• Nov 6th 2009 at 7:47PM
  • 12
As electric vehicles begin to find their way to peoples driveways and garages, knowing what's involved with charging up the batteries becomes more necessary. Over the years, electric vehicles (EVs) have used different kinds of batteries and employed different types of chargers and connectors, so the car that you buy next year may not work with the charger you picked up on eBay last month. While in the future charging may be as simple as parking in your garage or driveway and having an automated system take over, the here-and-now requires you know a thing about chargers and connectors. Hit the jump to read more about how to get hooked up.

One of the most basic things about plugging in an EV is, in fact, the plug, and there are many different kinds. There are the everyday two- and three-prong plug you have in your house, the "dryer plug" and the plug used to connect recreational vehicles (RVs) to the electrical supply at campsites. There are also several different plugs specifically for vehicles. You may be thinking, "What's the big deal? Why can't I pull out a cord like I do on my Electrolux and plug it in to an ordinary wall outlet." For some vehicles, especially those with limited energy storage capacity such as motorcycles and home-converted cars with lead-acid batteries, that may indeed be the case. However, as those usually supply 110 volts at about 15 amps, vehicles with bigger batteries would take a long time to fill using such a cord and so something a bit more stout is generally preferred.

When the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had required auto manufacturers to offer models in California with zero emissions back in 1990, the plug used by most electric cars wasn't even a plug. Instead of using a connector with exposed metal prongs, plastic paddles using inductive charging (like in your cordless toothbrush) were preferred. Although a little less efficient than a direct connection, the chance of electrocution was pretty much eliminated and plugging in was super easy. When the zero emissions requirement in California was dropped however, so were the new electric car models along with their paddles. The next generation of EVs to emerge are going in a different direction, though paddle charging is still used by owners of RAV4EV and electric Ford Rangers from that not-so-distant era. Check out the promotional video below showing how the EV1 from GM could theoretically be charged underwater. The next video features Darell "the EV Nut" demonstrating the everyday practicality of the system with his Toyota RAV4 EV.

More recently, the Tesla Roadster has grabbed the electric car spotlight and it has its own special connector. Of course, if you need to charge up somewhere other than home, you will likely need some sort of adapter. Luckily the company has a full array of connectors you can use to plug your car into Grandma's dryer outlet or at an RV park. As part of a video series introducing new owners to virtually every aspect of their 2010 Roadster, Tesla has an episode (featuring some particularly enthusiastic guys) that covers charging specifically and is worth spending a few minutes with.

By now you may be thinking, "Wouldn't it be a good idea to have one standard connector?" Why, yes it would, and it is coming very soon in the form of the SAE J1772. It will be used for practically every electric car sold in the U.S. including the Chevy Volt and the Tesla range. The new standard will not only allow EVs to charge relatively quickly with the ability to handle up to 70 amps of current at 240 volts but will also allow for two-way communication. This feature will be increasingly important as the electric grid becomes smarter and will allow cars to charge when rates are cheaper and may perhaps allow auto owners to sell back some of their stored energy if they elect to.

Finally, we have a pair of videos from EVTV featuring Jack Rickard discussing his own homemade charging solution. He's taken a replica gas pump and installed cords and monitoring equipment inside. As he explains how his unique power pump was built, he also provides us with a Greenlings-style primer to charging and connector issues the home-converter may encounter. Enjoy, and happy charging!

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      So I need a 240 line to my garage? One more reason to stick with my gas buggy.
        • 5 Years Ago
        'Cause you have a gas pump in your garage?
      • 5 Years Ago
      I always wondered why people in the US were so concerned with charging time at home. Now I see, as Rickard says something about the usual electric suply in America.
      That also explains the J1772 design.
      I was hoping IEC 60309 would make it as a plug standard. Europe could live with that very well as at least every house with electric cooker has the electric supply for this standard already available, 3-phase, 3x 400V 20A.
      • 5 Years Ago
      As usual, our species is engaging in overkill with this issue. Sure, J1772 is fine with me, although I have to say that its only truly desirable features are (1) its vehicle-to-grid capability, if and when; and (2) having a prong that disables running the vehicle while charging. Ironically, this latter feature could prove very useful if anyone ever decides to eliminate that prong to use a range-extender generator with the EV.

      Other that that... what's the point? Why worry about what plug is on the car? Whether it is a J1772 or what Tesla is using, or the Mini E, or the eBox, or the Th!nk City (which are all different)... they work! The real question is: what should be on the other end of the cable? And that is where we are making a mistake, IMHO.

      Unlike in Europe, why are we insisting in this country that the charging station needs to provide the cable? THAT is why there is all this hoopla about a "standard" plug: so that any EV can plug into any charging station. But that "vision" is fettered by previous prejudice: we are so used to the gas pump providing the hose, that we automatically conclude the electric cable should also stay with its "pump."

      It is completely unnecessary. Just provide the outlet, and let the vehicle come equipped with its own cable and adaptors for whatever 115V to 240V standard receptacles you can find anywhere, from your garage to an RV park. Just think how much easier it would prove to set up charging stations at malls, freeways, parking garages, rest stops, fast-food restaurants, etc., if they simply provided receptacles!

      Yes, there are those who argue that mere receptacles just wouldn't be "safe" enough, but in reality the statistics are against them. Consider: in the USA, with its "safe" 115V outlets, over a ten-year period (1992-2001), there were 1.87 deaths per million by electrocution. In Australia and New Zealand, with their "unsafe" 240V outlets, during that same decade, there were 1.95 deaths per million by electrocution. So... 240V outlets are .08 of a person per MILLION more dangerous?

      C'mon! We are obviously making a mountain out of a molehill here. Folks "down under" and in Europe manage to plug and unplug everything from coffee pots to lamps to electric lawn mowers to EVs without killing themselves. Why can't we?

      Fast-charge stations? At 480V? Well, yes, there are no outlets or plugs currently available for that kind of power, let alone "standards" to make them universal. So keep working on those quick-charge solutions. The J1772 can't handle that much energy anyway.

      But for now... just provide a 115V-240V cable with the EV. Heck, make it a "retractable" cable, if you like. And then enable the other end to plug into whatever outlets are already available throughout the country. It's all the infrastructure we need for 98% of our daily driving!
        • 5 Years Ago
        The other issue is weight. Having to store a heavy copper charging cable inside the car adds considerable weight and we all know that reducing weight increases range. With the battery packs already weighing a lot, automakers are looking for other ways to trim weight. Not requiring the storage of a heavy-guage copper cable is an easy way to do that. Even an aluminum cable wouldn't exactly be light in weight.

        • 5 Years Ago
        240 volt outlets in the US are not recessed the way Euro outlets are. Since most 240 volts outlets in the US are not cycled often (maybe once in ten years when the appliance is replaced) we get away with it.

        You might be safe with a NEMA 240 receptacle, but I know people that pry their 240 volt (NEMA 14-50) plug out with a screwdriver without turning off the breaker first. This is tempting fate. Or more like giving fate a lap dance.

        The standard J1772 connector is aimed at keeping that low accident rate that you mention. I agree with it. And speaking as someone who gets a cord out of the car every day to plug in at work, it is a hassle. The wall box at home with the attached cord is much faster.

        So I agree in the short term, we early adopters are ready to go electric now. I disagree for the long term, the masses will not deal safely with NEMA 14-50 outlets, no way.
        • 5 Years Ago
        jamcl3: You might be right, and --as I said-- I am fine with J1772, if that's what all the EV manufacturers want to use for their vehicles.

        Nonetheless, I am willing to wager that most EV owners will inevitably jury-rig their own "travel" kits, probably by installing a J1772 on one end of a 6awg cable, and "safety" adaptors on the other end like these from Camco: http://bit.ly/2FYxY7. There's just no way folks are going to forego the infrastructure already in place, all over the country, and begrudgingly resign themselves to only using a "dedicated" charging station. Ain't gonna happen.

        After all, how many Winnebago owners are constantly frying themselves at RV Parks, or how many boat owners are sizzling at the marinas...? It seems to me that, in both cases, they are already doing what EV owners will do in the future.
        • 5 Years Ago
        One small problem with your idea. Methheads will steal my charging cable. They'll go to the mall with all those unguarded charging cables, run down the row pulling out each one, and jump into their rusted out Pontiac 6000. A quick stop at the scrap dealer to sell the copper wire and off to there favorite dealer to score some ice.
        So now I'm out a charging cable that will cost about $50 to $75 to replace if I don't want a branded OEM cable (I bet the OEM cables will cost at least $150).
        "I know we'll lock the cable from one or both ends."
        Just add a bolt cutter to the equation above and its the same story (yes they will cut the cable while its charging).
        • 5 Years Ago
        Do you really think the weight would be that much, Jimbo? I dunno. I can't imagine that Tesla owners worry about how "heavy" their travel kits are: http://bit.ly/1feCBE. And RAV4-EV owners don't seem to think twice about hauling Darell Dickey's cables and adaptors with them: http://bit.ly/3S6wLE. It must be worth it to those drivers to shave a mile off their EV's range as long as they can recharge that lost mile wherever they find a plug. I know it would be worth it to me!
        • 5 Years Ago
        It absolutely weighs enough to make a difference. Besides, there's absolutely nothing saying that you can't go out and buy an aftermarket cable and adapter set to throw in your trunk. I'm certain they will be available. There's no reason to require OEMs to throw one in (although I'm sure they'd be happy to tack it on to the price of your vehicle if you really want one, just like Tesla does).

        Plus there's the potential PR problem of the uninformed masses. If you give an Average Joe a cable and an adapter set and they plug it into a wall or dryer socket, they'll be pissed when it takes longer than using a dedicated 240/70 power source. That person will vent their frustration about their "POS electric car" to 10 other people who will then think the car is a POS as well. It's a PR nightmare for the manufacturer and would stall EV adoption. Of course, it's also a PR nightmare when the Average Joe runs out of juice and can't plug in. But in that case, the Average Joe will be pissed at the lack of charging infrastructure (or more likely the government), not the manufacturer. Which situation do you think concerns the OEMs more?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Stealing cables can be stopped by a closing door lock arrangement on either end of the cable.

      I agree with the Yanquetino because when we had pay phones (rembember them?) there were many many times when you would find vandles had ripped out the steel jacketed cables and destroyed the handset. When chargers have rubber cables and fragile connectors it will be open season for hooligans.

      Most importantly, if a phone ws disabled, I could find another as a minor hassel. If my car is low it will be a lot bigger deal to be victim of vandals.

      Let me carry the cable!

      • 5 Years Ago
      I am converting a car to EV and will use the J standard plug. It will be used at all charging stations.
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