Wednesday, January 21, 2015


It may surprise EV newbies to learn that an electric car’s charger is found on board the vehicle. It’s the equipment buried in the guts of the car that takes an AC source of juice from your house, and converts it to DC—so your car’s battery pack can be charged.

This fact doesn’t stop nearly everybody from calling the wall-mounted box that supplies 240 volts of electricity a “charger.” Actually, that box, cord and plug has a technical name—Electric Vehicle Service Equipment or EVSE—and if you have an EV, you’re going to want to install one at home.

So, it’s slightly misleading to say we’re providing guidance about chargers, because we’re really talking about buying an EVSE—which is essentially no more than an electrical device allowing drivers to safely connect an electric car to a 240-volt source of electricity. It’s not rocket science, and you should not overthink the selection and installation of an EVSE.

That said, there are important differences between the various home chargers (uh, I mean EVSEs). And there are a few best practices to keep in mind.The general consensus among experienced EV drivers is that a capable and durable EVSE will cost around $600 to $700. You could spend a little bit less, or twice as much, but that’s the ballpark. This does not include installation. Read on to see which key features—such as portability and connectivity—can send the price higher, or can be avoided to reduce the cost.

By the way, from 2010 through early 2013, many EV drivers could get a free EVSE, courtesy of The EV Project, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. But as of March 11, 2013, the program reached its threshold for handing out residential charging equipment, so no more freebies—you’ll need to buy one on your own.You should buy an EVSE that can handle at least 30 amps. The rule of thumb is that 30-amp service will roughly give you the ability to add 30 miles of range in an hour—just as 15 amps will add about 15 miles in an hour of charging. (These range numbers are somewhat optimistic.)

Keep in mind that most plug-in hybrids (and the Nissan LEAF prior to the 2013 model) don’t take full advantage of the faster rate. That’s okay. It’s still wise to have the capacity to charge at least at the 30-amp level, even if your current car can't fully utilize the higher amperage, so you don’t have to upgrade in a few years if/when you buy a new EV that has a faster on-board charger. Also, it’s nice to allow friends with faster-charging EVs to get a full charge from your garage.Before you buy an EVSE, imagine where your electric car will be parked. Think about the ideal location for this piece of equipment. Now measure the distance between where the EVSE will hang on your wall, and where the charging port is on your car. Cables usually run from approximately 15 to 25 feet. Make sure your cord can easily reach where it needs to go, and think about its length for a potential second plug-in car in your driveway or garage.

Depending on where you locate your EVSE, an electrician might have to run just a few feet of conduit—or dozens of feet. Longer copper runs will add installation cost, but because you’ll charge almost every night, you want it to be as convenient as possible.Okay, we’re finally ready to talk about specific EVSEs. There are at least a dozen different manufacturers, but we won’t cover all of them in detail. Instead, we’ll focus on the EVSEs most highly recommended by the EV intelligentsia. We’ll also briefly mention a few others worth considering.Manufactured by Schneider, a well-established brand associated with Square D products, the 30-amp Level 2 charger hits the competitive purchase price of $600, while earning consistently high rankings from EV drivers. While some mention that the body is made of relatively cheap plastic, nearly all owners believe that’s a minor issue, because the unit is effective, reliable and affordable. Its low-depth (it doesn’t protrude far from the wall) and overall small size mean that it doesn’t take up any more room than necessary. This unit is available below from Amazon as well as from Home Depot, which provides free in-home consultations about installation.When we reached out to experienced EV drivers, nearly all of them put Clipper Creek equipment at the top of their list. The company has been making these units for more than 15 years. They equipment doesn’t necessarily get the highest marks for aesthetics, but the same words keep coming up in those recommendations: durable, robust, and even indestructible. No screens, no software, no problems. In late 2013, Clipper Creek came out with a more affordable unit, well-suited to private garages: the HCS-40. It has a compact size, the necessary 30-amp limit, and a 25-foot cord.

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