EV Charging

Decoding EV Charging: A Breakdown of Different Charger Types

If you’re considering purchasing an electric vehicle or have already purchased one, you’ll need to buy an electric vehicle charging unit! Short of plugging the unit directly into your house, which is one option for certain types of EVs, most have a dedicated charging unit. Some of these have solar power options built-in to allow you to charge your electric car via a solar battery or directly from your solar panel system. 

But before we delve into the different types of chargers, you can expect to see on the market when you look. We must sort out some terminology to help you make buying decisions first!

Power & Energy: What’s the Difference? 

In the world of solar power and solar panel installations, you’re going to run into two acronyms a lot: kilowatts (kW) and kilowatt hours (kWh). You’ll also hear this in EV charger circles, so giving you a better understanding of what these terms mean will also help you buy the best EV charger for your car. 

Power is measured in kilowatts. This is the speed at which your EV charger will charge your car. Most home EV charging units range from 1kW to 22kW. 

Energy, measured in kilowatt-hours, refers to the amount of energy your car’s battery can store. The typical range of an electric car is 6 kilometres per kilowatt hour of battery life. 

What Does It Cost to Charge My Electric Car?  

The typical electric car battery will take 16kWh for every 100 kilometres of travel. To calculate how much this will cost you, simply multiply your electricity company’s price per kilowatt-hour (in cents) by 16, or the number of kWh for your specific battery. For an electricity retailer that charges you 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, it’ll be 16 x $0.25 = $4.00. So, to drive 100 kilometres in your electric car will cost you $4.00.

How Can I Save Money While Charging My EV? 

While paying an obscenely low price to travel 100 kilometres is fantastic on any day, what if you could pay nothing? That’s certainly possible when you use solar panels or a solar battery to charge your EV, rather than taking electricity from the grid. As long as your solar inverter is set to transfer power into your EV charging station rather than your home’s connection, you should be able to charge relatively easily from your solar panels and bring your cost of charging down even further.

Charging via Time of Use Tariffs 

Another option to save money when charging your electric vehicle at home is to charge it via Time of Use Tariffs. Time of Use Tariffs enable electricity companies to charge you for electricity depending on the time of day you draw from the grid. Most EV chargers allow you to set a charging time for your EV. You can couple this charging time with a time-of-use tariff to bring your costs down.

Incorporating EV Charging Into Electricity Plans 

Electricity companies are beginning to realise that electric vehicles represent a part of the world’s future and are beginning to offer potential customers EV tariffs, where you receive a special low rate for a specific daily period to charge your EV. 

As an alternative, some companies offer a flat daily fee for unlimited EV charging, which is perfect for people with multiple electric vehicles who alternate their use. For example, a night-shift worker and their day-shift working partner with two electric vehicles could pay a daily rate to charge their separate EVs for the hours of the day when they’re asleep!

What is an EV Charger? 

Electric vehicle chargers are simple devices. They exist to ‘ask’ an electric vehicle if it can accept a charge from them. If it can, it’ll send the charge safely over a period of time until it’s ‘told’ to stop (is unplugged) or your EV reaches a certain charge threshold (typically 100%, but you can modify this amount with some EV chargers).

Smart EV Chargers 

Alongside its basic function, smarter EV charging units calculate the most economical way to charge your car. Or, some can perform ‘fast’ charges. If the car can receive it, it will up its amperage to increase its power output. 

Other ‘smart’ functions of an EV charger allow it to charge based on the time of day or electricity prices. It can be incorporated with a solar panel installation to capitalise on time-of-use tariffs. 

If you have a solar battery (or several), your EV charger can also switch to charging off the surplus energy held by your solar battery. This can happen at a certain percentage of charge (for example, at 60% charge, your EV charger could switch to draw power from your solar battery). 

Your EV can also be charged directly from your solar panels via a solar inverter that can transform direct current from your solar panel system into alternating current from your wall outlet. Your home charging unit will use AC power to charge your vehicle; meanwhile, public ‘fast chargers’ use direct current – that is, instead of going through a solar inverter, your car absorbs DC power directly from the charger, allowing you to charge up to 350km of range in an hour.

Charging Levels 

There are three charging levels that different EV chargers are capable of: levels 1, 2 and 3. 

Level 1 Chargers 

These chargers tend to be smaller chargers capable of producing approximately 10km of range per hour of charging. These only draw 1.8kW to 2.4kW from a standard home socket and are simply a power brick that looks like a laptop power supply unit. 

While L1 chargers are the cheapest chargers on the market, they also don’t produce anything close to a full charge on most EVs, which are capable of roughly 200-400km on a single charge. Given that an L1 charger typically produces 1.8kW to 2.4kW, it’ll take about 8 hours (or overnight) to charge up to roughly 80km of range. 

Unless all you’re doing with your EV is short trips around the city where you live each week, L1 chargers are largely impractical for everyday users. However, because of their price point, having an L1 charger in your boot is beneficial in case of emergencies. 

Almost all Level 1 chargers come with a 10A plug, allowing you to easily plug into your traditional home sockets. But some could come with a 15A plug, allowing you to draw between 3 and 3.4kW, increasing your range per charge. However, to install a 15A plug to charge your EV will likely cost around $500.

Level 2 Chargers 

Level 2 chargers are among the most common chargers found in the homes of EV owners. It also comes at an increased price point of roughly $2,000 to $2,500 for the hardware, plus another $1000 for the installation because it requires a dedicated charging unit and wiring into your home’s grid or solar panel system. 

However, despite this price tag, level 2 chargers offer 40km of range per hour as the first charging phase, although it is capable of three-phase charging, which offers more power to the car’s charging unit as it goes through its second phase.

Level 2 chargers typically give 130km of range per hour in their second charging phase, decreasing the charge time significantly.

Level 3 Chargers  

Level 3 chargers are seen as the cream of the crop of EV charging units. Rightly so, with their 50kW to 350kW output potential, they are very fast, adding up to 180km of range in 15 minutes. As such, they require a huge power supply and cost roughly $100,000+ to install. This makes them unaffordable for almost everyone, but a fantastic option for that quick-charge while on the road, which is why Tesla and other manufacturers have put them just about everywhere.

What About Charging Connectors? 

As of January 1st, 2020, all EVs sold in Australia came with an AC charging socket, enabling new users to easily plug into their home’s grid, solar battery, or solar panel system. These units contain seven connectors on the plug and corresponding holes on the socket to plug into. 

These are sold with all cars capable of Level 1 and Level 2 charging. However, all cars capable of Level 3 charging are sold with a ‘combined charging system’, or CCS. The CCS consists of the same design as an AC socket, but with two additional sockets below that for DC charging. 

As such, Level 3 chargers are capable of charging faster with two types of current running into your car’s battery, enabling greater compatibility with residential solar panel operation and allowing you to dedicate some of your solar power to charge your EV directly. 

Charging Your EV for Cheap 

One of the cheapest ways to charge your electric vehicle is to use a Level 2 charger (yes, with the additional upfront expense and all) and incorporate your solar panel installation into the Level 2 charger wiring so that you’re able to charge primarily with solar energy and then fall back on time-of-use tariffs for additional overnight charging.

Single or Three-Phase Charging? 

Single-phase charging is perfectly suitable if you have a single EV that you don’t drive that much and can afford to wait a couple of days for it to charge up. Or, you are a daily commuter using either bicycle or public transport and only use your EV on the weekend for trips.  Because single-phase charging is so slow, it’s not suitable for more than one electric vehicle, nor is it suitable for regular drivers of their EV. 

Meanwhile, three-phase charging will allow you to charge your cars more quickly and funnel more solar power into your cars via solar panel installation. This is especially true if you have a 10kW solar system and want to use a part of that entire system just for charging your EV.

Necessary Features for a Good EV Charger 

As with any product, there are the good, the bad and the ugly. Electric vehicle chargers can be a large investment for your home. If you spend that money on a dedicated EV charger, they should have at least some of the following features. 

Top-up Charging From Solar Panels 

Certain ‘smart’ solar chargers use current transformers to analyse your power output and interpret when you’re about to transfer solar power to the electrical grid. You can modify this to transfer that energy to your EV charger instead. This should be necessary for any EV charging unit to save you money and charge your EV simultaneously.

‘Battery Aware’ Functionality 

Some smarter EV chargers have battery awareness, meaning they will detect when they are close to draining your home’s solar battery and either stop charging or transition to a different power source.

Longer Charging Cables 

You want to ensure that your EV charger comes with a long enough charging cable because you don’t always park your car in the same spot or in the same way, and your EV charger cable should be able to adapt and reach your charging port regardless.

Time of Use Tariff Functionality 

To save the most money with your EV charging, assuming that your solar panel system installation can’t handle all of the electrical charging needs of your EV, your EV charger needs to be smart enough to be programmable to switch to time-of-use tariffs. This functionality may mean spending a bit more on a charger, but you’ll be able to reap those rewards in energy savings.

How Much Solar Do You Need to Charge an EV? 

Before you run out and buy an electric vehicle, the most cost-effective way to charge it is by using a combination of solar panels and time-of-use tariffs. But how much solar power do you need to charge an EV? Can you dedicate a single panel or a few to do the job well enough? 

If you’re using a Level 1 charger, a 6.6kW solar system alone might be enough to charge your EV for once-a-week use, but it may struggle to do that. For best results, buy a Level 2 charger and invest in a 10kW solar system to charge year-round.

Final Thoughts 

The time for electric vehicles has arrived in Australia, and given that the Australian Government has been laying the groundwork for solar panel installations across the country for a decade and more, it’s no surprise that electric vehicles, charged by solar power at home and in public, fare so well in a country with so much sun. 

If you’re considering an investment in solar panels, consider purchasing an electric vehicle as soon as possible. Not only will this help the planet by bringing your contribution to environmental destruction down considerably, but it will also enable you to live a nearly 100% self-sufficient lifestyle regarding charging your new EV, particularly with the help of a Level 2 charger and the network of public Level 3 chargers across the country. Speak to Bare Energy today about EV Charging options available.

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