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What is a Level 1 charger for electric vehicles?

How Level 1 charging can help EV owners stay powered up at home
A Level 1 charger plugged into an electric vehicle.

Most people are familiar with octane ratings (regular, mid-grade, premium) at stations for gas-powered cars and how those different levels relate to their cars’ performance. Electric vehicles (EVs) have their own system that helps drivers and EV businesses figure out which EV charging solution they need. 

EV charging comes in three levels: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 (also known as DC fast charging). These three levels denote the energy output of a charging station and determine how fast an EV will charge. While Level 2 and 3 chargers provide more juice, Level 1 chargers are the most affordable and easiest to set up.

But what is a Level 1 charger and how can it be used for powering up passenger EVs? Read on for all the details.

What is a Level 1 charger?

A Level 1 charging station consists of a nozzle cord and a standard household electrical outlet. In that respect, it’s more helpful to think of Level 1 charging as an easy-to-use alternative than a comprehensive EV charging station. It’s easy to recreate inside a garage or a parking structure and requires little to no special equipment, which makes it an affordable way to charge a passenger EV.

How do Level 1 chargers work?

Most passenger EVs come with a built-in SAE J1772 charge port, more commonly known as the J port, which allows them to plug into standard electrical outlets for Level 1 charging and use Level 2 charging stations. (Teslas have a different charging port, but Tesla drivers can purchase a J port adapter if they want to plug into a standard outlet or use a non-Tesla Level 2 charger.)

When a driver buys an EV, they also get a nozzle cable, sometimes called the emergency charger cable or the portable charger cable, included with their purchase. To set up their own Level 1 charging station, an EV driver can connect their nozzle cord to the J port and then plug it into a 120-volt electrical outlet, the same type used to plug in a laptop or a lamp. 

And that’s it: They’ve got themselves a Level 1 charging station. No additional hardware or software components are needed. The EV dashboard will indicate to the driver when the battery is full.  

How fast is Level 1 charging?

A typical Level 1 EV charger will output between 1.3 kW and 2.4 kW, which translates into roughly 5 km (or 3.11 miles) of range per hour of charging. That means an overnight charge, assuming the car is plugged in for about 8 hours, will get the EV driver about 30-40 miles of range. However, if the battery is empty, it may take up to 24 hours to fully recharge, and charging times will also vary based on the battery size and EV model. 

Level 1 chargers are the slowest of the three charger levels, which is why the majority of public EV charging stations are not a bunch of 120-volt outlets rigged up together on a wall. Faster, more convenient EV charging requires a specialized set of hardware and software components.

Where is Level 1 charging most useful?

What is a Level 1 charger for then, if it takes so long? Level 1 charging may take a while, but it still makes sense in residential settings, and some worksites may opt to have a set of 120-volt outlets available for employees to use with their own charging cables. Level 1 charging may also work well for plug-in hybrid vehicles, which tend to have smaller batteries and charge more quickly. 

The main draw of Level 1 charging stations is affordability and ease: A homeowner can simply park their EV in a garage and plug it into an existing outlet. Drivers with short commutes or those who don’t use a personal vehicle often can get by with using Level 1 chargers most of the time.

The drawback, besides the slow charging time, is remembering to plug in every night. For those without a garage, having to set up at an outlet with a charging cord can also be a hassle.

How much do Level 1 chargers cost?

Most single-family residences with garages will already have 120-volt plugs they can use, and the charging cable comes with the EV purchase. If a multi-family property manager wants to add some 120-volt outlets inside a parking garage, it can cost between $125 to $300, depending on the outlet location. 

Since most Level 1 charging happens in or near people’s homes, the cost of the charge becomes a part of their electricity bill and will vary from driver to driver, depending on location, current energy prices, and their EV model. 

How does Level 1 charging compare to Levels 2 and 3?

Now that you know all about Level 1 chargers, you may be wondering how they compare to other charging levels. As noted, Level 1 charging is much slower than Level 2 and Level 3 charging and is used in residential settings, where EV drivers have plenty of time to stick around and wait for their car to be fully charged. 

On the other hand, Level 2 charging stations can provide about 40 km (~25 miles) of range per hour of charging, but they are not as easy to set up at home. Level 2 charging requires the installation of a Level 2 EV charger, usually with a 240-volt outlet. Private residences would need an electrician to install a higher-voltage outlet, which could mean adding a circuit to their electric board. Most public EV charging stations are Level 2 charging stations because most EVs can connect to them via a J port, same as they would to a cable for Level 1 charging. Passenger EVs can use Level 1 and Level 2 charging stations interchangeably.

Level 3 chargers, also called DC fast chargers, output between 50 kW and 350 kW and can power up an EV battery in 15 to 45 minutes. They are too expensive for the average person to install at home and are, therefore, mostly found along highways and major thoroughfares. Some passenger EVs can use DC fast chargers, but compact models, such as the Fiat 500, should not use DC fast chargers because a 350 kW electric current will overwhelm their smaller battery. 

Choosing the right EV charging solution

A Level 1 charger may be the right move for your home garage, but you'll need more robust hardware and software for public, multi-family, or fleet deployments. At ChargeLab, we offer a white-label, hardware-agnostic solution that can scale to match your needs. If you are building an EV charging business that will deploy more than 500 ports in the next year, contact us today.

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