Beginners guide to charging electric cars in Australia

One of the biggest difference between traditional petrol or diesel-powered cars and electric cars (or EV’s) is how they refuel or recharge. Obviously Battery EV’s need electricity rather than petrol or diesel, but how do you know which EV can take what charging plug? If you have car X what level can it charge at and do all chargers have the same plugs?

In this guide we’ll try and give you an understanding of the mechanics of charging your EV in Australia.

“This guide has been produced in conjunction with JET Charge, the leading supplier and installer of electric vehicle charging stations in Australia. Contact them for any advice on purchasing or installing a charging station”.

Key Terminology

There’s a ton of jargon, industry terminology and acronyms when it comes to charging an EV. You don’t need to know it all but it helps.

  • Charging Levels – the power at which you can charge your electric vehicle, grouped into a few key bands (Levels 1 to 3)
  • Charging Types – the physical plug connector type that plugs into your electric car

What are the different levels of EV charging?

To start with you have to understand that unlike petrol stations, there are a few different levels or charging rates. While they all provide electricity they do so at different speeds.

The charging rates are referred to as “Levels“. The higher the level, the faster the charging – in general, with a notable exception being a Level 3 or DC charger which could be specced at a lower rate than a Level 2 AC charger.

There are also charging “modes” which aren’t as relevant to your average EV buyer so they are not covered here.

Level 1
EV Charging
Level 2
EV Charging
Level 3
EV Charging
Example: A regular power point in your house A home or public wall charger A high powered public DC Fast Charger
Power: 1-2.4 kW 3.6-22 kW 10-150 kW
Charge Rate: 7-15 km/hr of charge 15-100 km/hr of charge 60-800 km/hr of charge

Level 1 Chargers

As you can see, Level 1 is essentially just charging your EV from a regular power point. It won’t charge your car very fast, but if you’re not driving too far each day it can be fine for many people.

If you left your car charging overnight – for example for 10 hours – then you’d be gaining around 100-130 kms of range.

As most people don’t drive anywhere near that distance everyday they shouldn’t have any problems. Each morning they’ll wake up with a “full tank” and be good to go.

Level 1 chargers are also good for plugin-hybrid vehicles that have a smaller battery capacity. They can also be very handy if you just can’t find a Level 2/3 chargers the wild, as normal power outlets are everywhere, ensuring you won’t be stuck in an emergency.

Level 2 Chargers

EV Charging
The soon to be released 2018 Nissan LEAF charging at a Level 2 charger

Now we get into the higher power chargers. These operate at much higher power levels so you can charge quicker. You will find Level 2 chargers out in public but you can also install them in your home too.

Whilst most Level 2 chargers at home won’t normally go above 11-15 kW, many public Level 2 chargers go all the way up to 22 kW, and giving a good amount of power they can fully charge even large battery cars in 4-5 hours.

Level 3 Chargers

Finally we have the fastest chargers, which currently max out at around 120 kW. Recently some companies have announced new fast DC chargers that go all the way up to 350 kW for specific vehicles coming onto the market capable of receiving this charge rate.

Level 3 chargers enable the fastest charging rates, and as they can charge your car extremely quickly they take up a huge amount of power. An example of Level 3 charging is Tesla’s Supercharger Network. They are most useful when travelling long distances such as from Sydney to Brisbane.

What types of EV charging plugs are there?

While the charging stations themselves are referred to with “Levels” the physical plugs you plug into the cars are normally referred to as “Types”. So for example you can use a “Type 4” plug with a “Level 3” charger.

There are four types of plugs as defined by the SAE:

EV Charging

Having four different types of plugs to charge your car sounds like a bit of a nightmare. However it works quite simply in real life, as we are transitioning from a Type 1 (J1772) plug network to a mixture of Type 2 socket and Type 2 tethered stations to suit the impending mix of cars.

If you’re charging at a Level 3 charger though most will have the CHAdeMO and Combined Charging System (CCS) plugs, allowing you to use the one that fits your car.

So 99% of the time you’ll only deal with two different plugs. Pair this with the already large charging network in Australia and things look quite good so far.

As for Teslas, these use a slightly modified Type 2 Mennekes plug which I’ll cover below.

What is the difference between AC and DC charging?

EV Charging
Thousands of chargers. Source: plugshare.com

Another very important point with EV’s is that they can charge via both AC and DC. The battery inside is DC but depending on where you’re charging you might charge it with AC or DC.

Typically AC charging is done at the lower Levels 1 or 2. When you do this there is an AC to DC inverter inside the car that converts the AC power into DC power allowing it be stored in the battery.

Most Level 3 charging is DC. This means the electricity by-passes the AC/DC inverter and is put straight into the battery allowing for more efficient charging.

Is electric vehicle charging going to change?

Currently you have to use a different plug for lower speed Level 1/2 charging and the higher DC Level 3 charging. This is obviously not very convenient and the SAE standards for EV charging plugs is constantly evolving.

Recently the newer CCS (Combined Charging System) Combo Plugs have become very broadly adopted in Europe. Car companies such as Audi, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen are all rallying around this plug type.

CCS isn’t really a “new” plug, instead it adds two large DC pins underneath an otherwise existing Type 1 or Type 2 plug. This means that you only need one single plug for any type of charging. It also means that it will help with backwards compatibility too.

EV Charging

At this stage it’s not absolutely clear which plug type will be chosen as the “top” part. Some newer EV’s here in Australia – like the BMW i3 – have the CCS standard underneath a Type 1 J1772 plug. However in Europe CCS underneath a Type 2 Mennekes plug seems more common.

The industry in Australia seems to be moving rapidly towards Mennekes as the standard AC charging plug in Australia, with a mixture of CHAdeMO and CCS 2 for DC charging.

What plug does a Tesla use to charge?

EV Charging
Tesla’s modified plug (left). Standard Type 2 / Mennekes plug (right)

Tesla are a bit of a special case regarding charging plugs. They use a slightly modified Type 2 / Mennekes plug as shown above. For Level 1/2 AC charging it’s the same as the Type 2 / Mennekes plug standard. However for their Level 3 DC charging, which uses their famous Supercharger Network, they use the same Type 2 plug but with different pins.

This means that no other cars can currently use the Supercharger Networks unfortunately. Given that all other manufacturers are moving to either the Type 1 or Type 2 CCS Combo plugs for both AC and DC charging there’s a lot of speculation that Tesla will do the same.

There’s been no official word from Tesla on this yet though it makes a lot of sense. Tesla’s original mission was to accelerate the advent of electric cars. Having all cars use the same, single plug would definitely help that.

Tesla has also joined the CharIN organization last year to help promote the CCS standard. There’s high hopes that when the Model 3 is released in Europe it will support this new, industry wide standard. Prototypes have even been seen at CCS charging stations but given the Model 3 roll out for Europe isn’t set to begin until mid next year we might not know for a while.

I have car X, what plug does it use?

EV Charging
What plug does the Renault Zoe use? We don’t know yet!

Below is a list detailing all the different available pure battery-powered EVs in Australia and the plug in use by each of them.

AC Charging: DC Fast Charging:
BMW i3
Type 1 / J1772

Type 1 / CCS Combo1
(Optional on earlier i3s)
Nissan LEAF
Type 1 / J1772
Type 4 / CHAdeMO
Tesla S/3/X
Type 2 / Mennekes Modified
Mitsubishi i MiEV
Type 1 / J1772
Type 4 / CHAdeMO
Zero Motorcycles
Type 1 / J1772

Hopefully you should now have a good understanding of all the different types of levels and types of chargers. It sounds a bit complicated, but in practice there’s mostly two plugs to know about. If you drive a Tesla then it’s even simpler with only one plug.

Summing up!

The state of EV charging in Australia is pretty good. There are many public and often free chargers and the compatibility is high too.

Cars fall into two categories, Tesla and non-Tesla.

Tesla’s have their excellent Supercharger and Destination networks and all others have a generally cross compatible network. We’ll have to wait and see if Tesla moves to the newer standard. This would mean that all cars would have the same plugs, which would be great.

The only wrinkle I can see is the disturbing path BMW has taken by putting their DC Level 3 charging ability as an “optional extra”. I’m sure there’s been more than one person already that purchased their new i3 only to find out later they can’t DC fast charge because they didn’t get the optional extra.

Time will tell how other manufactures handle this, hopefully they follow Nissan’s lead and include it as standard!

So which charger do you use? Do you find yourself rarely straying from your simple home charger? Or do you exclusively use public charging for some reason? Let us know in the comments below!

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