The Pros, Cons, and Cost of a Level 3 Charging Station
Whether you’ve been eyeing a new Nissan LEAF, a Tesla Model S, or the latest all-electric pickup trucks, the dream of driving emissions-free is calling to many drivers. But once the gas station is (thankfully) no longer an option, it’s time to figure out a charging solution that’s right for you. There are three different levels of charging for electric vehicles with Level 1 being the slowest and Level 3 being the fastest.
All charging stations and ancillary equipment are referred to in the EV industry as electric vehicle supply equipment, or EVSE. Each EV comes with EVSE — a charger and charging cables — when you initially purchase. However, many EV drivers are quick to understand that charging a car through a standard household outlet doesn’t “refuel” their new ride fast enough.
In this article, we’ll offer an overview of Level 3 charging stations and related EVSE so you can decide if they’re the right fit for you and your new electric or hybrid-electric ride.
Benefits of a Level 3 Charging Station
A Level 3 charging station (also known as a DC fast charging station) is, as of 2022, the fastest electric car charger available for EVs. Level 3 charging ports utilize a 480-volt higher direct current (DC) that can provide an average of 100 miles of charge per hour. Some EV batteries can be fully replenished with just 30 minutes of charge time at a DC charging station.
Many EV drivers choose to use Level 3 chargers while on long road trips. Both public and privately operated charging stations, or connected stations with Level 3 fast charging systems, allow drivers to register to their networks for free. Fees only apply when you use their charging sites.
In some states, Level 3 charging stations are also easy to come by. The following five states were home to the most Level 3 fast chargers as of September 2021:
- California: 19,932
- Florida: 6,143
- Texas: 790
- New York: 758
- Washington: 700
Drawbacks of Level 3 Charging Stations
Despite the incredibly rapid charging time of Level 3 chargers, they’re not without drawbacks, which we’ll explore here.
DC fast chargers are, as of this writing, the most expensive charging system you can purchase for a battery electric vehicle (BEV) or plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV). The average cost of a DC fast charger is around $50,000, which is a major factor in why many people do not purchase them for home use. This chart illustrates the cost and power output of a Level 3 charger compared to other levels of charging:
|Levels of Charging||Common Locations||Power (Amps)||Average Cost|
|Level 1||Residential||8-20 Amps||$379-495|
|Level 2||Residential & Commercial||12-80 Amps||$329-$2,700|
|Level 3||Specialized Public & Commercial||100+ Amps||$50,000+|
Source: Clipper Creek/Enphase Energy Inc.
EV owners can also expect to pay a higher rate per minute to charge their car with a DC fast charging station. The cost of Level 3 charging can be anywhere from 25% to 40% higher than Level 2 charging.
The high cost of Level 3 chargers is the major reason why they’re staples at government-funded public EV charging stations and commercial properties like hotels, universities, and shopping centers. To recoup costs, these public and corporate bodies charge fees for drivers to use their Level 3 chargers.
Lack of Infrastructure
Level 3 charge points are far less common than those with lower charging levels, meaning the expertise to maintain, update, and repair them is not as robust as it is for Level 2 chargers.
Where most Level 2 chargers can be installed by a qualified residential electrician, the installation of Level 3 chargers is far more complex, given the massive amounts of power they utilize.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, installation of Level 3 EVSE is a lengthy process that requires a large amount of preparation. The installation of a Level 3 charging station requires:
- Initial site evaluation to determine the site’s electrical capacity and proximity to electrical service lines.
- Potential upgrades to site electrical service to accommodate Level 3 EVSE power loads.
- Cooperation with the local electric utility to implement higher capacity supply wires and transformers.
- Trenching or boring to lay conduits.
- Upgrading the electrical service at the site to provide sufficient capacity.
Potential Battery Damage
For as long as Level 3 charging has been in use in the EV industry, there has been speculation that long-term use of DC fast charging stations has the potential to damage EV batteries, although evidence is not conclusive.
What is true is that all EV batteries degrade over time, regardless of which charger is used. There is some evidence that illustrates that very frequent use of Level 3 chargers in hot climates may accelerate EV battery degradation.
According to a comprehensive study by the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), vehicles charged with DC fast chargers showed significant overall battery degradation when they were fast-charged twice as often as recommended by their manufacturer and driven year-round in a city with a consistently hot climate. The INL’s conclusion also states that more research is needed to confirm this finding.
Other EV Charger Options
If a Level 3 charging station is too pricey or simply has more power than you need, there are a wide variety of affordable home charging options with reasonable charging speeds.
Level 2 Residential Charging Stations
Level 2 charging is one of the most popular and affordable methods for charging electric vehicles at home. Level 2 chargers use commonplace AC (alternating power) currents, but at a higher voltage — around 240 volts. This makes them similar to many large appliances like dryers.
Level 2 chargers can charge a standard EV battery overnight. As of this writing, Level 2 chargers retail for around $500 on average, along with the cost of installation by a residential electrician. Level 2 chargers are also common at many businesses, supermarkets, parking lots, and other public places.
Tesla Supercharger Network
The Tesla Supercharger Network is a network of Level 3 chargers that make up the world’s largest EV charging network.
Initially reserved solely for drivers of Tesla vehicles, the company has made indications that this is about to change. As of late 2021, Tesla has opened its charging stations to drivers of other brands in Europe and has hinted at unveiling a similar test run in the States.
The wide availability of Tesla Superchargers will make it a viable way for non-Tesla drivers to access Level 3 chargers if and when they open up to drivers of other brands.
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Remember to always rely on professional electricians to survey and install your residential charging system, regardless of which level you choose.
Between charging at home, and on the road during long road trips, you’ll likely use a combo of both home charging solutions and fast charging stations during your EV ownership.
And whether you’re searching for a charging source or the latest EV model releases, you can always recharge your EV industry knowledge at Compare.com.
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