Buying and installing an electric car charging station may seem confusing. There are several charging station brands. Some are portable, some bolt to the wall, some have a plug on the end of a cord, and some attach directly to a junction box. How do you choose between one or another of those types of electric car charging stations?
In actuality, the choices are fairly straightforward, and the installation is no more difficult than a washer/dryer hookup.
All electric cars have J1772 ports for normal "level 2" charging, using single-phase AC power. One simply chooses a charging station supporting the desired charging rate, fitting within any electric service panel constraints. Installation is simple for any competent electrician.
Obviously having access to charging stations is as important as access to gasoline stations is for gasoline car owners. Neither can go anywhere without refueling. The difference is that electric cars can easily recharge at home, so long as you have the right equipment.
It is highly recommended for electric car owners to install a charging station at home. Beyond the convenience of charging at home, it is the lowest cost way to recharge your electric car. A typical cost of electricity at public charging stations is $0.49 per kiloWatt-hour, while at home the average electricity cost across the USA is $0.12 per kiloWatt-hour. Refueling your electric car at home is perhaps 1/4th the cost at public charging stations.
A charging station used purely for charging at home could be any size. In the list below you'll see charging stations of many sizes and charging power. The home charging station would typically be bolted to the wall of your garage, and size is not entirely important. A portable charging station can be used to take trips into areas that have no charging stations, and we've identified a few portable stations for that purpose.
That all electric cars have J1772 ports for normal "level 2" charging, using single-phase AC power. This is a huge improvement over the previous phase of electric cars which were hampered by two different charging standards. Cars sold in North America use a common plug, and in Europe a different plug is used, both of which use the J1772 protocol. See this for details: A Field Guide to electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE's)
Because J1772 is common to all electric cars you can buy any EVSE (EVSE means Electric Vehicle Service Equipment) from any manufacturer. The phrases "charging station" and "EVSE" are interchangable, and refer to the same device.
Do you have to buy the electric car charging station offered by the dealer? A low-power portable charging unit is sold with every electric car. Many dealerships also offer higher-power charging stations, and can arrange an electricians to handle installation. Buying the higher powered EVSE and installation service can be simpler, since the whole transaction is handled at once. But you are free to make your own arrangements. It's easy to find a suitable EVSE and arrange your own electrician for installation. See these:
Why install an electric car charging station at home? The vast majority of electric car or motorcycle charging is done at home. It is the most convenient place to charge your car, and gives you the luxury of a fully fueled vehicle every day. Gasoline car owners do not have that advantage.
How do you install a home charging station? This site's recommendation is to install a heavy duty 240 volt 50 amp power outlet, GFCI and weather protected, and to install the charging station using a matching plug. Any electrician should be able to take care of it.
How much does installing an electric car charging station cost? Study the list of charging stations below and you'll find prices from $399 US to $1000 US, or more. The wiring should be very inexpensive, less than $500 to hire an electrician.
Why so much? Isn't there a cheaper way? Yes there is. The cheapest is to simply use the 120 volt line charger supplied with the car. An overnight 10 hour charging session gives about 40 miles of range, which is sufficient for most daily commutes.
Can't I just run an extension cord to charge my electric car? Electric cars do not have a regular plug for charging the car. The J1772 protocol was selected for a wide range of reasons including safety. That means connecting electricity to the car must be done using a J1772 plug. See Safely use Extension Cords when charging an electric car or electric motorcycle
I live in an apartment or condominium complex, how can I install a charging station? Unfortunately there isn't a good answer to this since the landlord or home owners association calls the shots. See Apartment/Condo dwellers - what to do if you cannot charge at home
We should have just convinced you to install a charging station at home. But, you may have several questions circling around your head.
What kind of charging station do I need? Aside from the obvious answer, "J1772," there are several other EVSE attributes to consider. Do you need a high power charging station, or low power? You may want remote control over charging or other advanced features. See Installing cheap/inexpensive electric car charging at home
The only exception is for owners of Tesla Motors cars. Since Tesla uses a proprietary charging port, it may be best to buy Tesla charging equipment -- either the Mobile Connector or Wall Connector. On the other hand, Tesla supplies a J1772 adapter allowing Tesla car owners to charge at regular J1772 charging stations.
My electric car has DC fast charging, so do I need DC fast charging at home? No. DC Fast Charging is meant for driving long distances. It generally requires a 3 phase AC power source running at 25 or 50 kiloWatts, which is way beyond the means of typical homes. Between installation cost and the equipment cost, the price will be way beyond what's rational. Cars with DC charging also support J1772 AC charging, and can be charged at home with a standard AC charging station. See Fast charging your electric car at home
How much power will the station require? To recharge quickly requires a higher power charging station. The table below summarizes the tradeoff between charging rate and range gained per hour of charging. Fortunately most don't need high powered home charging and can make-do with a lower power EVSE on a lower power circuit. Be careful about the capacity of your service panel since that upgrade can be expensive.
|Range per hour of charging||Power required||Circuit required|
|4 miles||120 volts 12 amps||120 volts 20 amps|
|10-12 miles||240 volts 16 amps||240 volts 20 amps|
|20-25 miles||240 volts 32 amps||240 volts 40 amps|
Is it safe to install a charging station? Yes, as long as your electrician does a good job. The J1772 charging protocol has lots of safety checks built in. The only concern is whether the wiring between charging station and the service panel can handle the load. See Electric car charging within electrical code and power outlet limits
Elsewhere we make the case to buy a portable charging station that plugs into a power outlet. Doing so gives you the freedom to take the charging station on trips or if you move to another home. Your electrician would install a 240 volt 50 amp power outlet, a matching plug for the charging station.
On the other hand, charging station manufacturers frequently recommend hardwiring the charging station to a junction box as is shown at the right. A case can certainly be made that this wiring is safer because of the solid connection all the way to the service panel. However, it's less flexible, since the charging station is affixed to one location. While the charging station will serve that location, you don't have the freedom to carry it somewhere else. On the other hand, a power outlet will tend to wear out from repeatedly use. Routinely plugging-in and un-plugging a charging station might wear out the power outlet, eventually causing problems.
Charging station installation to a power outlet is a minor change to what's shown in this picture. Instead of wiring to the junction box, the junction box has a power socket, and the charging station has a matching power plug. You then plug the charging station into the outlet. Q.E.D.
We bought our electric car to drive us around. What if we want to drive to an area with no charging stations? Do we keep owning a gasoline car for those trips? Do we rent a gasoline car? Or, do we learn how to manage with a portable charging station and plugging into "any" power outlet?
The first two ideas, falling back on gasoline (or diesel) vehicles, is a pragmatic choice. But, it's quite possible in many cases to make-do with the power outlets we find along the road. For example, many RV parks have 240 volt 50 amp outlets so RV drivers can plug in. For years intrepid electric car owners have made otherwise impossible electric vehicle trips by charging at RV parks.
What's needed is a portable charging station and a handful of adapters matching the power outlets available on your trip. The charging rate must be adjustable so the charging can be constrained to the capability of the power outlet. On-board AC chargers typically run at 32 amps (6-7 kiloWatts), and sometimes at 40 amps. A 20 amp power outlet must be kept at or below a 16 amp charge rate. An EVSE is locked to 32 amps will only blow the circuit breaker and not charge the car. Instead the charging rate must be adjusted lower to avoid blowing the circuit breaker. Some, but not all, electric cars allow changing the charging rate in the infotainment screens. If your car doesn't support this, the charging station must support a variable charging rate.
Adapters are readily available, see: Safely use Extension Cords when charging an electric car or electric motorcycle
To understand the electrical code, see Electric car charging within electrical code and power outlet limits
What follows is a list of J1772-compatible electric car charging stations. We'll note the power level, whether or not it is portable, and other features.
For the most part we don't need DC charging at home. However, some people will want a higher charging rate. For them, this product is available. See Fast charging your electric car at home
The JESLA charger from Quick Charge Power. This is a modified Tesla portable charging unit that has a J1772 cord. It supports switchable plugs to automatically change the power level, and can run up to 240 volt 40 amps. It's also very pricey.
The OpenEVSE is an open source portable charging station which you can build from a kit and whose power level is easily changeable from the front panel. The result does everything we want in a portable high power charging station, and at a reasonable price.