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Charging Your Electric Vehicle Can Be Simple and Inexpensive

November 7, 2013
Anne Ku - Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance , Maui Weekly

One little-known fact is that every electric vehicle (EV) built today has a power cord with a plug that fits into a standard, three-prong electrical outlet. It's the same outlet you use in your home for your cell phone, laptop, hairdryer and other appliances. (In the U.S., the voltage output is 110 to 120 volts and typically 15 to 20 amps.) This method of charging your EV battery is called Level 1 or "trickle charging."

All this talk of charging stations makes you think that you need to invest in expensive hardware before you can buy an electric vehicle. But the reality is, the charger is built into the car. What we commonly refer to as a "charger" or "charging station" is just a device that safely allows electricity to flow to the EV battery and provides the protocol for two-way communication.

Aside from the outlet in the wall in your home, garage, carport and office, there are devices called "charging stations" that allow you to plug-in for 220 to 480 volt access.

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The 100 percent electric BMW i3 is expected to arrive in Hawai‘i and the rest of the country in the first quarter of 2014.
Photo: Greenlots

Level 2 charging refers to these 220 to 240 volts (typically at 30 to 40 amps), which is faster than Level 1.

DC Fast Charging refers to 480 volts at up to 125 amps and can charge your EV battery up to 80 percent in 20 to 30 minutes.

When I met Ron Mahabir, CEO of Greenlots, in San Francisco this past May, I asked him about the merits of Level 1 charging, because I had a hunch that charging station manufacturers and charging network companies don't make money from Level 1. The need for speed and profit probably brought about the popular thinking that faster charging stations are necessary to power up EVs.

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Ron has put over 16,000 miles on his fully electric ActiveE BMW, a prototype model for the i3 that is coming out in California in this month.

"Most of the time, Level 1 works great, because I'm at home and it's cheap, convenient and sustainable [using renewable energy]," said Ron. "For longer distances, Level 2 and DC Fast Charging help reduce the time to charge."

The 100 percent electric BMW i3 is expected to arrive in Hawai'i and the rest of the country in the first quarter of 2014.

Driving a plug-in electric vehicle requires only a slight change in how you fuel your car. Rather than filling up at the gas station every week, an EV just needs to be plugged in overnight or at the office. If you are an average driver, you are parked 96 percent of the time, and that's when your car can be "trickle charged."

Level 1 charging is the way to go for most charging applications at residential, work or other long-term parking locations, such as airports. It's not only cheap to install, but the hardware (either a charging cable or charging station) is also inexpensive. And for utilities, Level 1 has low impact on the grid, as these standard 110 to 120 volt outlets are already widely available.

Reducing the cost and complexity of charging infrastructure will encourage more consumers to adopt EVs, and appreciate their better performance, safety, fuel savings and lower emissions. Along with carefully sited Level 2 and DC Fast Charging in public locations, Level 1 is an optimal solution for widespread adoption.

The Maui EVA Project Finale meeting will be held at the University of Hawai'i Maui College's (UHMC) 'Ike Le'a Building on Friday, Nov. 15, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. EV-related literature, including Maui EVA reports, will be on display. EV experts will be available to answer questions at the end of the meeting.

Greenlots President Brett Hauser will be one of the EV experts speaking at the "Maui and Neighbor Islands EV Industry Strategy Conference," an all-day conversation at the Honua Kai Resort in Ka'anapali on Saturday, Nov. 16. (See "Greenlots" sidebar.)

Contact Maui EVA for more information.

Anne Ku is the director of Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance, a Department of Energy-funded project at UHMC. For more information, visit



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