Times When EV Owners Should (and Should Not) Use DC Fast Charging

Times When EV Owners Should (and Should Not) Use DC Fast Charging

Owning an electric vehicle (EV) comes with flexibility when it comes to charging the battery. Since there are three different charging levels, you can choose what works best for your vehicle, your schedule, and your driving habits.

Level 1 chargers operate at 120 volts and work using a common household socket. They are capable of delivering 3 to 5 miles of range per hour and most typically used at home. Level 2 chargers operate with a 240-volt power source, like what a large appliance might use. They are capable of delivering an average of 32 miles of range per hour and sometimes require an electrical upgrade to use at home.

On the more efficient end, Level 3 DC fast charging (DCFC) stations operate using a much higher power source — as much as 500 volts. As a result, these chargers are capable of delivering around 200 miles of range per hour. They can recharge an EV battery to 80% in anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on the vehicle’s voltage capacity. DCFC chargers are most common in public locations, dealerships, and commercial fleet companies, which also usually offer Level 2 chargers.

When You Should Use DCFC

Since it offers the fastest charge available, DCFC is ideal when traveling long distances that require short recharge stops along the way. A more practical and time-efficient road trip sounds appealing, but it’s important to remember that DCFC infrastructure is still somewhat limited.

The vast majority of EV charging stations across the U.S. are of the Level 2 variety. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are currently about 50,000 public EV charging stations in the U.S. The total number of charging stations includes about 44,000 Level 2 stations and only around 6,600 DCFC stations.

There currently are three types of DCFCs: Combined Charging System (CCS), CHAdeMO, and Tesla Supercharger. Each has its own unique charge port connector. While the most common type is CCS, CHAdeMO is still the standard with some automakers. Most DCFCs can charge via a CCS or CHAdeMO connector from the same unit. Tesla Superchargers only work with Tesla EVs, but these vehicles can use CCS or CHAdeMO with an adaptor.

Even though power ratings vary for both EVs and EV chargers, most are compatible since the kW limits of the vehicle and the kW power of the charging station “communicate” — meaning the charger will only deliver what the car can accept.

When a vehicle battery’s charge is more than 80%, the DCFC rate slows significantly to reduce the risk of overcharging the battery. Due to this threshold, EV manufacturers often make a claim about the length of time it takes to fast-charge the battery to 80% (instead of 100%).

When You Should Use Level 1 or Level 2 Charging

Unless you’re driving long distances as mentioned above, DCFC isn’t necessary on a regular basis.

Consider when you’ll charge your car, the length of the charge window, and how far you plan to drive your EV each day. Most people don’t actually need the maximum charge rate, considering the average person drives about 37 miles per day — not enough to fully deplete an EV battery. An overnight Level 1 or Level 2 charge is adequate for the vast majority of drivers.

Reasons not to use fast charging — unless it’s actually needed — include cost and battery wear and tear.

DCFC is expensive in terms of installation and usage due to the cost of high voltage electrical service. EV owners pay a higher rate per minute to charge their battery this way; in fact, the premium in cost between Level 2 and Level 3 ranges from anywhere between 25% to 40%.

In addition, while the data is still inconclusive, it is suspected that regular DCFC usage may be harmful to the EV battery due to thermal issues. Repeatedly heating the battery from DCFC could accelerate battery degradation over time. Many EV manufacturers have issued statements warning that frequent use of DCFC can negatively impact battery performance and durability, and recommend minimizing its use.

While occasional use of DCFC shouldn’t impact your EV’s battery, it’s a good idea to charge at Level 1 and Level 2 unless absolutely necessary.

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