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The complete guide to Level 1 vs. Level 2 vs. Level 3 charging for EVs

How charging station levels compare, and what you need to know to ensure a smooth deployment
Black electric vehicle charging in a public setting

One of the biggest barriers to electric vehicle adoption is familiarity with and availability of charging infrastructure. For resellers and other emerging businesses in the EV space, learning the ABCs—or rather, 1-2-3s—of EV charger levels is a must. Understanding Level 1 vs. Level 2 vs. Level 3 charging can help you invest in the right hardware and software tools so you can provide EV drivers with the power they need to keep going. 

In this article, we’ll cover the different charger Levels, when they’re used, how much they cost, and the ranges they provide. So, what is a Level 1 charger versus a Level 2 charger? What’s the difference between Level 2 and Level 3 charging? We’ve got the answers.

Level 1 vs. Level 2 vs. Level 3 charging stations: What’s the difference?

You’re probably familiar with octane ratings (regular, mid-grade, premium) at gas stations. Electric vehicle charger levels are similar, but instead of measuring the quality of fuel, EV levels denote the power output of a charging station. The higher the electrical output, the faster an EV will charge. Let’s compare Level 1 vs. Level 2 vs. Level 3 charging stations.

Level 1 charging stations

Level 1 charging consists of a nozzle cord plugged into a standard 120V electrical outlet. EV drivers get a nozzle cord, called the emergency charger cable or the portable charger cable, with their purchase of an EV. This cable is compatible with the same type of outlet in your house used to charge a laptop or phone. 

The majority of passenger EVs have a built-in SAE J1772 charge port, also known as the J plug, which allows them to use standard electrical outlets for Level 1 charging or Level 2 charging stations. Tesla owners have a different charging port but can purchase a J-plug adapter if they want to plug it into an outlet at home or use a non-Tesla Level 2 charger.

Level 1 charging is affordable and requires no special setup or additional hardware or software, making it a convenient choice for residential use. However, it may take up to 24 hours to fully charge a battery, which makes Level 1 charging impractical for drivers that log a lot of miles on a daily basis.

For an in-depth look at Level 1 charging stations, read What is a Level 1 charger for electric vehicles? next.

Level 2 charging stations

Level 2 charging stations use 240V electric outlets, which means they can charge an EV much faster than Level 1 chargers due to higher energy output. An EV driver can connect to a Level 2  charger with the attached nozzle cord using the integrated J plug built into most EVs.

Level 2 chargers are often equipped with software that can intelligently charge an EV, adjust power levels, and bill the customer appropriately. That fact is reflected in the cost, making Level 2 chargers a larger investment. However, they’re an ideal option for apartment complexes, retail spaces, employers, and university campuses that want to offer EV charging stations as a perk.

There are many Level 2 charger options on the market, so resellers and network owners who want maximum flexibility may want to consider hardware-agnostic EV charging station management software that works with any OCPP-compliant charger and allows them to manage their devices from one central hub.

Check out What is a Level 2 charger for electric vehicles? to learn more about Level 2 charging.

Level 3 charging stations

A Level 3 charger is the hostess with the mostest in the world of EV charging, because it uses direct current (DC) to charge EVs much faster than both Level 1 and Level 2 chargers. Level 3 chargers are often called DC chargers or “superchargers” due to their ability to fully charge an EV in under an hour. 

However, they’re not as standardized as lower-level chargers, and an EV requires special components like a Combined Charging System (CCS or “Combo”) plug or a CHAdeMO plug used by some Asian automotive manufacturers, to connect to a Level 3 charger. 

You’ll find Level 3 chargers alongside main thoroughfares and highways because while most passenger EVs can use them, DC chargers are primarily designed for commercial and heavy-duty EVs. A fleet or a network operator can mix and match a selection of Level 2 and Level 3 chargers on-site if they’re using compatible open software. 

Learn more about Level 3 charging in What is a Level 3 charger for electric vehicles?

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Charger levels compared

Here’s a comparison of Level 1 vs. Level 2 vs. Level 3 charging stations:

Electrical output

  • Level 1: 1.3 kW and 2.4 kW AC current
  • Level 2: 3kW to under 20kW AC current, output varies by model
  • Level 3: 50kw to 350kw DC current

Range

  • Level 1: 5 km (or 3.11 miles) of range per hour of charging; up to 24 hours to fully charge a battery
  • Level 2: 30 to 50km (20 to 30 miles) of range per hour of charging; overnight full battery charge
  • Level 3: Up to 20 miles of range per minute; full battery charge in under an hour

Cost

  • Level 1: Minimal; nozzle cord comes with the EV purchase and EV owners can use an existing outlet
  • Level 2: $300 to $1,000 per charger, plus the cost of installation
  • Level 3: ~$10,000 per charger, plus hefty installation fees

Use cases

  • Level 1: Residential (single-family homes or apartment complexes)
  • Level 2: Residential, commercial (retail spaces, multi-family complexes, public parking lots); can be used by individual homeowners if a 240V outlet is installed
  • Level 3: Commercial (for heavy-duty EVs and most passenger EVs )

As you can tell, the three charger levels have varying use cases and pretty dramatic cost differences. The key takeaway here is that the faster and more complex the charger, the higher the costs of installation and maintenance are.

Are EV chargers interchangeable?

In some cases, EV chargers are interchangeable. A driver with a passenger EV can easily use a Level 1 charger setup in their garage, then drive down the street and use a Level 2 charger at the mall while they’re running errands. When it comes to Level 2 vs. Level 3 EV chargers, passenger EV drivers may need to exercise some caution. For one, many EVs may not be compatible with Level 3 chargers, but more importantly, vehicles with smaller batteries, such as plug-in hybrids or compact models like the Fiat 500e, should not use DC fast chargers. A current of 350kW can easily overwhelm a small battery. 

If you’re overseeing multiple EV charger sites, chances are they will be a mixture of Level 2 chargers for the everyday EV driver and Level 3 for commercial EVs. Being able to manage all of your deployments, including load balancing, monitoring for faults, and collecting payments all from one dashboard can save you time and many a headache. ChargeLab’s open CSMS is hardware-agnostic and provides you with a bird’s eye view of your chargers. Reach out to our team to learn more about what we do.

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