If you’re on the market for a charging system for your electric vehicle, you’ve probably come across products that advertise themselves as level 1, 2 and 3 charging stations. If you have seen a map of charging stations in your area, you may have also encountered these levels as filter options for you to find the right station for your specific vehicle.

The key thing to keep in mind is that each level corresponds to a speed rating. In other words, each level helps set an expectation for how long the recharge process will take to complete. Read on to learn more about each charging station level and how you can determine the key differences and benefits with each one.

Level 1 Charging Stations

A level 1 charging station typically provides charging power via a 120-volt plug (alternating current, AC). These systems require a dedicated circuit and typically use a standard household outlet.

If you have a circuit that can serve as a level 1 charging station for your electric vehicle, then you’re in luck: No installation of charging equipment is necessary! That’s because electric vehicles take their charging stations with them – the source of power itself is separate from the charging equipment on the vehicle.

However, even though a level 1 charging station is “free” – not including the actual costs of electricity and the maintenance issues you may incur – you will pay a premium for this low price in other ways. Mainly, you’ll have to make do with excruciatingly long recharge times.

The average level 1 charging station generally requires up to 12 hours to completely recharge your vehicle’s 100% depleted battery.

This may not be a problem for you if you don’t need to constantly recharge your vehicle quickly. If you just want to leave it plugged in overnight, you won’t have to worry about upgrading to a more advanced EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment).

The Pros of Level 1 Charging Stations

  • A level 1 charging station is just the existing electrical equipment in your own home combined with a 120-volt cable to transmit the power to your vehicle’s battery. No additional equipment is needed, which means it’s free!
  • Electric vehicles have level 1 charging equipment as standard, which means that you don’t have to install anything and can plug directly into a standard three-prong household outlet or plug.
  • You can charge your vehicle overnight and have it ready to go for your morning commute to the office.

The Cons of Level 1 Charging Stations

  • You may not have a dedicated circuit available for the level 1 charging station option to work. However, if this is the case, then you’ll have problems with any level of charging equipment.
  • The long charge times for a level 1 station can deter EV owners from opting for this solution. Long charge times generally make it difficult to charge more than once every 24 hours – this may not be feasible for you if you plan to make use of your vehicle on a consistent basis from day-to-day.
  • You may not feel comfortable leaving your vehicle plugged in for this length of time, or you may have other electrical problems that require maintenance or repair.

What about Level 1 Fast Charging?

If you’ve heard the words “level 1 fast charging” used together, then here are a few things you should understand.

Smaller batteries will require less charging time. If you have a plug-in hybrid vehicle, then it will not take very long to fully charge its battery on a level 1 120-volt charging system. If you own a Tesla, this process may take quite a bit longer. There is also a difference in AC and DC charging systems, although this becomes technically complex very quickly.

One last note: a level 1 charger offers some benefits in terms of long-term lithium ion battery maintenance. This type of charger puts the least amount of stress on the battery system possible, which means you can potentially lengthen the lifespan of the battery just by using a traditional 120-volt cable input.

Level 2 Charging Stations

Level 2 charging stations offer many improvements over the stock level 1 charging solution you’ll find on your vehicle and in your home. The main upgrade that these stations offer over the level 1 variety is the 240-volt charging cable that enables you to charge your vehicle faster.

Simply put, increasing the voltage increases the amount of power that can flow through the cable. You can think about it like a highway vs a tiny suburban street: the 120-volt cable only has 2 lanes, whereas the 240-volt cable acts as a 4-lane highway. With this additional bandwidth, your vehicle can charge faster.

Most of the level 2 charging units require a dedicated 40-amp circuit to function correctly. Level 2 charging stations are compatible with all electric vehicles as well as plug-in hybrid vehicles. Most of the time, the level 2 charging cord will plug directly into the same connector used for level 1 equipment on your vehicle.

On average, a level 2 charging station will take around 4 or 6 hours to charge your vehicle’s depleted battery. This time can increase or decrease depending on environmental conditions: colder weather will generally cause charging times to increase. As such, drivers in colder climates should take into account that their charging timeframes may lengthen as a result of outdoor temperatures (unless you have your garage heated).

Level 2 chargers can be found in a variety of locations, including public parking areas, office parks, residential neighborhoods, and commercial parking lots. They’re becoming more and more prevalent as time goes on, and many of these areas also feature other amenities such as food and lodging as well as shopping.

To connect to a level 2 charging station, you’ll make use of a J1772 connector. Charging times will ultimately depend on the size of your vehicle’s battery, but you’re going to notice a significant improvement over level 1 charging times. Charging rates are typically up to 9.6 kW on current and modern level 2 EVSEs.

The Pros of Level 2 Charging Stations

  • Enjoy faster charging times over level 1 systems.
  • Easy to install in the home – especially with the help of a contractor.
  • Accepted by all electric vehicles.

The Cons of Level 2 Charging Stations

  • Not as fast as level 3 charging systems.
  • Put more stress on the lithium ion battery than comparable level 1 systems.

Level 3 Charging Stations

There are two primary forms of level 3 charging stations: CHAdeMO and the Tesla Supercharger system. Let’s look at CHAdeMO charging technology first.

CHAdeMO

CHAdeMO level 3 charging equipment technology provides fast charging through DC – direct current. This contrasts with the level 1 and 2 alternating current systems. With 480 volts, this system has even more “highway lanes” than Level 2 systems. As such, the average level 3 charger can charge a typical electric vehicle in about 30 minutes to an 80% charge.

Naturally, cold weather will slow down the charging process and cause some delays. There additional pros and cons with CHAdeMO systems that we’ll discuss in the cons section below. But, if you don’t own a Tesla Model S and want the fastest charging capabilities available on the market, you’ll want to make use of a CHAdeMO Level 3 charging station system.

The other factor will be the battery capacity of your vehicle.

Tesla Supercharger

The Tesla Supercharger works only for the Tesla Model S. It can provide a 50% charge in around 20 minutes, making it a great choice for luxury drivers who want the absolute fastest charging times available.

Tesla Supercharger stations also provide many other benefits. With the built-in Tesla touchscreen, drivers can navigate to their destination via the Trip Planner application which will automatically route you through all the Tesla Supercharger stations available on your route.

It takes about 30 minutes to recharge, and in that time, you can get something to eat or have a cup of coffee. You’ll also receive a notification from the Tesla app when your vehicle is ready to continue on its journey.

With 1,130 supercharger stations around the United States and a total of 8,496 superchargers available, Tesla makes it easy to take a road trip around the country without having to worry about running out of juice on your Model S.

The Pros of Level 3 Charging Stations

  • For EV drivers who want the absolute fastest way to charge their vehicle in less than hour, a level 3 charging station is the only possible option.
  • Many level 3 chargers that are located on the road offer additional benefits like dining and lodging for drivers who are on a road trip.
  • Level 3 chargers most closely mimic the gas station time frames you’re used to.

The Cons of Level 3 Charging Stations

  • Level 3 chargers can be expensive to install in the home.
  • You may not have a level 3 charger in your region, especially in rural areas.

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