If you were quick to jump on the electric car bandwagon in the late 2000s, you can probably recall the stinging scarcity of EV charging systems. When Tesla and BMW launched the initial Tesla Roadsters and the Mini-E, both companies had to partner with ClipperCreek, the only company that was supplying specialized charging equipment at the time.
A lot has changed for electric vehicles and their charging systems in the last ten years. ClipperCreek is still one of the top EVSE providers in the world, but players like Enel X, ChargePoint, and Siemens have made headway to give the pioneering company a run for its money. So, whether you own or are planning to buy an electric vehicle, you will be glad to learn that the market has a fair number of options.
That said, buying EVSE is not as straightforward as you might think. The choices you will find will all have important differentiating factors. Doing your due diligence is crucial to ensure you get the best equipment for your car and your money.
If you have not been keen on the technical elements of electric vehicles, you might be surprised to learn that an electric car comes with its charging unit onboard. The charger is not the unit on the wall. On the contrary, it is buried deep in the guts of the car.
The work of this unit is to convert the alternating current (AC) from a conventional power outlet into direct current (DC). It is this DC that charges the battery in your car.
Unsurprisingly, this fact does not discourage almost everyone from calling the wall-mounted system that supplies the alternating current to the car a charger. That unit has a more accurate name: Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSE). Put simply, an EVSE is an electrical interface that enables you to safely connect your electric vehicle to a power outlet.
The guidance we are providing in this post relates to buying an EVSE. Nevertheless, we shall use “charging station” as well, since that is the term familiar to most customers.
When EVSEs first hit the market, they were just isolated open stations where EV owners would stop by, fuel up, and leave. Today, however, you can enjoy the convenience of charging your vehicle right from your home.
Residential charging stations might either be Level 1 or Level 2. Level 1 stations are standard 110-volt cables that allow you to charge your electric car without requiring any home modifications.
Level 1 chargers can take as much as 48 hours to fill up a car’s battery. So, depending on your needs, you might want a much faster Level 2 240-volt EV station.
Public EVSEs have also become more accessible. In some cities, charging at a public station is even offered for free. Public stations are often just fast as the average Level 2 residential EVSE, but fast-charging systems like Tesla’s Supercharges also exist.
All electric vehicles come with a Level 1 110-volt cable that can connect the car to a household socket. If your daily commute averages below 20 miles, you may find the standard cable adequate. For longer commutes, however, you will be better off with a 240-volt level 2 residential charging station.
Having an EVSE in your home means you will no longer need to drive to the garage to juice up your car.
Moreover, like the electric vehicles they power, charging stations are always getting smarter. Modern systems offer advanced WiFi connectivity to your smartphone and home IoT devices, along with smart grid features that automatically vary charging patterns depending on power fluctuations and peak/off-peak times.
Buying an EVSE can be a tasking and time-consuming endeavor. Therefore it is important to get it right the first time.
Read on and uncover the crucial considerations to make when shopping for a charming station today.
Before buying an electric car charging station, ask yourself where you intend to park your car while charging. The answer to this question will help you to decide between outdoor and indoor systems, and also choose the right wiring option.
Think about the ideal location for your EVSE. Is it outside or inside your house?
The top electric car charging stations in the market are rated NEMA 3 or NEMA 4 for either indoor or outdoor installation. NEMA 4 units can be hosed down and are more weather resistant than NEMA 3 stations.
Outdoor-friendly systems also have J1772 connectors at the end of their cables. The rest of the cable is secured in an all-weather holster. It is also a good idea to have a little roof built over your outdoor charging station for additional protection.
Once you have decided where your charging station will go, think about the installation process.
Measure the distance between the wall where you will mount your EVSE and the charging port of your car. This measurement will help you to approximate the right cable size. You might also want to consider its length for a potential second electric car in your garage or driveway.
Depending on where you intend to install your EVSE, your electrician may need to run some conduit. Longer copper runs can drive up installation cost. Nevertheless, since you will be charging every other night, you want the position of your station to be as convenient as possible.
Electric car charging stations can get remarkably large. The Leviton system, for instance, measures 24 inches high and 16 inches wide. Some stations can also be heavier than they look.
The average garage has room for a wide range of station sizes. However, some EV owners have unintentionally bought EVSEs that are too large for their space. Before going to the market, take measurements to have a feel of the space you want your station to occupy.
Level 2 charging stations can either be plugged in or hardwired. Although either approach works, it is essential to understand the advantages and shortcomings of each before you buy.
If you prefer an electric car charging station that can move with you, the plug-in option is the way to go.
An electrician will need to install a dedicated circuit breaker in your home’s distribution panel, but after that, the only installation work will be for the wall mounting bracket. Once the bracket is in place, you can slide the EVSE in and out easily.
Opting for a plug-in ESVE means your electrician can do all the installation even before you buy the charging unit. Furthermore, if the system fails or you want an upgrade, you can install a new one without calling back the electrician.
Plug-in EVSEs offer unparalleled installation convenience. However, some EV owners prefer a more permanent solution.
As the name suggests, a hardwired EVSE is wired directly to your home’s central distribution panel. Hardwiring is more involving for a technician than installing a plug-in unit. Moreover, a hardwired station that fails will require an electrician to visit, remove it, and install a new one.
On the upside, hardwiring can resort to a cleaner installation. You will not have a junction box or a plug to add clutter to your garage. Moreover, if you own a Tesla and you want fast charging, you will require a 75 Amp station. This option must be hardwired to your electrical panel.
At the end of the day, no approach can be deemed right or wrong. Unless your car or local code requires a specific option, go with your personal choice.
If you have more than one electric vehicle], you can set up EVSEs for each car to share one circuit. For instance, if you have only a 40-amp capacity in your panel, your electrician can program the units you install to never exceed a 40-amps combined draw.
So, when one car is charging, it will get the full 40-amps of current. If you plug in a second one, the current will be shared 20-amp by 20-amp between the two.
EVSE manufacturers often boast about the charging speed of their units. You will see claims that a station charges “lightning-fast” or “three times as fast”. If you are a non-technical EV owner, these advertisements can get a bit confusing.
It is true that a 16-amp, 240-volt electric car charging station will charge your car nearly three times as fast as a 12-amp, 120-volt station. Just note down the charging equipment that came with your vehicle before committing to a purchase. Otherwise, you may buy an EVSE that is not necessarily better than what you have.
If your EV came with a 240-volt charging system, you probably do not need to buy another one. However, the higher the amperage, the faster the charging performance. Many customers prefer 32-40 Amp, 240-volt charging stations, as they offer significantly more power and efficiency than conventional 16-amp systems.
Additionally, power specifications vary from one EV to another. Some electric vehicles can only work with 16-amp power, while newer models like the Audi e-Tron can accept as much as 40-amps. Tesla Model S and X support fast charging and can use 75-amp charging systems.
Therefore, make sure you understand your car’s charging capability before you go for an EVSE. If you do not, you might end up spending a fortune for a high-amperage unit that your car is incapable of utilizing fully.
In today’s age of smartphones, smart grids, and smart homes, it is understandable to feel compelled to buy a “smart” EVSE.
WiFi-enabled electric car charging stations enable EV owners to monitor parameters like real-time electricity usage, temperature, and power fluctuations. You can set a charging schedule to ensure your car is always charged and ready to go when you need it. Scheduling can also help you to lower your electricity bill by configuring your unit to charge as per your Time-of-Use rate plan.
Charging systems like the ChargePoint Home 25 can connect to smart home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. You can start, stop, and resume charging with simple voice commands, right from your living room couch.
That said, the EVSE scene has seen increased debates on the benefits of connectivity. Some experts argue that, although timers, meters, touchscreens, and monitoring capabilities offer convenience, they can also add unnecessary complexity and cost. Moreover, some EVSEs are so reliant on connectivity that they shut down when they lose WiFi.
If you are conscious of your budget, you would rather spend your money on a “dumb” but reliable EVSE. Sure, monitoring power usage is important, but you can meter your charging separately, or buy an inexpensive add-on device that integrates with the smart grid.
EV critics say that electric car charging stations are unreasonably expensive. After all, they are merely a link between a home power socket that already exists and a battery charger that comes in the car.
As you have learned, factors like charging performance and connectivity features affect the price of a charging station significantly. So, if you are strapped for cash, you have three options.
- Spend $400 to $600 for a durable and reliable but “dumb” Level 2 EVSE.
- Find a low-cost open-source charging station like OpenESVE
- Stick with a slower 120-volt station and charge your car overnight
A decent level 2 charging station will likely set you back around $1,000 including installation. This amount is worth it, especially since you will be utilizing your vehicle to the fullest. Believe it or not, nobody ever regrets having spent the money.
The number of EVSE brands has risen significantly in recent years. Fortunately, although some are better than others, they all seem to work well. The differentiating elements from one brand to the next are more to do with power ratings and convenience features than overall reliability. Any brand you choose will likely serve you without hiccups.
In addition to different brands, you will also find numerous variations of the same units in the market. Pick the charging station whose features best suit your vehicle and budget.
If you do not want to spend too much time weighing your options, you can narrow down to the top electric car charging stations available and go from there.
For us, the ClipperCreek HCS-40 stands out as the best unit on the market. It scores the highest ratings from verified users, primarily because of its reliability and ClipperCreek’s excellent customer service.
The HCS-40 is a rather basic-looking charging station. It is NEMA 4 rated for outdoor installation, and you can install a separate storage holster for the J1772 connector. You will not find any buttons to press, a timer, or connectivity features. Just LEDs to indicate power, charging status, and faults.
Regardless, it is difficult to get an EVSE that matches the quality of the HCS-40. Unless connectivity is a key consideration for you, you cannot go wrong with this unit.
If you are looking for a fully-featured electric car charging station with internet connectivity, a timer, and scheduling features, the ChargePoint Home 25 is your best bet. It is easily the most stylish, compact, and connected ESVE on the shelves today. Unsurprisingly, it is also among the priciest. Fortunately, you can knock off a good $100 from the total cost by buying the cable as a separate item.
The ChargePoint Home comes with all the jag screws and drill bits required for installation. You can connect your smartphone to the charging station using WiFi and configure it through the ChargePoint app. The app intuitively brings functions like remote starting, scheduling, setting reminders, and viewing charging history to your fingertips.
If you have Time-of-Use metering, the connectivity and scheduling features of the ChargePoint Home can be very valuable. Additionally, smartphone monitoring means you do not need to sneak into the garage at night to see if your car is charging.
The ChargePoint Home is designed for the modern EV owner. Its ring light alone is enough to get your inner tech-nerd giggling. Its small footprint also makes it more flexible in terms of placement.
If you are on a budget, the ChargePoint Home 25 may not be worth considering. On the other hand, if you would like an attractive, high-quality, fully-connected electric car charging station, this is the unit to buy.
The AmazingE is one of the most budget-friendly charging stations you can buy. At less than $300, it offers great value for a 16-amp, 240-volt unit, especially one that is NEMA 4 rated to withstand all outdoor weather conditions.
As you would expect, this system comes with several trade-offs when standing next to the ClipperCreek HCS-40 and the ChargePoint Home 25. For starters, you will not get any cable management system, other than a small Velcro strap on the cable. The wall mounting is not nearly as secure as that of the HCS-40 or the Home 25. Furthermore, the unit does not come with a connector holster. Instead, the holster is sold separately. You also get a modest 18-months warranty, which is half as long as what ChargePoint and ClipperCreek offer.
On the bright side, the AmazingE is sold and serviced by ClipperCreek, and this gives us a higher level of confidence in its reliability.
The right level 2 EVSE is that which best meets your needs. These needs might involve the charging requirement of your vehicle, the power you have at your house, the length of your daily commute, and the purchase and maintenance cost.
We hope that this guide has given you some useful insight into the world of electric car charging systems. By taking our advice into consideration, you are one step closer to acquiring the best unit for your car.