EV Charging Buzzwords and Networks


Battery EVs run on pure electricity, unlike hybrids which use a mix of gasoline and electricity. Batteries need recharging, so here’s a look at the various charging standards and how they work. Don’t be put off by the variety of levels and plugs; the bottom line is that almost any EV you buy in North American can be charged almost anywhere!

Feel the Power (err, don’t, actually)

There are three levels of charging, rated by power. This paragraph may be considered "the gory details" by some; feel free to skip it and come back later. Or, if you already grok science, this may be not detailed enough; again, skip ahead.

Power is measured in watts (as in, a 60 watt light bulb), or more usefully for EVs, in kilowatts (1000 watts). Electrical power is computed by multiplying voltage times current (amperage). Electrical students remember this as easily as PIE: P = I * E. P (power) is in watts, I (induced current flow) is in Amps, and E (electromotive force) is in volts. If you know voltage and amperage, multiply them together to get Power. A motor using 10 Amps at 120V is using 1200 Watts. If you know Power and one of the other two factors, divide Power by the known factor to get the other. For example, a 5W LED bulb at 110V is drawing a current of I = P / V, or 5/120, or about 0.04 Amps (4 100dths of an amp) - almost nothing. A 100 Watt incandescent bulb is drawing 100/120 A, 5/6 or 0.8333 Amps. That’s less than 1 Amp, which is why you can run several of those on one 15 Amp circuit.

Electrical "branch" circuits (so-called because they branch out from your main electrical panel) are rated by the maximum current of the circuit breaker they are on. House circuits are usually 15A; dryers and ovens 30A, sometimes 40. The appliance or other "load" is supposed to operate at an average current of 80% of the breaker capacity, thus a 40A breaker should be run at 32A.

Level Up

With that background, here are the three levels of charging. In all cases, your car will have a socket or connector, and the charging station includes the cable and plug that fits into the socket; this whole scheme looks vaguely like the fuelling system used on gasoline cars, so some people (mistakenly, IMHO) refer to the electrical cable as a "hose" (it’s not hollow, it’s full of wire, hence, not a hose).

  • L1, Level 1, is 120V at 15 or 20 amps AC ("alternating current") - basically plugging your EV into a home wall outlet. This is the lowest power and hence the slowest charge. 1800 Watts is about what a full-size microwave oven uses. L1 really only exists in North America, since Europe and elsewhere (rather sensibly) run their household appliances at 240V, which L2 uses.

  • L2, Level 2, is also Alternating Current (AC) but four times as powerful - double the voltage and double (or more) the current. The minimum for L2 is 240V at 30 Amps. 7200 Watts is like the highest setting on an electrical oven or clothes dryer. You can, in fact, plug most EVs directly into an oven or dryer plug. However, many homeowners with EVs will install a L2 "charging station" or "EVSE" - electric vehicle service entrance - which is more convenient and flexible. Some L2 chargers go to higher currents: Teslas, for example, can run on a 90 Amp circuit, giving a charging rate of around 16 KW. Others offer other bells and whistles such as monitoring and control over WiFi.

  • Level 3 is the super high speed charging. These cost tens of thousands of dollars each, run on 400V to 800V DC, and need several hundred amps of current, so you are not going to have one in your garage or basement anytime soon. L3 run at 50-150KW and will charge most current (no pun intended) cars in half an hour to an hour.

Note that with L1 and L2, the actual "battery charger" is inside your car, whereas with L3 the large box with the cable coming out of it contains the actual charger.

Get the Plug Out (or In)

In North America, all cars can use the standarized Level 2 standard known as SAE J-1772. SAE is the Society of Automotive Engineers, It describes a standard plug and voltage levels. Most cars have a J1772 socket. Teslas, the best-selling EV at the moment, don’t. They have their own socket, but come with a free J1772 adapter. And, there’s a third-party adapter that lets J1772 cars use a Tesla Wall Connector. So it’s true that all EVs sold in North America can charge at a J1772 charging station.

One issue with L3 is that there are three standards in North America, and a few more in other parts of the world:

  • Tesla’s standard is the Supercharger, currently the world’s largest single network of stations, installed in countries where Tesla cars are sold. See this map of Tesla stations in North America. Tesla superchargers and Tesla L2 charger cables have the same plug on them, which includes an "open the charging port" button that is easier on the hands than the competition. Tesla Superchargers are not usable by other vehicles.

  • CHAdeMO originated in Japan. The popular Nissan Leaf uses CHAdeMo, and North American Teslas have a CHAdeMo adapter available for US$500. That’s not cheap, but worth it if you frequently drive your Tesla to places that aren’t well served by Tesla’s own network.

  • Combined Charging System, also called SAE Combo, arose in North America and Europe, and is mandated in Europe. CCS is used by many North American and European makers, including GM, Ford, Audi, BMW, Daimler. CCS in Europe uses a different plug than here; European Teslas can use European CCS chargers either directly (Model 3) or via a Model S/X adapter (which costs about 200 Euros).

CHAdeMo and CCS are locked in a continuing struggle for dominance. Experts have been predicting the demise (or at least irrelevance) of one or the other for years. Half the experts on each side, of course. Fortunately, most charging networks that offer CCS also offer CHAdeMO cables and vice versa, so no matter where you go, you should be able to charge your EV.

Confused Yet?

Here are some representative electric cars and their charging options. These are North American models; Europe and Asia standards conformance may differ.

Table 1. Table 1. Charging North-American EVs
Make Model L1 L2 L3

Tesla

S,3,X,Y North American

Mobile Adapter (included)

Mobile Adapter, Wall Connector, J1772 adapter

SuperChargers; CHAdeMO (50Kw max) adapter

Arcimoto

FUV

Cable

J1772

Not avail

BMW

i3

Cable

J1772

CCS

Chevy

Bolt

Cable

J1772

CCS

Electra Meccanica

Solo

Cable

J1772

Not avail

Honda

Clarity PHEV

Cable

J1772

CCS

Hyundai

Kona Electric

Cable

J1772

CCS

Jaguar

i-Pace

Cable

J1772

CCS

Kia

Soul

Cable

J1772

CCS

Nissan

Leaf

Cable

J1772

CHAdeMO

Mitsubishi

i-MiEV

Cable

J1772

CHAdeMO

Porsche

Taycan

Cable

J1772

CCS

Volkswagen

eGolf

Cable

J1772

CCS

Charging Networks in Canada

The following operators provide charging stations across the country. You can find a consolidated map of all known stations on https://plugshare.ca.

The following operate large - either cross-country or large regional - networks.

  • Sun Country pioneered charging across the Trans Canada Highway with a network of Level 2 chargers, and continues to sell chargers.

  • Tesla’s SuperChargers existed across much of the TCH but with major gaps; at the end of 2019 they filled in all the gaps, making one of the first L3 networks that allowed to drive the entirety of the TCH (barring Newfoundland) on one network.

  • Petro Canada is the other "first" cross-Canada network.

  • Canadian Tire does not want to miss the boat and are building a complete cross-Canada network to be operational before 2021.

  • Flo Networks is a Canadian company that offers Level 3 charging service and makes and sells their own L2 and L3 charging equipment.

  • ChargePoint (US owned) offers some L3 charging stations in Canada.

  • Ivy - Hydro One and OPG (Ontario)

  • Desjardins (QC, eastern ON)