By Clémence Lamarche | Protégez-vous magazine: June 2019 (Original in French)
What voltage or level to choose?
There are three levels of charging stations, each associated with a different voltage. As a basic principle, the higher the voltage, the faster the vehicle charges.
- Level 1: Electric vehicles are sold with a level 1 portable charger, to be plugged into a standard 120 V outlet, as you would any other device that needs to be plugged in.
- Level 2: Many electric vehicle owners decide to equip themselves with a 240 V station to charge their cars more quickly. These stations use the same circuit as your stove or dryer. There are also 240 V public charging stations that you can use when traveling.
- Level 3: Often called “direct current fast charger” or DCFC, level 3 stations are compatible with 400 V. These stations are not designed to be used at home: they are rather made available to electric vehicle owners of through different public networks. (In French only)
>> Consult our list of the best charging stations (In French only)
Which current to choose?
You will find 15 to 40 amps stations (A) on the market. This measurement refers to the current intensity. In theory, the higher the current intensity (in amps), the faster the charge. However, each vehicle has a limit. Therefore, it is quite possible that the car you choose will recharge at the same speed with a 30 A model as with a 40 A.
We chose to test 30 and 32 A stations, since they let us maximize the charging speed for the majority of electric cars sold on the market. It is recommended to invest from the get-go in a model of this category, rather than choosing a 15 A product that may become obsolete when you change vehicles. In any case, the station prices are similar, regardless of the number of amps.
As for the 40 A stations, there are not yet enough on the market for us to compare them with each other.
Station installation – Connect the charging station directly to the electrical panel or to a NEMA 14-50 or NEMA 6-50 outlet?
First of all, choose a type of connection that suits you best. If the station you are interested in offers various options, you must select one when purchasing. This is not the most important criteria, but you should still be aware of the consequences of your decision.
A “fixed” station plugs directly into the house’s electrical panel, making it impossible to steal, but also impossible to move without the intervention of a master electrician. On the other hand, a dryer (NEMA 14-50) or welder (NEMA 6-50) outlet allows you to take your charging station to the cottage – provided, of course, that the electrical network is compatible.
If you do not have a 240 V outlet installed in your garage or in your driveway, installation will have to be done by a master electrician. He will first assess whether the electrical network in your home requires modifications. This would be the case, for example, if you had to change circuit breakers or if the electrical panel was too small to accommodate your new acquisition. Allow $250 to $1,000 for installation and claim the installation assistance grant to reduce the cost.
Portable charging stations
Among the recommended models, only the Elmec EVC30 is available in a fixed or portable version.
Where to install a charging station for an electric car?
Inside, for convenience
If you park your car in a garage, install your charging station indoors. Choose the Chargepoint Home 25 or the Elmec EVC30 charging stations, which stand out for their ease of installation and use, in addition to being the least expensive among our best choices.
Outside, plan for bad weather
If you need to install your charging station outside, you will need a model that is weather resistant. As part of our test in “extreme conditions”, all the products tested withstood our heat wave simulation very well. At 34 degrees Celsius
However, at -40 degrees, things get complicated. Two charging stations, the EVoCharge EVoInnovate EVSE and the Juicenet JuiceBox Pro 32, simply stopped to charge the vehicle. The others managed to do it, but their cables often became very rigid, which made the task more complicated. Only our best choice, the FLO G5, managed to fare well thanks to a much less stiff cable than the others.
Since ice storms are not uncommon in our latitudes, we also wanted to know how our stations behaved when covered with a layer of 10 mm of ice. All stations suffered from this treatment. With the best ones, we had to work hard to remove the gun, but the connectors were ice free. In the worst case, we also had to clean the connectors to remove ice.
Finally, we simulated an intense, one-hour rainfall to check the waterproofness of the stations. They all passed this test rather well, the best being equipped with a seal that the others do not have.
Using an electric vehicle charging station
Using a charging station is not rocket science: you unroll the cable and plug the gun into the car. Once the charge is complete, you rewind the cable and put the gun back in place. However, certain elements made the difference, in our experts’ opinion, during laboratory tests to measure the ease of use: a receptacle well designed to store the gun, a support strong enough to wind the cable and a fairly flexible cable to get to the car without fuss.
Which cable length to choose?
Before making your purchase, pay attention to the length of the station cable, to ensure that you can easily get to your vehicle. Two of the recommended models come with a 25-foot (7.6 meter) cable, but the cable for the other recommended model is only 18 feet (5.5 meters). You will have to pay about $100 more for the version that comes with a 25-foot cable. However, we recommend that you do not buy longer than necessary. Before choosing the location of your charging station, remember that the further the installation is from the electrical panel of your house, the longer and more expensive it will be.
The SAEJ1772 universal connector
All residential charging stations come with a universal SAE J1772 connector, which is compatible with all electric vehicles. Tesla vehicles have their own unique connector, but there is an adapter that connects them to a SAE J1772 connector.
Smart functions: are they really useful?
No, since your vehicle’s application will probably perform the same functions as those included with certain stations. Before making your purchase, make sure your car will allow you to keep track of your charging statistics, as well as start and stop charging remotely. If it lacks a function that you consider essential, check which station offers it.
Understand the charging speed
The intensity of the current (in amps [A]) and the voltage (in volts [V]) affect the charging time, as we explained above. In fact, several factors come into play:
- Battery capacity, which is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh), is the energy that a battery can hold. It compares to the size of a gas tank: the larger it is, the longer the range, but the longer it takes to charge. Therefore, the Chevrolet Bolt EV (60kWh) has a greater capacity than that of the Nissan Leaf (40kWh). The Bolt will require a little more time to recharge than the Leaf on a 240 V and 30 A terminal, like those in our test.
- The station power is measured in kilowatts (kW). Connected to 240 V, the 30 A models have a power of 7.2kW, while the 15 A terminals have one of 3.6kW and the 40A terminals of 9.6kW. The higher this measurement, the faster the recharge will be.
- The maximum accepted power by your vehicle is also measured in kW. It is indicated in the owner’s manual. And it is what explains the difference between the charging speed of two cars connected in turn to the same station. Note that connecting your vehicle to a higher power is not risky; the vehicle will simply limit what is sent to it.
The majority of rechargeable hybrids accept a maximum power of 3.3 to 3.6 kW. They will recharge at the same speed, regardless of whether the station used has 15 A, 30 A or 40 A. Only certain models, such as the Chevrolet Volt Premier (which goes up to 7.2kW), will charge faster on a 30 A terminal than a 15 A terminal.
The 100% electric vehicles accept a power varying from 3.3kW to almost 20kW on certain luxury models. This data changes from one model to another, and sometimes also from one model year to another.
- The 100% electric Nissan Leaf, which has a good battery capacity (40kWh) and accepts a power of 6.6kW, will fully recharge in 33 hours on a standard 120 V outlet, but with a 240 V terminal and 15 A, recharging will require 11 hours, and with a 240 V and 30 A terminal, it will take 6 hours.
- The Toyota Prius Prime rechargeable hybrid, which has a smaller battery (8.8kWh), will recharge in less time, even if it only accepts a power of 3.3kW. It will take 5 hours 30 minutes to recharge if it is connected to a 120 V outlet, or 2 hours 40 minutes with a 240 V terminal, regardless of the number of amps.
These durations are of course theoretical. In practice, car manufacturers design their batteries in such a way that they will never completely discharge or fully fill. Some manufacturers even restrict the charging and discharging of the battery more than others, especially in the hopes of extending its lifespan.
What are the subsidies for the purchase of charging stations?
The Quebec government’s Roulez vert program provides reimbursement for a home charging station, which can be up to $ 600 ($ 350 for the purchase of an eligible charging station + $ 250 for the installation of the charging station and its power supply infrastructure). You will need to provide proof of eligible expenses incurred.
For more information, you can visit the reimbursement for charging stations section on the Transition énergétique Québec website.
Refund for a at-home charging station:
Several cities also offer grants in addition to those offered by the government. For example, Granby and Joliette provide a rebate of up to $ 250, while Magog and Sherbrooke offer grants of up to $ 500. Ask your municipality to find out if such a program exists in your area.
Being able to recharge your vehicle at home is great; also being able to recharge it at the office is better. Employers can use a Transition énergétique Québec program to finance the acquisition and installation of charging stations, which offers up to 50% of eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $ 5,000 per connector (one station may have one or more).
Refund for a station at work:
Charging station in a condominium
If you live in a condominium, you will need to seek permission from the board of directors before installing a charging station. Consult a master electrician to determine how it is possible to connect the stations to each resident’s electricity meters, and at what cost.
400 Volt fast-charging stations
The 400 V fast-charging stations, also called “DCFC”, are available in certain public networks (see our article on the subject). They are capable of exceeding the maximum power accepted by the vehicle, at least when the battery is almost empty. The BRCC works with direct current rather than alternating current like the electricity in our homes. To take the example of the Nissan Leaf, its connection to a 400 V terminal should allow it to go from 20 to 80% of recharging in about 40 minutes. With a terminal from our test, it would take approximately 3 hours 40 minutes.
Note that it is preferable to disconnect a vehicle from the fast charging station as soon as the charge level reaches 80%. At this level, the vehicle greatly slows down its recharging speed in order to conserve the batteries. In addition, according to some experts consulted, recharging at BRCCs could, in the long term, affect the life of the battery. So it’s best to reserve their use only when you really need it.