The industry continues to invent, debut and ballyhoo all manner of plug-in vehicles, each with an assortment of batteries and auxiliary power plants. Companies you’d never think of in that regard – say Porsche and Ferarri for two – are also trotting out prototypes and mentioning their “future plans.”
Regardless of the badge on the nose, every one of these pluggable e-critters will need to be connected to grid to recharge those batteries. The ability to do this conveniently and recharge (reasonably) quickly will hold some of the keys to the vehicles’ acceptance and success.
Recharge time will soon become an advertising point (as did MPG), and some buyers may be easily misled by the numbers.
The recharge time for these batteries depends on the voltage initially delivered to the charger, and different voltages have been assigned “Levels” by the industry at large. As always, there a plusses and minuses to each of the charging modes. If you’ve been thinking of installing an EV recharge station for shop and customer use, here’s a short look at the common methods.
Level 1 charging connects your pluggable EV through the normal, everyday “house plug” that is the North American standard. It’s a 120-volt system (a.k.a 110 or 115 volt), and usually protected by a 15 or 20A fuse or breaker. At this voltage, it will take 24 hours or more to bring a tired battery back to almost full. It can be done, but it’s like filling a bathtub through a straw.
Level 2 is the one the OEMs want buyers to use. The circuit uses 220/240 volts, the same voltage used for many electric ranges, clothes dryers, and similar circuits in a house. Almost all residences have this electrical service, and hooking up a charging unit in the garage is usually a straightforward task for an electrician. Purchase and installation of these units will run about $2-3000.
Once connected at Level 2, your e-vehicle’s batteries will come back to full-ish in around eight hours, quite reasonable for a private commuter vehicle. An overnight plug-in should serve many users well, and this method fills our metaphorical bathtub from large buckets.
Level 3 charging stations are rare right now, and are likely to remain so for a while. This is the high-speed, high-power refill unit, almost the Holy Grail of the industry. It requires 440 or 480V service, an industrial level of power usually wired in 3-phase distribution, and can bring a battery to 90 percent or more in about an hour.
Not all e-vehicles are capable of accepting a charge at this level, however, and additional special connectors may be required. Charging at this level fills our electical bathtub from multiple firehoses, but since it is almost never found in homes it’s out of the picture for most private owners. You may or may not have this electrical service in your shop.
But high-rate charging does hold interest for commericial enterprises, as a delivery or service vehicle could be quickly topped up before going out on the last runs of the day. Some industry pundits view access to Level 3 charging stations as a requirement if businesses are to accept e-vehicles into their fleets. Right now, these units are almost cost-prohibitive (often upwards of $50,000) but that is expected to drop as production increases.
Speed costs money—how fast would you like to charge?
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The 32nd annual Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide Convention and Trade Show will take place January 18-20, 2012 at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV.