Charging Your EV: How Accessible? How fast? How far?
The essential points you need to know about charging your electric vehicle
Electric vehicles continue to become more popular, however the ease of charging them remains a concern for existing owners and a barrier for those looking to enter the market. The landscape has been improving dramatically the last three years, with many more charging stations and faster charging speeds, but driving an electric vehicle still requires you to know the answers to three basic questions about charging: How accessible? How fast? How far?
How accessible is the nearest charger?
Most homeowners won’t have to stray further than their home charger. As long as they stick to local driving, an overnight charge will give them more than enough range.
Apartment dwellers can top-up while they shop, with charging spots in nearby malls or commercial spaces. However, unless they offer fast charging, a single visit won’t be enough to fully charge the vehicle.
More office spaces are including EV chargers in their parking lots, allowing employee vehicles to charge during the work day.
Generated EV charging map. Image courtesy of PlugShare Developer Center.
For distances, planning ahead is necessary. There are many charging maps that show where the nearest stations are, what charging speeds they offer, and how many connectors they have. Most cities across Canada are dotted with charging stations, however some only offer a single connector and many don’t offer fast charging. Check for fast-charging Level-3 chargers, otherwise it may take hours for a sufficient charge.
Tesla owners have it easier, with access to its wide network of Superchargers stations. Plus, Teslas include an adapter that lets you connect to other chargers. Currently, owning a Tesla is a VIP pass to charging almost anywhere across North America.
How fast can your EV be charged?
Charging speeds depend on the charger and the vehicle being charged.
Electric chargers go from slowest to fastest: Level 1, 2, or 3. Level 1 chargers are standard 120-volt wall outlets. They don’t need special installation, however they provide only 5 to 8 km of driving for every hour of charging. At that rate it could take many hours for even a partial charge. That’s fine when your car can charge overnight, or for very short trips, however if you’re planning to drive more than 50 km you’ll need faster public charging stations.
Level 2 chargers are much faster than Level 1, but still only get about 30 to 40 km per hour of charging. Level 2 chargers can be installed in homes and are the standard speed for commercial spaces.
Plug in electric vehicles charging station levels comparison chart. Image courtesy of Central Hudson.
Level 3 provides direct current (DC) fast charging, which charges EVs from empty to 80% in 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the model and the charger. These are only available at specific public charging stations.
Keep in mind that EVs have maximum charging speeds, regardless of the speed of the charger. High-end vehicles typically charge faster. Fast chargers can fill more expensive EVs up to 80% in about 25 minutes. However, older and less expensive models won’t be able to charge at those speeds. Fast chargers cost up to twice the price, so if your vehicle can only charge at a fraction of the charger’s speed, you’ll be wasting money.
How far can you go?
“Range-anxiety” is probably the biggest concern among EV drivers. Any discussion of EV chargers must therefore include an understanding of EV batteries, since both are equal partners in getting from here to there.
The most important detail you won’t see in spec sheets and brochures is the effect of cold weather on an EV charge. EV batteries, like regular car batteries, are drained much faster in frigid temperatures. While EV batteries are designed to operate in Canadian winters, drivers should always charge more than their intended mileage when travelling during cold days, knowing some power and voltage will be leached away by the cold while the vehicle sits idle.
EV range anxiety illustration. Image courtesy of Gewiss.
That said, today’s EVs offer more than enough range to cover most drivers’ daily usage, even in winter. You can compare ranges here. Battery ranges have almost doubled in the last eight years, with the average EV hybrid now offering close to 400 km of range. Having a greater capacity doesn’t mean your EV will charge any faster, but it does mean that ‘half-full’ offers much more mileage than it used to. For most driving needs, the days of worrying about your EV running out of power are in the past.
Finally, the question existing and prospective EV owners share: How is the charging landscape likely to change over the next few years?
Right now, there are over a dozen charging networks across Canada, each requiring you to set up a unique account and payment method, and download their app. You’ll likely have to use a different app for each charging station along a route.
The good news is that some of the major networks are in the process of consolidating access across their platforms with a single app. Tesla has even committed to opening its charging network to non-Tesla EVs, although there is no timetable for when the company’s North American chargers will be adapted.
EV fast charge stations at Petro Canada parking lot. Image courtesy of Clean Foundation.
More good news: More EV charging areas are being installed in commercial spaces, public streets, and within existing gas stations. Charging your EV continues to become easier, faster, and more accessible.
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Read about the latest EV news and technology in The Electric Blog.