Click here to read our first article on electric cars and state and federal details on choosing, purchasing, and driving one.
Here’s some more information!
There are 2 basic types of electric cars:
1. All-electric cars (or pure electric cars, and including battery electric cars and fuel cell electric cars) are powered only by electricity. They receive electricity by plugging into the power grid and store it in batteries. They consume no fuel and produce no emissions.
2. Hybrid cars (or plug-in hybrid cars, and including extended-range electric cars) are powered by electricity and gasoline or an alternative fuel. They receive electricity by plugging into the power grid and store it in batteries, but also use fuel to power a traditional internal combustion engine.
Electric cars can seem very complicated due to the many specifications across the many makes and models – shopping for one can seem like an endless string of redundant terms and arbitrary letters, numbers, and symbols! When it comes to electric cars, using them, and charging them, there are 3 important variables to know – charging levels, charging connectors, and energy storage systems.
Charging levels represent the amount of power a charger gives to a car’s battery. There are 3 levels:
Level 1 – the amount of power given by a standard wall outlet. Takes between several and 10 hours to fully charge an empty battery.
Level 2 – the amount of power given by most public and home charging stations. Takes about 4-6 hours to fully charge an empty battery.
Level 3 – the amount of power given by some public charging stations. Takes under an hour to fully charge an empty battery. Level 3 charging is sometimes called DC fast charging.
Charging connectors are the ‘plugs’ and ‘cables’ that allow electrical current to flow from charging stations to vehicle batteries. Connectors are not interchangeable except for the universal SAE J1772; electric cars can be charged with one or another depending on their make’s specifications.
It may be helpful to compare connectors to smartphone chargers – they each ‘fit’ particular brands and models and there are different power levels – similar to an Apple lightning cord plugged directly into a wall outlet giving a different level of power than a store brand iPhone cord plugged into a laptop plugged into a surge protector plugged into a wall outlet.
There are 4 connectors used in North America:
SAE J1772 – the most common connector. All electric vehicles in the United States and Canada can charge using this plug; in fact, most electric cars come with this ‘cable’ – one side connects to a standard wall outlet, and one side attaches to the car. This plug can be used with level 1 and level 2 charging.
CHAdeMO – one of the most used connectors by electric car manufacturers. This plug can be used with level 3 charging.
SAE (or CCS) – one of the most used connectors by electric car manufacturers. This plug can be used with level 3 charging.
Tesla connectors can only be used by Tesla vehicles. The Tesla HPWC and Supercharger plugs can be used with levels 2 and 3 charging; Tesla produces adapters so that Tesla owners can charge with any of the 3 connectors above.
Energy storage systems are systems designed by electric vehicle manufacturers to store energy received from charging stations. Research is continuously done to improve them – reducing cost to produce and therefore to purchase, extending usage life cycle, and increasing recyclability. There are 4 types of energy storage systems:
Lithium-ion batteries can be found in most plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles. They have a high battery weight-to-power ratio, high energy efficiency, good performance at high temperatures, and low tendency to ‘self-discharge’ (deplete stored energy over time).
Nickel-metal hydride batteries can be found in some hybrid electric vehicles. They are safe, tolerant to wear, and boast a long life cycle, but when compared to other energy storage systems, they are highly priced, highly self-discharging, susceptible to high temperatures, and require measures to control internal hydrogen loss.
Lead-acid batteries are currently only used in commercial electric service vehicles; research and development is being done to increase future use. They are inexpensive, safe, and offer high amounts of power, but perform poorly in cold temperatures and have a relatively brief life cycle. Supercapacitors (or ultracapacitors) are occasionally used as secondary energy storage in battery electric vehicles. They may support batteries but are not batteries – batteries store energy in chemicals while capacitors store energy in electric fields. They are relatively expensive and have limited benefit. They provide equipped vehicles with extra energy in accelerating, climbing hills, and braking; Future Tesla electric cars will likely utilize supercapacitors.
Any electric car you rent or buy will include information on which charging levels are recommended, which charging connectors can be used, and which energy storage systems are at play. This information can also be found in the owner’s manual, from the company or salesperson you work with, or online.
Sierra Club’s ‘Pick A Plug-In’ quiz can help decide which model may be right for you
How much does it cost to charge an electric vehicle?
In-home charging and public charging stations vary in usage costs according to the current price of electricity, the type of electric car battery used, and the type of connector used to charge it. Many helpful comparisons have been made, such as that the cost of fully charging a depleted all-electric vehicle battery with a 70-mile range is roughly $2.65, the same as the cost of operating a central air conditioner for 6 hours¹. Public charging services, such as EVgo, ChargePoint, and EV Connect, can be free, charge an hourly use or session rate, or charge according to a monthly or annual subscription fee.
Where can we charge our electric vehicles?
Thousands of places! There are many free websites and apps designed to help locate electric vehicle charging stations, such as the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fueling Station Locator, PlugShare, Open Charge Map, and ChargeHub. Many car dealerships have charging stations available for use by electric vehicles sold there.
Searching Patchogue and Medford’s zip codes returns several stations; these tools all allow toggling between stations that offer level 1, 2, or 3 charging (sometimes called DC fast charging).
- Our first article on electric cars
- U.S Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Batteries, Charging, and Electric Vehicles site
- U.S. Department of Energy eGallon tool to learn the costs of fueling an electric vehicle in the United States
- Union of Concerned Scientists “Going From Pump to Plug: Adding Up the Savings from EVs” resource on electric vehicle savings when compared to gas-powered cars
“No diesel, steam, or gasoline, happiness resides in an electric car”