An electric car in charging on the street

Charging your plug-in or EV to a standard 120-volt electricity outlet is as easy as charging your smartphone. Using the charging cord that comes with the car, you simply plug in your car, come back several hours later—or the next morning—unplug your car, and drive off.

There are many advantages of this “Level 1” charging. It’s easy. It requires no additional infrastructure—all you need is a regular electricity outlet, which many people have on their porches or patios or in their garages. It takes advantage of “cheap” electricity, the kind that’s available at night when demand is low, so it only costs pennies to fuel your car, rather than the several dollars you pay at the pump. You can even charge the car at the office or at someone else’s home using their standard outlet.

But the biggest downside of using a standard outdoor socket is that the charging time can be very slow. Typically, one hour of charging using a 120v outlet only gets you about 4-5 miles of charge or driving range. If you need to travel 40 miles per day, which is the average commute, and you only have a 120v outlet, you’ll need to plan on 8-10 hours of charging time. But what if you’re taking a road trip? What if you don’t have time to leave the car overnight? Or what if you simply want to speed up the charging process?

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Faster Charging

EVSE Using a 220v or 240v outlet – EVSE stands for “electric vehicle service equipment.” It is a device that delivers AC power safely and more quickly than a 120v outlet. Typically, in an hour using an EVSE, you can add between 10 and 25 miles of range, compared to the 4-5 miles of range/hour on a 120v outlet. It could cut your charging time more than in half.

DC Fast Charging – This is sometimes referred to as Level 3 charging (compared to Level 1, the 120v option, and level 2, the 220v option). In this case, the charger delivers a much faster jolt over a shorter period of time. Tesla, Nissan Leaf, the Volkswagen e-Golf, and the BMW i3 all can be “fast charged.” Doing so, they’ll be about 80% charged in around 30 minutes. Here’s a good Here’s a good explanation of exactly how a DC Fast Charger works.

Use a station – Tesla has built its own network of fast-charging stations around the country for its own vehicles to plug into.  The Alternative Fuels Data Center operated by the U.S. Department of Energy also makes it easy to find 15,005 electric stations and 38,870 charging outlets by plugging in your zip code. More and more communities, shopping malls, and chain stores like WalMart, Whole Foods, and Best Buy are installing charging stations as well.

Before buying an electric vehicle, you probably want to take into account how convenient these fast charging stations are where you live and along the route you travel most frequently. You can also have your own installed. The cost will depend on your vehicle and the type of charger you choose. Get advice from the dealer where you purchase your vehicle. Also, check into federal and state tax credits that may be available to help you offset the cost of the charger.

Knoxville, Tennessee USA - November 23, 2015: Chevy Volt electric car at solar charging station.

What About Solar?

In short, the answer is yes, you can use solar to charge your EV. But even though they’re becoming less expensive as installations increase, solar panels can still have high up-front costs. How can you figure out if this is in your price range? First, use a calculator to figure out how many kilowatts of power you need to get from your panels to charge your car.

For example, suppose your car requires 30 kWh of electricity to drive 100 miles, and you drive around 25 miles per day. You’ll use 7.5 kWh of electricity per day, or slightly more than 2,700 kWh of electricity in a given year. If you install a solar system on your home, in addition to meeting your other home electricity needs, your system will need to deliver an additional 2,700 kWh of electricity for your car.

Of course, you can install a solar array only for your car. Either way, you’ll need to pay for the solar panels to generate that electricity. Before jumping to the conclusion that you can power your electric vehicle with solar, do a feasibility study and cost analysis to determine whether you have enough solar exposure for the panels to work efficiently, and at what cost.

Extend the Life of Your EV’s Charge

You can extend the life of your charge by following these simple tips (which help extend the miles per gallon when driving with gas, too).

  • Drive more slowly. It takes more energy to drive faster, no matter what kind of vehicle you drive. Stick to the speed limit (or as close to it as you can to keep up with traffic safely).
  • Know your own car. This may sound obvious, but the way you drive your vehicle will also impact how well it performs. Even though a charge may be projected to last a certain amount of time, if you’re a fast driver who starts and stops a lot and weaves in and out of traffic, you may get fewer miles out of your charge than a driver who is more cautious.
  • Try not to run out of charge. Don’t go below 15 miles of range before recharging your car.
  • Know where you can recharge. If you just drive your vehicle back and forth to work along the same route, you’ll probably have your charging options scoped out. But if you’re traveling in a new area, identify in advance where some charging stations are and plan accordingly. I know one Tesla driver who has mapped out charging stations that are near Starbucks locations. He plans his trips so he can recharge just about when he needs a cup of coffee.

How do you charge your plug-in or EV? Let us know about it in the comments below!