Electrical contractors will play a role in EV purchasing as buyers consider charging options. Charger amperage and vehicle acceptance rate matter. Adapters ensure compatibility between charging port styles, so buyers needn't worry about future purchases.

Powering Your New EV: Electricians Guide Buyers Through Charging Options

Chuck Ross
Car shopping is beginning to involve broader questions for shoppers than the typical sedan-vs.-SUV decision many of us ponder when beginning to hit dealers’ lots. Now, buyers need to consider how, exactly, they want to power that new vehicle – with gas or electricity. This means electrical contractors will become part of the electric vehicle (EV) purchasing process for many prospective owners, and they’re likely to have questions for their electricians regarding what charging equipment to buy and how it will be installed.

I’m beginning to research my own potential EV purchase as my 2014 Subaru is beginning to have some of the age-related issues that can make car ownership more expensive, which means I’ve also been investigating charging equipment and considering where it might be installed. While I could try to get by with the simple Level 1 charger and cord that comes standard with most EVs, I’m guessing the fact it will only add 3-5 miles of driving range per hour of charging won’t meet my needs. So, I’ll be shopping for a Level 2 charger – and getting installation bids – during the buying process.

Level 1 chargers are, essentially, heavy-duty extension cords that plug into standard 120V outlets, so no added work is required if the car’s charging port is within 6- to 20-ft. of the closest outlet. Level 2 chargers, though, which can add 12 to 30 miles of range an hour, need a 240V circuit, along with an electrician to install the equipment.

If you’re a contractor just getting into EV charger installation work, you might start getting calls from prospective customers regarding what type of charger they should buy. Chargers are rated according to their amperage. Higher amperage translates into faster charging but vehicles also are limited to how much amperage they can accept. Today, most EVs top out at about 32 amps (though Ford’s new F-150 Lightning can take up to 80 amps). Because the National Electrical Code’s 20% capacity buffer applies to charger circuits, a 40A charger would be needed to supply a connected vehicle at full power. Stepping up to a 50A charger could make sense, to have the added capacity a future EV might be able to accept.

One thing buyers don’t have to worry about is what style connector they need. Basically, there are two styles of charging ports on today’s EVs: those Tesla uses (called NACS, for North American Charging Standard), and those used by most other automakers (called J1772, for the Society of Automotive Engineers’ standard behind its development). Shoppers can get confused over whether a charger they buy now might need to be replaced due to a future EV purchase. This isn’t an issue because adapter heads are easily available to allow either style charger to be used interchangeably, regardless of the charging port’s design.
Photo courtesy of Leviton
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