries, or even a conference. When you get back, your car battery will be recharged to the extent determined by the variables discussed above.

If you travel beyond city limits, you may need to set up accounts with several different EVSPs, so you can access charging stations wherever you are. When using location finders, it helps to know that most companies only show their own locations. So you may need to check a few different sites or apps to find a charging station near you. Some third-party apps now cover all locations within a given area.

How Much Does It Cost to Use a Charging Station?

At the present time, charging stations vary in terms of pricing, speed and hours of access. Some charging stations don’t charge for plugging in your car but just for the parking spot. DC Charging usually costs a little more than Level 2 charging. Some manufacturers offer free charging for two years with the purchase of a new electric vehicle. Most EVSPs list their prices and locations on their websites and apps.

Conclusion

Hybrid and electric vehicles offer car buyers a chance to live a low-emissions lifestyle. This accounts for their increasing popularity. While the actual process of charging electric car batteries is easy, it’s important to understand the different types of charging as well as costs and speed. Knowing that you can charge your car at home or at electric car charging stations can be an important factor in your decision to buy an EV.

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