December 7, 2023

What Is a Level 3 Electric Vehicle Charger?


12 Min. Read

This article was originally published March 17, 2022 and was updated December 7, 2023.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more popular in the mainstream automobile market and are starting to become commonplace on American roadways. Demand is high, and consumer expectations are even higher, with charging speeds and convenience among the key considerations EV drivers expect when traveling with their EVs.

Consumers need assurances that they can replenish their battery when taking a trip with minimal or no “range anxiety.” Easy access to Level 3 EV charging on a long excursion can help alleviate this concern, but how hard is it to find these extremely fast charging stations when driving across the country? In this article, we explore electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) charging station types, realistic driver needs, and why Level 3 EV chargers are necessary or practical for supplementing at-home charging and meeting daily driving needs.

The Energy Transition is Gaining Speed

Researchers believe that we’ve reached a tipping point in EV adoption that will cause an acceleration of new EV sales. The tipping point for mass public acceptance of EVs was widely viewed as 10% of new vehicle sales. Two years ago, analysts estimated that this rate of adoption would be reached by 2025, but 10 states have already surpassed that mark, and nationally, it will likely be surpassed within the next year. Analysts now expect EVs to comprise 23% of all new automobile and light truck purchases by 2025 and more than half of new vehicle sales by 2030. The transition from traditional vehicles using fossil fuels to EVs is escalating rapidly, and an electric future is coming.

When the interstate highway system was built 60 to 70 years ago, drivers worried about finding gas stations in rural areas. Since that time, gas stations have sprung up near most exits, and in more remote areas, signs have cautioned, “next gas XX miles.” The vision for EV charging stations and clear signage along national interstates is similar to the development of Alternative Fuels Corridors that would make charging accessible along busy transport routes.

Stopping to charge an EV, however, is very different from stopping for fossil fuel. Pulling up to a gas pump has long meant choosing between regular, medium, or premium-grade gasoline or diesel. You might prefer purchasing a higher grade than required or vice versa, depending on the price per gallon, but regardless of the type of fuel selected, the amount of time required to fill your gasoline or diesel tank remains the same.

Making a stop to charge an electric car has similarities, but estimating the time required is vastly different depending on where you charge, how you charge, and the model of your EV. While the power expressed in watts and pressure expressed in volts varies from one charging method to another, the higher the voltage and wattage, the faster a charging station can refill an EV battery.

Level 3 charging, also known as Direct Current Fast Charging (DCFC) or Tesla Supercharging, is the premium-grade gasoline-equivalent to fuel up your vehicle—the fastest and most expensive—but Level 3 fast charging may not actually be what your vehicle or situation requires.

Understanding The Different EV Charger Levels: 1, 2 and 3

Every EV supports the first two levels of charging, but not all electric vehicles are designed for fast charging. Level 1 EV charging is generally accessible via a portable charger that comes with the vehicle upon purchase, but Level 2 EV charging often requires access to a charging station that has to be purchased separately. Additionally, DC Fast Charging, or Level 3 EV charging is typically only found in public and commercial areas due to the high cost and electrical infrastructure requirements.

If you have purchased an EV or are considering one, it’s important to know the differences between Level 1 and Level 2 EV chargers and understand compatibility, especially to ensure you are making the most of your electric vehicle driving experience and to ensure your EV charging is adequate for your daily driving needs. Here’s what you need to know about the different levels and types of EV charging stations.

Level 1 Charging Stations

  • Volts: 120 volts, the amount used in standard household outlets.
  • Connection: Uses J1772 or North American Charging Standard (NACS) connectors.
  • Charging Speed: Three to five miles of battery range are added per hour. Getting a full charge can take more than 40 to 50 hours.
  • Wiring: It does not require any special wiring, uses alternating current (AC), and comes with all EVs. You can use a Level 1 charging cord to plug a vehicle into any regular wall outlet, but a licensed electrician should still inspect the outlet to ensure there are no potential issues with the wiring.

Level 1 charging overnight or at work is adequate for short commutes but is often too slow to satisfy driving needs for traveling across town or longer distances since getting a full charge can take more than 40 hours depending on the battery size of your EV. As vehicle ranges continue to rise, the time to charge an EV with a Level 1 EV charger will only become longer.

Level 2 Charging Stations

  • Volts: 208–240 volts on a 32–48-amp charger. Most residential Level 2 EVSEs deliver 40 amps. There are Level 2 charging stations that deliver up to 80 amps of power, but they typically require an upgrade to the home’s main electrical panel.
  • Connection: Uses J1772 or NACS connectors.
  • Charging Speed: 12 to 80 miles of battery range per hour, translating to 4 to 10 hours of charging for a full battery.
  • Wiring: Uses AC but requires a dedicated circuit and a supply line from the breaker box. The installation process is similar to air conditioners and clothes dryers, but EV outlets have additional safety requirements. The EV charging station can be hardwired or plugged into a NEMA 14-50 outlet, although a hardwired connection is typically recommended. Homes may require electrical panel upgrades.

Level 2 charging stations vary greatly in power delivered but work well for all EVs and typically charge a battery between four and ten hours. Most EV drivers use Level 2 charging for daily or overnight charging. Home installation of the necessary equipment is relatively inexpensive, and federal, state, municipal, and utility incentives can further assist with any installation costs of supporting electrification needs, such as a panel upgrade. Many public places, such as shopping centers, also make Level 2 EVSE available for public use, often for free or for a nominal price, although it can still be more expensive than charging at home.

What is a Level 3 EV Charger or DC Fast Charging Station?

  • Volts: 400–900 volts (DC Fast Chargers and Tesla Superchargers) with a 100–400 amp current.
  • Connection: Connectors vary (Combo, CHAdeMO, or Tesla).
  • Charging Speed: 3 to 20 miles of battery range per minute, taking less than an hour for a full battery recharge with most electric vehicles.
  • Wiring: DC Fast charging stations require 480 or 1,000V to charge an EV battery in an hour or less. These chargers use dedicated circuits that can handle direct current using a much higher voltage than is normally available in a residential area. Unfortunately, this level of voltage is only available to commercial customers, making Level 3 charging at home impossible.

Level 3 EV chargers or DC Fast charging stations are remarkably fast, completely charging a vehicle in less than an hour. Level 3 public chargers cost more to use, but they enable travelers to make quick stops to recharge and get back on the highway. However, relying on DC Fast charging has some downsides since it accelerates EV battery degradation.

NACS and Compatibility with Level 3 Charging

The adoption of the North American Charging Standard is a major shift for the EV industry. Tesla made this proprietary charging standard public in 2022, and a majority of EV automakers have announced plans to adopt this charging standard for their 2025 lineup.

NACS has several advantages. This charging standard gives EV owners access to Tesla’s extensive charging network, but it also simplifies EV charging by using a single plug for AC and DC charging.

Charging a NACS EV with a NACS charging station will be the most convenient way to refill your battery, but NACS EVs will remain compatible with other standards with the help of an adapter. Legacy EVs with J1772 and CSS plugs will also connect to NACS charging stations with an adapter, but performance might not be optimal.

The adoption of this new standard is an important consideration for those who are looking into an EV purchase or thinking about upgrading their home with a Level 2 charging station.

Adding Level 3 DCFC EV Chargers Throughout U.S.

As the market for electric vehicles continues to grow, so does the demand for DCFC charging stations in highly trafficked corridors. President Joe Biden publicly committed to building a convenient, reliable, and user-friendly national network of 500,000 EV chargers by 2030, including Level 2 and 3 chargers.

To reach that goal, the Department of Transportation formed the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program (NEVI), a $5 billion initiative. NEVI is working with states and local jurisdictions to create a coast-to-coast network of EV chargers along major highways to support the majority of long-distance trips. The initiative is striving to place charging stations no farther than 50 miles apart on interstates.

The EV charging network will have Level 2 chargers as well as DCFC. Each state submitted plans for its highways, along with plans in major cities.

Each state is taking a unique approach to developing its charging infrastructure by distributing NEVI funding and making additional state-level grants available in some cases. This local approach to developing a nationwide EV charging infrastructure allows the different players involved to adapt to the unique needs of the community.

For example, the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA) Evolve NY program plans on installing 400 Level 3 DC Fast Chargers that will charge an EV battery to 80% within 20 minutes. Besides the 50-mile intervals along interstate corridors, they are also installing them in urban hubs.

It’s important to note that many of the new EVSE sites will be operated by private charging networks. These charging networks may require membership to use their stations, although some states do not allow membership requirements if a public fund subsidizes installation. These networks typically have mobile applications to enable EV drivers to locate chargers and even check device availability and functionality. In addition, some automakers offer free or discounted charging on specific networks for a period as part of promotional vehicle purchase agreements in addition to, or as an alternative to, offering an installation credit for an at-home Level 2 EV charging station installation.

How many Level 3 EV chargers are there in America?

Finding a DCFC station away from home is getting easier, with over 20,000 DC Fast charging stations and more than 16,000 Tesla Superchargers currently available. The national installation effort is making inroads, and it helps that there are countless ways EV drivers can now locate charging stations available for public access.

The best charging apps highlight nearby EV charging stations, indicate if the chargers are Level 2 or Level 3 DCFC ones, what the current rates are, and even port availability. They also identify advantageous routes that factor in charging locations. Downloading several is beneficial since some may only highlight equipment that is part of their network.

The U.S. Department of Energy also features tools in its Alternative Fuels Data Center to measure the distance between charging stations along highly traveled fuel corridors and even in urban areas.

ChargeHub’s tool lets you search by route or even ascertain whether a particular city is EV-friendly or not. For example, the site shows that in Plano, Texas, 17% of public chargers are Level 3 equipment, but the total number of stations is only 33. In Los Angeles, only 7% of charging stations are Level 3, but the city has 285 fast chargers scattered around town. Nearby Calabasas, CA, 67% of the 48 public charging stations available offer DCFC. ChargeHub enables users to drill down to specific station locations, ports, connectors, costs, and hours.

Other invaluable mobile applications include PlugShare, ChargePoint, Electrify America or its Canadian version, and Evgo. They help you locate charging facilities available for public utilization, whether part of commercial charging networks or offered courtesy of the regional utility or local municipality.

Even though Level 3 charging is much faster, you should know that the cost can be two to three times higher compared to charging at home with a Level 2 station. The cost of charging is still far less than purchasing gasoline today.

More locations provide access to pay-for-use charging stations and even free Level 2 charging equipment so customers can add more battery range while eating, shopping, watching a movie, sightseeing, or making other lengthy stops. Integrating Level 2 or DCFC charging into your errands or workday will become easier in the future as more businesses and workplaces offer charging stations, but for now, overnight charging with a Level 2 station at home remains the most convenient option for most EV drivers.

DCFC EV Charger Concerns

Drivers of electric automobiles and trucks ideally want to locate and utilize Level 3 or DCFC equipment when traveling to minimize waiting times. However, not all battery-operated vehicles can take advantage of the DCFC capabilities, and no EV should rely on them regularly. Battery power levels vary among EVs. The cars are designed to prevent any charger from delivering too much power, but some EVs have batteries too small to accommodate fast chargers. In that case, paying to use a fast charger is pointless.

Additionally, frequent supercharging can degrade batteries over time, making Level 2 charging a safer option for daily use. DC Fast charging remains a convenient option when traveling, but EV owners need to consider the added cost and reduced battery lifespan when making a charging decision.

With the residential energy infrastructure allowing for Level 2 charging at home, a majority of EV owners have adopted overnight Level 2 charging as their primary charging method and only occasionally rely on Fast DC charging when traveling.

EV owners have access to more charging options than ever as the federal government, states, automakers, and private charger networks come together to develop a nationwide EV charging infrastructure.

Need An EV Charger Installed?

While Level 3 or Fast DC charging remains the fastest way to fill your EV battery, this charging method isn’t available on the residential energy infrastructure and has some downsides in terms of costs and battery degradation.

For most EV owners, installing a Level 2 charging station at home with the help of a qualified electrician who can assist with choosing the right charging equipment and performing a panel upgrade if needed is the best solution.

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When it comes to EV charger installations, no one is more trusted or recommended than Qmerit.

As North America’s largest network of certified EV charger installers, every Qmerit electrician is fully licensed, background-checked, insured, and properly trained in EV charging station installation so you can rest easy in knowing your installation is done right and backed by the Qmerit Peace of Mind Guarantee.

Recommended by automakers, EV charger manufacturers, utilities, businesses, and homeowners alike, and with over 450,000 EV charging stations installed across the U.S. and Canada, no one is more experienced in energy transition technologies than Qmerit.

Contact Qmerit today and complete our online EV assessment for your customer EV charger installation estimate and to learn more about how Qmerit can help make your next electrification project easy.

Author: Greg Sowder

Greg Sowder

President, Qmerit Network