Maybe it’s a sign of the times and I never thought I’d see the day, but last, after a few months of contemplation, I finally did something I thought I’d never do, and had a Level 2 electric vehicle (EV) charger installed at my home.
I’ve been reviewing cars for a living for 15 years. For the first 14 of those years, I had about five test cars that could be plugged in.
This type of car is becoming much more popular. In the past year, I’ve had five cars with a plug — including a BMW i3 and the fully-electric Jaguar iPace, which is capable of the better part of 400 kilometres of range on a single charge.
Those early plug-in models I mentioned testing were all plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). In a PHEV, you can drive a few dozen kilometres on stored battery power, before a gasoline engine kicks in for backup.
With a PHEV, you can do most of your in-town commuting or errands solely on battery power, using no gasoline. When the battery is empty, you can drive hundreds of kilometres further on gasoline power. The more you plug in a PHEV, the less gas you use. But you can also never plug it in, and it’ll work just fine.
The gist? A PHEV is like a short-distance EV, with long-range gasoline backup.
Aside from numerous chargers on the Tesla Supercharger network, there are all of about three public EV charging stations along the often-remote highway portion of my weekly drive route between Toronto and Sudbury and back. Often, those public chargers are fussy or broken. They’re rarely used, often overlooked, and seem somewhat poorly cared for.
In fact, the other day when stopping to charge up the week’s Jaguar iPace tester en route home, I had to dig through four feet of snow to access one such EV charging station. They’re not gas-station pumps, after all.
There are far more Tesla Supercharger stations along the same drive route, making long-distance EV travel easier, but only if you drive a Tesla. Other EVs cannot be recharged on Tesla Supercharger stations, and I’ve never driven a Tesla, so I can’t comment on how they work.
Charging stations come in three levels.
A Level 3 charging station is your best friend if you drive a compatible EV or PHEV, since they run massive power and can quick-charge an EV battery from almost empty to almost full in about an hour. The Level 3 Charger is ideal for a quick top-up on the go, though they require massive power to run and I don’t imagine you can power one on residential circuitry, at least without knocking out every circuit breaker on your block when powering it on.
Level 1 Chargers plug into your household power outlet — the same one you plug your Christmas lights into. These are convenient as you’ve probably got a few accessible plugs within proximity of where you park, but with household current, they take a good long while to charge up a big battery. Fully charging the big battery in the Jaguar EV I’m reviewing, on Level 1, would take several days. Some information indicates that in cold weather, Level 1 charging of a battery this big isn’t even possible.
So, enter the Level 2 Charger. You’ll find these fairly commonly used as public charging stations, but you can also (probably) install them at home. Where Level 1 charging would take an EV like my tested Jaguar several days to charge, Level 2 charging fills the battery from near-empty in about eight hours — and that’s in the dead of winter.
Now, I can bring EVs home and drive them, rather than having them spend half their time with me waiting for the battery to charge.
Level 1 chargers run at 110 volts. Level 2 chargers run at 220 volts. Level 3 chargers are closer to 500.
So, if you’re considering an EV or PHEV, you may be considering a Level 2 EV charger, too — and I’d encourage you to do it.
In my case, I found a Level 2 EV charger from the ChargePoint brand on sale for a short time at 30 per cent off. First, I downloaded the specifications for this charger unit and called an electrician out to have a look at my breaker panel, and the specs for the Level 2 charger.
After confirming that my home’s electrical system had the appropriate wiring, breakers and amperage to power the charger, I purchased the unit online for the sale price of about $700 from a company called RemaTech in Quebec. Ordering the unit took about two minutes, and it arrived a few days later, in a box about the size of a toaster oven.
Installation was a cinch, but I did get lucky.
My circuit breaker panel is mounted just inside of my home’s garage door — three feet from the driveway and just on the inside of the exterior wall where I wanted the charger mounted.
The electrician came by a day before the install to inspect the charger and installation instructions. The next day, he arrived with the appropriate materials and tools. The charger was connected to a 240-volt circuit in my garage-mounted panel, which had previously fed an outlet that the former owner of my home had likely used for a welder or garage heater.
After connecting the wiring, he simply punched a one-inch hole through the garage wall to the exterior and mounted the charger to the side of the house with two screws, through the siding and into a stud beneath. The only setback was the extreme cold that week, which made bending and routing the wires difficult. All said, the whole install process took about two hours. All that’s left to do is seal the hole through the garage wall with caulk when it’s warmer.
Sellers of EV chargers can recommend local installers for you, but in my case, the licensed electrician was recommended by a family friend who had recently had a similar charger installed. The installation cost, including materials, was $250.
This Level 2 Charger was an investment in my business, though I may wind up using it personally, some day, if and when I become a PHEV or EV owner. Now, I can recharge the smaller battery in a PHEV test car in just a few hours (instead of overnight, on Level 1), and I can recharger the much larger battery in an EV overnight, instead of over the course of several days.
For the PHEV owner, the faster charging likely means that your vehicle will be more fully charged, more of the time, which helps you save fuel. For the EV owner, a Level 2 charger at home is almost mandatory.
I don’t own an EV. I likely won’t, for some time.
I do enjoy driving them a great deal but I still find that, given the winter climate and extremely patchy charging infrastructure in Northern Ontario, they’re not in my realm of possibility for ownership, just yet.
Still, and especially now that I’ve got proper provisions for quick charging, I’m getting more and more excited to see where the technology goes — and to report that to my readers.