Congratulations on your electric car or plug-in hybrid and welcome to this new world. Yet, we’re certain that many questions are still left unanswered when it comes to electro-mobility and one big one is: Which electric car charging station to use. There is no standard naming convention, but most of the EV owners can often be heard using terms like Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3. Each charging power level has its own use case, pros or cons, so we put together a guide, along with some charging stations recommendations.
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Levels Based On Power (kW)
Level 1 charging is charging from a basic 120V household outlet. BMW includes a Level 1 OCU (occasional use charger) with all of their electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. It is without a doubt the slowest charging options and, based on your battery capacity, it can take dozens of hours to achieve 100% charge. It’s usually the last resort and it works well if you need to charge your car at home once a week. For example, the latest 2019 BMW i3 will charge from empty to full in 24 to 28 hours.
Level 2 charging is charging from a 240V source. There are Level 2 chargers that range from 16 amps all the way up to 80 amps. The most common power delivery for Level 2 home charging stations is between 30 amps and 40 amps. A 16 amp level 2 charger will deliver about 12 miles of range per hour, a 32 amp charging station will deliver about 25 miles of range per hour and an 80 amp charging station will deliver roughly 65 miles of range per hour.
The 2019 BMW i3 has a 44.2 kWh battery pack, so it will take around seven to eight hours to fully recharge. In comparison, the much smaller battery pack in the BMW X5 xDrive45e hybrid takes 6.8 hours from 0 to 100%.
Level 3 (DC Fast Charge or DCFC)
DC fast charge stations are high-powered commercial stations that are only found in public places. Because of the high power demand and cost, they aren’t available for home use. DC fast charge stations can charge an EV at a rate of 3 to 20 miles per minute. DC fast charge stations are used to long distance traveling, when recharging speed is critical. The new ultra high-speed charging stations just now beginning to be deployed can deliver 250+ miles of range to an EV in under 15 minutes.
On Level 3, the 2019 BMW i3 will fully charge its battery in about an hour. Yet, that’s older tech and cars like the Porsche Taycan have a maximum DC charging capacity of 270 kW, enough to deliver an 80 percent charge in just 22.5 minutes. The Audi e-tron touts a charging capacity of 150 kW and a charging time to 80 percent in 30 minutes.
What The Right Level of Charging For Me?
It basically boils down to your own use case. If your daily commute is short and have no place to charge at work, then a Level 2 charging station at home is the best investment. Of course, if your workplace, shopping mall or grocery store offers DC Fast Charging, then that would be the best choice. Yet, keep in mind that the last 20 percent of charging is just as fast on the Level 2 as it is on DCFC (Level 3). We often plugin our BMW i3 at a grocery store, only to continue with Level 2 charging at home. In many cases, Level 3 charging is also more expensive than Level 2.
We only use Level 1 if we have a day or so to spare, in situations like camping when the only plugs available are the standard outlets.
Charging times are also dependent on other factors such as:
- the ambient temperature
- if the battery is cold it will charge significantly slower on a DC fast charger
- the battery charge state
- the last 20 percent is always slower to charge to preserve the battery
Of course your mileage may/will vary. However, consult your owner’s manual for specifics.
Level 1 and Level 2 Charging Stations We Use
There are a couple of us in the BMWBLOG family that own a BMW i3 and over the years, we’ve been using different versions of the Clipper Creek charging stations. As a disclaimer, we’ve partnered with them years ago based on their reputation in the electric car community and we have comprehensively used their products on our own cars.
They have a lot of options when it comes to charging stations for Level 1 and Level 2, so we asked their engineering team for some recommendations as well.
Level 1 Charging Stations
According to Clipper Creek, their ACS-20, hardwired Level 1 is their most popular Level 1 EVSE for residential (and commercial) use, followed by the plug-in/portable PCS-15. “The PCS-15 is commonly purchased as a replacement to the Level 1 cordset that comes with a vehicle,” Will Barrett of Clipper Creek tells us.
“Our first recommendation for a plug-in hybrid owner is generally one of our LCS-20 product offerings since in most cases these products match the vehicles maximum power acceptance rate (on-board charger rate), so the LCS-20 would provide plug-in hybrid owners with the fastest possible charge,” Barrett added. “Many plug-in hybrid owners do end up option for higher power options, like the LCS-30 or the HCS-40 as a way to future proof their infrastructure investment.”
Barrett also says that many customers are installing a higher power circuit so in the future, if they upgrade their cars, they can reuse it with a more powerful charging station.
There is a Charging Station Selection Tool that you can use. You can choose any vehicle from the drop down menu and Clipper Creek will give their recommended (power level is most appropriate for the fastest charge, – budget (may be a little less power, but you’ll save money on the purchase) and a future-proofing (more power but it won’t charge the car any faster – but it may charge your future EVs faster).
Level 2 Charging Stations
For residential use Level 2 is much more popular than Level 1 today. The folks at Clipper Creek said that their most popular Level 2 option is the HCS-40 (32A charging), followed by the LCS-30 (24A charging) and the HCS-50 (40A charging). We’ve used the HCS-40P and the HCS-50. In most cases the HCS-40 (32A charging) or HCS-50 (40A charging) will provide the highest level of power that pure electric vehicles can accept with Level 2 charging and will deliver between approximately 25-35 miles of range per hour of charge.
“We recommend hardwired products for outdoor installations because the hardwiring is a better connection, especially when the installation is exposed to the elements,” added Barrett in an email.
Some battery electric vehicles customers will opt for lower power Level 2 products, like the LCS-20 or LCS-30 if they have limited capacity in their electrical panel.
Now if you’re part of the cool club and own two electric vehicles, then some companies like Clipper Creek offer a dual charging station. For example, the HCS-D40 is capable of charging two vehicles at one time from one circuit, so it is a simple swap out that does not require any electrical infrastructure work. We could even trade-in our old HCS-40P for the new dual charging station, but might need to wait for the BMW i4 to come to market.
In the end, the choice is yours and there are quite a few companies today that offer charging stations for electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids.
Read also our BMW i3 Charging Guide