Charging your first EV
A beginner’s guide to keeping the battery charged.
Your next car should be an EV. But what then? Charging, right?
Keeping your EV’s battery not running empty still required a bit more planning and some knowledge compared to the pervasive legacy ICE refueling infrastructure. Personally, I don’t think that at least in central Europe, we’re very far away from charging infrastructure reaching a no-longer-a-problem state but until then, some planning is needed.
I talk a lot about EVs, so naturally I get questions about charging quite often. So I thought I’d put together a simple, easy to understand guide for anyone thinking about getting an EV or recently gotten one. What I write here applies in central Europe and more specifically Germany. Your experience and details elsewhere might vary.
There are four types of charging you’ll do with your new EV. Let me break them down one by one.
Your home wallbox
This is the best way to charge your car and most likely the cheapest. Unfortunately, getting a wallbox setup isn’t always simple.
If you’re lucky enough to have your own driveway you’re probably fine. But most of us who live in apartment building there’s more hoops to jump through.
In Germany, to get a permission to install a wallbox to your own garage parking lot you have to get a permission from your building community. That requires you, or your landlord, to bring an initiative to the Wohnungseigentümerversammlung (apartment owners meeting) and it to pass. Unfortunately, you might be surrounded by idiots who will vote “no” on everything. But if you’re lucky, enough people will let you actually go ahead and pay all the costs yourself. You probably get a permission to install a specific wallbox so you won’t have any choice on the manufacturer or contract. In my case, I’m now waiting for a SWM wallbox to be installed. I ordered it to be installed 7 months ago and at the time of writing this, I still don’t have it. I’m sure it will arrive one day. I’ll be writing about my saga with the wallbox installation on another day.
But once you have a wallbox, this is always available to you and you can charge very cheaply.
Also worth noting that many governments support financially the installation and purchasing of the wallbox.
230v, a wall plug
If everything else fails, you can always charge your car from a normal 230v wall plug. Now, there are a couple of things you have to keep in mind.
This will be slow. I mean really slow. It might take a better part of two days to get your batteries full if your charge levels are low. So don’t expect to drive away anytime soon. However, for commuting this is probably enough for most people. It’s also a valid option as for destination charging if you’re staying in the same place for more than a day,
You do need to keep in mind that most wall plugs are not meant for constant heavy use like EV charging and you might end up blowing a fuse or even worse causing a fire if you’re not careful. To be on the safe side, you should lower the Amps your car is consuming. This, of course, makes things even slower but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
There are two types of public chargers: destination chargers and rapid chargers. I’ll talk about both in more detail below but they share some common aspects we need to cover first.
Public chargers are operated by different companies. In any area you’ll find chargers from many companies.
In Europe, compatibility is no longer an issue. Your car is going to have a type-2 connection for destination chargers and a CCS connection for rapid charging. You can use almost any charger you find as long as you figure out a way to pay for it.
Charging providers and charging aggregators
There are companies like IONTY that build and maintain a network of chargers around Europe. These companies provide a way to pay them directly. In some cases you can just go to a website on your phone and pay and start charging. In some places you can pay directly to the charger. But in reality, you want to have an account setup for the provider or for a charging aggregator company as in some places the only way to start charging is to scan an NFC card or with an app.
There are also companies who don’t run their own chargers but allow you to pay on chargers from multiple providers. These can be very useful as with one account you’re covering multiple possible charging locations. I have had a very positive experience with Plugsurfing.
My suggestion is that you get yourself a stack of these cards. Figure out which providers give you a card without a monthly fee and get those. Each card comes with a cost of a few EUR but they might save you at some point. I’d also suggest you get the card of your local electric company as it’s very likely you’ll be charging on the curbside chargers provided by them before your own wallbox is installed.
Curbside charging / destination charging
These chargers are meant to be used at your destination or near your home. You’ll plug in one you’re done for the day and most likely you’ll be leaving your car here overnight. Charging speeds of these chargers are somewhere around 11–22 kW depending on your vehicle so your battery will be full in the morning but not before.
For most of these chargers you’ll need to be using your own charging cable and you’ll be paying a moderate fee per kW.
Some places like hotels might be providing chargers like these free of charge for their customers.
These chargers you find mostly in cities and packing lots.
These are the chargers you’ll be needing when you’re on a road trip. These chargers provide charging speeds over 50 kW and are usually found at highway service stations outside cities. You’ll be waiting for your car to charge and continuing your trip afterwards. For these chargers you’ll never use your own cable but instead use the attached CCS heavy duty cable on the charger itself.
This is also mostly what people are talking about when they talk about the EV charging infrastructure. As these chargers can’t be replaced with wall plugs or other non-specialised means. For you to reach any destination further than your EV’s range these are the chargers you need.
A charging session at a fast charger is likely to be above 20 minutes but under one hour. It depends, of course, which car you have and at which charger you’re at. By my experience you’ll be having to take a break anyways every 250–300 km and with the coffee and bio break it’s usually the car that is ready before the driver.
It’s also worth noting that your car won’t be charging full speed all the way until 100% as that would destroy your battery. The charging speed considerably drops after 80% charge so it’s unlikely that you’ll be waiting for the battery to reach maximum charge at any stop.
Rapid chargers are more costly than slower charging methods.