Electric Car Charging 101 -- Types of Charging, Charging Networks, Apps, & More! −


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Published on September 10th, 2015 | by Zach

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Electric Car Charging 101 — Types of Charging, Charging Networks, Apps, & More!

September 10th, 2015 by
 

There’s no doubt about it — electric car charging is different from fueling a car with gasoline. On the whole, it’s much more convenient to charge an electric car — you get home, you spend 2–3 seconds plugging in, you go on with your day or night, and you spend 2–3 seconds unplugging when you are ready to drive somewhere again. But circumstances vary, and public charging is a whole ‘nother beast. So, here’s a thorough but introductory guide on electric car charging.

Home Charging

2013 nissan leaf

Nissan LEAF charging with EVSE.

~95% of electric car charging is done at home. There are a couple of common ways to charge at home. One is to simply plug into a standard electricity outlet. All electric cars have what is termed an “onboard charger” in the car itself. So, all you need is to use the charging cord you get with your car to connect your car to a source of electricity.

However, simply plugging into the wall won’t charge your car very fast — you’ll add just about 4 miles of charge or driving range in one hour of charging. If you want to charge faster, you probably want a home “Electric Vehicle Service Equipment” (aka EVSE) — I know, it’s a weird name.

What’s An EVSE?

UK electric car charging home

Electric car and EVSE in UK.

An EVSE is what a lot of people are talking about when they talk about a “home charger” or “wall charger” or “home charging station.” Actually, though, an EVSE is any device which brings AC power to your car, where it is then turned into DC power and fills your car’s battery — via the car’s onboard charger. In other words, it’s various types of cords or cords + boxes that can be used to charge your car. There are numerous EVSEs on the market, and I’ll discuss several of the options in a future article.

Important to note, though, is that not all electric cars are created equal, and not all electric car onboard chargers are created equal (no matter what EVSE you buy). Below is a table of the various electric (including plug-in hybrid electric) cars on the market, the maximum charging capacity of their onboard chargers, and approximately how many “miles of charge” or “miles of driving range” can be added to these cars in one hour while charging on an EVSE.

Model Max Charge ~Miles Added Per Hour 100% Electric or PHEV
Audi A3 e-tron 3.3 kW 11 PHEV
BMW i3 7.4 kW 25 100% Electric / REx
Cadillac ELR 3.3 kW 11 PHEV
Chevy Spark EV 3.3 kW 11 100% Electric
Chevy Volt 3.3 kW 11 PHEV
Fiat 500e 6.6 kW 22 100% Electric
Ford C-Max Energi 3.3 kW 11 PHEV
Ford Fusion Energi 3.3 kW 11 PHEV
Ford Focus Electric 6.6 kW 22 100% Electric
Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid 6.6 kW 22 PHEV
Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid 3.3 kW 11 PHEV
Kia Soul EV 6.6 kW 22 100% Electric
Mercedes B-Class Electric 10 kW 29 100% Electric
Mercedes S550 Plug-in Hybrid 3.3 kW 11 PHEV
Mercedes C350 Plug-in Hybrid 3.3 kW 11 PHEV
Mitsubishi i-MiEV 3.3 kW 11 100% Electric
Nissan LEAF 3.3 kW / 6.6 kW 11 / 22 100% Electric
Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid 3.6 kW / 7.2 kW 12 / 24 PHEV
Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid 3 kW 10 PHEV
Smart Electric Drive 3.3 kW 11 100% Electric
Tesla Model S 10 kW / 20 kW 29 / 58 100% Electric
Tesla Model X 10 kW / 20 kW 29 / 58 100% Electric
Toyota Prius Plug-In 3.3 kW 11 PHEV
Volkswagen e-Golf 3.6 kW / 7.2 kW 12 / 24 100% Electric

If you are looking to buy an EVSE, here are a few tips:

  • Don’t pay more than $1000 (minus installation). ~$700 should be plenty for a good EVSE.
  • Do have a certified electrician install your EVSE (unless you really, really, really know what you’re doing). If you can judge the quality of work of an electrician, feel free to find your own. Otherwise, your car dealer or salesperson should be able to recommend one.
  • Get at least a 30-amp EVSE, but a 40-amp one or higher is more strongly recommended, even if your current EV can’t make use of the higher amperage. The reason? It will be more useful with longer-range EVs you are likely to buy/lease down the road.
  • At least consider getting a portable EVSE. (In case you move.) It’s no more expensive than a permanently mounted EVSE.
  • You may be able to get a tax credit or rebate on an EVSE in your utility jurisdiction, city, or state, so look into it and be sure to track the costs and retain the receipts in case they are needed.

As I wrote earlier, without a special, relatively expensive EVSE and simply plugged into a normal electricity outlet in the US, you will likely add just ~4 miles of charge/range in an hour, so most people decided to purchase a “level 2” EVSE. However, if you have an EV with a small battery or drive very little and always have enough time between charges to charge it as much as needed, you may not benefit from such a purchase and may not want to part with the extra cash. I’m planning to get an EV in a few months and am not planning to buy an extra EVSE since I’ll only drive ~20–30 miles a day, which can easily be refilled charging overnight. There are also several free level 2 charging stations in my area that should be easy to utilize if I want a faster charge once in a while.

EV Electricity Rates

Some utilities have special electricity rates for people with electric cars. These can save you a lot of money, and you could even end up with a lower electricity bill than you had before you had an EV. More broadly, these rates are called “time of use” (TOU) electricity rates, and the reason utilities offer them is because it benefits utilities if you charge your car (or run your dryer, run the dishwasher, etc) at certain low-demand times like the middle of the night.

You should definitely check if your electricity offers special TOU rates for EVs, or TOU rates in general. And then you should select one that best fits EV ownership and charge at times of low electricity prices… as much as possible, at least.

Charging Away From Home

Ontario electric cars chargingAs far as charging options when away from home, the situation varies for everyone. You may have a charging station at your work, at a sports center you frequently use, at a shopping center you frequently use, and so on. But don’t expect that they stand out — you may need to locate one on a website, an app, or via someone in the know to actually find these. I have walked past such a charger almost every day for the past year and I just found out it was there while looking at a charging station map for my city. I was shocked to discover it was there! Of course, if we had EVs around here, I think I would have noticed them charging at the station, but who knows?

It’s very important to note that not all public charging stations are the same. Some are free, some are not. Some charge much faster than others. And, perhaps most importantly, different electric cars need different types of charging ports. The first thing to know is if an EV has fast-charging capability at all. Check out this comparison of electric car charging capabilities for more on that… or read the “Fast Chargers” section further down this page.

Charging Networks

There are different charging station networks out there, and you generally have to get a card for each of them to use them. These are easy enough to get — you just go to their website and register for an account. Some of the more common networks are: ChargePoint, Blink, Greenlots, eVgo, AerovironmentAzra, SemaConnectCircuit ÉlectriqueRéseauVer, and Sun Country Highway.

Rates vary — ranging from session/monthly/yearly flat rates to per-kWh rates to hourly rates, or a mix. There are also a lot of free charging stations, often installed by governmental bodies. Charging station sites/apps discussed further down this page should help you easily sort through everything.

Fast Chargers (aka Level 3 & Level 4 Chargers)

EV Charging StationsNo matter what type of charger you use or what kind of car you have, it’s important to understand that the speed of charging is never the same at 1% of charge as it is at 99% of charge. Basically, when your battery is closer to empty, electricity can flow in at a rapid pace. As it gets filled up, though, that rate must slow. This is called “tapering,” and you’ll notice it beginning at around 50% of charge, but it gets really strong above ~80%. Generally speaking, for this reason, unless you really need to fill up to 99% or 100%, it’s advised that you just go to 80% and then go on your way — and some charging stations actually cut your charge off at 80%.

That said, some types of chargers are much faster than others. Most abundant are “level 2” chargers that charge your car at about the same rate as a home EVSE. But there are also “level 3” chargers (technically called DC fast chargers) that charge much, much faster. They aren’t technically called “level 3” chargers since level 1 and level 2 chargers provide AC electricity to your car via your onboard charging while these faster chargers bypass the onboard charger and provide DC electricity to your battery via a special charging port. But to keep things simple for consumers, we prefer the term “level 3 charging.” Furthermore, we’ve gone and coined Tesla Supercharging as “level 4 charging” since it is much faster than level 3 charging.

CHAdeMO: These level 3 DC fast chargers are much more common than SAE Combo fast chargers at the moment. They work with the most popular electric car in the world, the Nissan LEAF, and are installed at Nissan dealerships across the nation. Aside from the LEAF, other cars that can use them are the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Kia Soul EV, and (with an adaptor) Tesla Model S. Also worth noting here is that Nissan has a “No Charge to Charge” program in several states in which LEAF drivers can charge at these stations for free. At the moment, CHAdeMO fast chargers have a max power output of 50 kW.

SAE Combo (aka CCS): While this level 3 DC fast-charging standard is preferred by German and US automakers, they haven’t yet built the network out to the extent that Nissan has built out the CHAdeMO network. So, it’s generally a bit harder to find SAE Combo fast chargers along the routes you are going to travel. Cars that use the SAE Combo standard include: the BMW i3, Chevy Spark EV, and Volkswagen e-Golf. At the moment, SAE Combo fast chargers have a max power output of 50 kW.

Supercharger: At the moment, only Teslas can use the Tesla Supercharger network. Superchargers are installed widely across the US (and Europe) and can charge an electric car faster than any other chargers out there. Tesla is quickly growing the Supercharger network, and this creates one large competitive advantage for the popular EV company. At the moment, Tesla Superchargers have a max power output of 120 kW.

Here’s a table of the fully electric cars on the market (none of the PHEVs are able to use fast chargers), which types of fast chargers they can use, and approximately how many miles of charge/range can be added in 30 minutes of charging:

Model Fast Charger Type Standard or As An Option Miles of Charge in ~30 Minutes
BMW i3 SAE Combo Standard 75–100
Chevy Spark EV SAE Combo Option 75–100
Fiat 500e
Kia Soul EV CHAdeMO Standard 75–100
Mercedes B-Class Electric
Mitsubishi i-MiEV CHAdeMO Standard 75–100
Nissan LEAF CHAdeMO Option 75–100
Smart Electric Drive
Tesla Model S Supercharger & CHAdeMO Standard / Option 170
Tesla Model X Supercharger & CHAdeMO Standard / Option 170
Volkswagen e-Golf SAE Combo Standard 75–100

Worth noting is that, of all the charging stations out there, there are always some that are down for one reason or another. Tesla’s Superchargers have a much higher uptime and reliability than others, but no matter which network you are using, it’s worth checking out user comments on sites/apps like PlugShareEV Charge Hub, and ChargePoint — and also having a backup charger or two in mind in case the one you intend to use is down.

Level 2 Chargers

While DC fast chargers are still quite limited, there are level 2 chargers all over the place. Okay, not “all over the place,” but in a lot more places than fast chargers. These charge your car at a similar rate as a home EVSE (~10–30 miles of charge per hour). To find these chargers, you’d again use sites/apps like the ones I just mentioned — PlugShareEV Charge Hub, and ChargePoint. In the next section, I’ll quickly run down these three sites/apps and one more, including their pros and cons.


 

EV Charging Sites/Apps

PlugShare

PlugShare

PlugShare is probably the most popular EV charging site/app to date. It includes all types of charging stations (level 2, CHAdeMO, SAE Combo, Supercharger) and stations from various charging station companies/networks (ChargePoint, Blink, EVgo, GE, SemaCharge). It also includes a “Trip Planner.”

One nice feature of PlugShare is that it includes various details about each charger, such as a description, cost, hours of accessibility, photos, types of plugs present, and user feedback (comments).

Something lacking is that the trip planner (as far as I’ve seen) doesn’t tell you how many miles it is from one charging station (or address) to the next. So, you have to jump over to a mapping tool like Google Maps to find out if you have would enough range to get to a particular charging station when planning out a trip. Hopefully this information will be added soon, as the current setup is quite annoying and time-consuming.

You can actually find stations in other countries beyond the US on PlugShare as well! I have used it to find stations in Poland. Admittedly, though, PlugShare seems to be missing some.

Here’s the PlugShare website, Apple app, and Android app.

EV Charge Hub

EV Charge Hub

EV Charge Hub also lets you find charging stations by type, but offers more types: CHAdeMO, J1772/SAE Combo, Tesla Supercharger, J1772, Nema 515, Nema 520, and Nema 1450.

It also lets you search by network, but again lists more networks than PlugShare lists. In fact, it lets you filter between so many networks (16) that I’m not going to list them here. 😀

Again, EV Charge Hub includes various details about each charger, such as a description, cost, hours of accessibility, photos, types of plugs present, and user feedback (comments).

Unfortunately, EV Charge Hub doesn’t let you map out a trip at all — well, it kicks you over to a mapping app such as Google Maps.

Here’s the EV Charge Hub website, Apple app, and Android app.

EV Trip Planner

EV Trip Planner

EV Trip Planner is a site/app that has historically just been for Tesla drivers, but it is now incorporating features for Nissan LEAF drivers as well. It includes a route energy planner, various charging tables & calculations, a map showing where Teslas actually travel (I discovered that 4 Teslas have used that EV charging station in my neighborhood that I mentioned earlier!), and some other web and physical offerings.

EV Trip Planner is highly regarded and quite popular in the Tesla community. Hopefully it branches out to serve other electric car models.

ChargePoint

ChargePoint

ChargePoint is “the world’s largest and most open electric vehicle (EV) charging network.” It currently serves >23,400 locations, according to the website. Workplaces, multifamily dwellings, homes, retailers, parking garages, and more — it serves just about everything.

It also has a charging station map on the web and an app. Usefully, it doesn’t just shows ChargePoint stations, but shows other network and public stations as well. It also shows you various personal stats like greenhouse gas emissions avoided, gas savings, and energy use.

Here’s the ChargePoint website, Apple app, and Android app.

If you have any other favorite sites/apps (or at least ones that you like), drop us a note.

EV Charging Etiquette

To wrap things up, there’s EV charging etiquette. For more on that, I’ll just direct you here:

EV Etiquette — 8 Rules

EV Charging Etiquette Video


I think that’s good for an “Electric Car Charging 101” course. Perhaps I’ll follow up with an “Electric Car Charging 201” course at some point. 😀

Images by Nissan, Copyright © 2014; Michal Wnuk, Copyright © 2014; Plug’n Drive Ontario (some rights reserved); Joe A. Kunzler (some rights reserved)


 

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, SCTY, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB. After years of covering solar and EVs, he simply had a lot of faith in these companies and felt like they were good companies to invest in as a portion of his retirement strategy. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • jack8trades

    Good article, wish it had been available when I was learning about this stuff.
    In the “What’s An EVSE?” section, I am left with the strong impression that EVSE is a shorthand for ‘wall mounted L2 home charging station.’ I’ve come to accept people calling anything connecting to an EV to enable charging, a charger. However, since an EVSE is technically just a device which supplies AC power (120v L1 or 240v L2,) to the car’s onboard charger, usually via a J1772 port on the car, I feel *it’s* usage should remain clear as such, especially with this being, ‘Charging 101.’

    • Thanks. I’ll try to clarify that.

      • jack8trades

        I must apologize. I decided to double-check my understanding of what exactly EVSE means, since I started to notice after my comment that sometimes a DC-only charging station was also called an EVSE, and I realized I couldn’t see why it wouldn’t be, as it is equipment to supply power to an EV. Wikipedia certainly defines it as such.
        While on this trail, I also noticed information that current SAE Combo standard is actually a J1772 Level 2 DC fast charging standard. Wikipedia also seems to confirm this. CHAdeMO might be considered a Level 3, I’m not sure (maybe it’s just ‘type’ 3.) From what I can tell the next version of SAE will be called Level 3, but wouldn’t bet anyone on it.
        It would sure be nice if someone could authoritatively verify and document all this in one place (hint, hint. 😉

        • The Department of Energy puts them both (SAE Combo & CHAdeMO) as DC Fast Charging: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/electricity_infrastructure.html

          I’m choosing to use the terms Level 3 & Level 4 to make the user end of this simpler for newbies and people who don’t want to dig into the specifics. I think it’s important for the social side at this stage.

          • jack8trades

            Your reasoning makes perfect sense to me!

          • kvleeuwen

            It would be even better to drop the Levels altogether and just talk kWs, just like the rest of the world 🙂
            Amps are confusing since voltage and number of phases are unknown, and what level would a three-phase 32A, 120V charger be?
            The power is what matters, and it is no more complex than vague Level terms.

        • Glenn N. Davis

          Hi, The difference between EVSE and L3!
          EVSE is falsely called a “charger” but is in reality just a VERY EXPENSIVE way for the manufacturer to charge up to $1000.00 for what is in reality a glorified Plug or SAFETY EXTENSION CORD! that has electronic communication (Think of a Raspberry PI). And is only a Station in as much as it is not going anywhere and provides you with a place to conveniently hang up the cord.

          The charger with an evse is actually built into the Car. In the case of a Nissan Leaf which has a measly 6.6kW limit (or about as much power as your electric dryer 30A@220V might draw) due to limitations of the wire and charger built into the car meaning that 24kw will happen no sooner than 8 hours later no mater what size of cord is on your EVSE. (Assuming you are foolish enough to drive off 100% of the 24kWh of your charge (longer with the 30kWh battery!) and damage the battery.) Tesla for a charge will put multiple chargers in their car (for a fee) giving up to 20kW charging from an EVSE or about 90A@220V.

          A CHAdeMO or SAE Combo Plug or Tesla Supercharger or DCFC or DCQC or other Level 3 (L3) DC charger lets you put charge directly into the battery (Bypassing the internal charger(s)) by using clever software that keeps the battery from overheating and the equally clever hardware That must be already built into the battery pack of most modern electric cars, and lets the cars sensors and brain and charging regulators (aka battery management) decide just how fast you may charge it without damaging anything. No Meltdowns or core breaches allowed!

          Hope this helps!

          • jack8trades

            How is an external charger not Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment? It’s like, an oven (charger) is an appliance (EVSE,) but an appliance is not necessarily an oven. Qualifying the EVSE by it’s output of AC (not a charger,) or DC (charger,) is sufficient to distinguish between them.

  • neroden

    If you’ve got a car which can handle it (mostly only the Tesla Model S with dual chargers), you should look at the Sun Country Highway website. Because they’ve scattered 70 amp, 80 amp, and 90 amp chargers across Canada. Fastest AC chargers out there.

    • TedKidd

      I would really like to understand how they concluded that was what they should install. Seems VERY forward thinking.

  • Kyle Field

    Ah…I remember this one 🙂 I agree with Jack8 below – this is a great reference write up for folks who are new. It would almost be helpful to have an “intro to EVs” section with almost a wiki style collection of links/tips/articles. What do you think? (or maybe that exists on here and I’m just unaware 🙂 ).

    • Yeah, great idea. And no, we don’t have anything like that yet.

  • TedKidd

    Nice.

    So disappointing that all manufacturers besides Audi and Tesla provide such crappy EVSE’s with their cars.

    You may change your mind about getting a more robust EVSE. People do have 30 and 50 amp plugs available on plugshare.

    I use the crappy one at home and keep a 30 amp from EVSE Upgrade in the car.

    My buddy got a 40 amp Juicebox and is really happy with it.

  • Steve Brown

    A very good article but mention needs to be made of the strain that ever increasing charging stations and charging equipment in homes will have on the already strained power distribution networks. As an example, my home town Perth currently requires about 2000MW on average to power the cities needs. There are about 1.5 million vehicles in Perth consuming 3000MW (at 10kW average each). This is a very scary situation for both EV owners and electricity distribution owners but I suspect neither have thought about it yet. Solar panels and batteries work for me but what about everyone else??

    • sault

      But electric vehicles are 4 – 5x more energy efficient than gasoline vehicles. Even just at 4x the efficiency, 100% EVs for Perth would only use 750MW on average. Plus, you need to consider that the vast majority of EV charging will be done at night when there’s plenty of unused electrical generation capacity either sitting idle or running just for the sake of keeping the plant ready for the next day.

      In addition, oil refineries use a lot of electricity and natural gas that could be used to charge up EVs a lot more efficiently. I don’t know about Australia, but the USA has tons of slack natural gas power plant capacity and tons of cheap gas right now. Plus, how much electricity do gas stations and car repair shops that do oil changes, filter replacements, transmission work, etc. use that EVs don’t need?

      • Steve Brown

        I have read what I wrote again and I failed to make clear what I was suggesting. The current electricity distribution networks in all countries are not designed to cope with all houses (or even a large number) drawing 50 amps each to fast charge EV’s batteries. Most houses are single phase wired and would struggle to get 30amps down to the garage! Older houses are likely to have degraded wiring as well. To get 3 phase installed in residences would never be cost effective.

        • sault

          But you need to realize your fundamental mistake was taking petrol vehicle power demands and assuming that EV power demands will be the same. The higher efficiency of EVs means that you’re off by at least a factor of 4. So even if your other assumptions are correct, Perth won’t need to worry about electricity infrastructure changes to accommodate EVs until they reach 40% market penetration.

          Houses are wired to cope with air conditioning and the fridge kicking on at the same time as lights, TVs and other appliances are running. Even older houses in the US have 100-amp split-phase service while the norm for newer units is 200-amp service. You can get 30, 40 or even 50 amps to anywhere in the house you want as long as you, or more likely a qualified electrician, puts the right breaker in and uses the proper gauge wire and lands it into the right receptacle. What I’m saying is everything is already in place to charge EVs mostly at home, no 3-phase service required. If the utility sees a problem with everybody charging their cars, they are free to offer special rates for charging at night when this will not be an issue, and a lot of utilities already do.

          We’re a long way off from EVs hitting 40% market penetration. It will probably take 20 years or so for this to happen. In the mean time, our housing stock will turn over to increasingly 200-amp wired units with highly efficient appliances that save more energy than an EV would ever use while the older houses either get retrofits or are demolished and re-built to handle the electrical needs of the 21st Century.

          This still makes a whole lot more sense than drilling for oil, dealing with the geopolitical headaches it causes, dealing with the oil spills / climate change / etc. oil consumption causes, shipping crude by leaky pipeline or explodey oil trains, refining the crude in massive refineries that also release pollution / consume massive amounts of energy / lower surrounding property values, ship it to gas stations that leak fuel from underground tanks and make land unusable for anything else, and finally pump fuels into cars that release pollution right at ground level where everybody lives, works and breathes.

  • TCFlood

    Zach,
    I read somewhere that the Tesla has a battery cooling system that allows supercharging without excessive battery heating. Is this true? If so, do you have any idea how much cost this adds? Do any of the other EVs have this feature? How serious is battery heating deterioration as charging becomes faster?

  • Glenn N. Davis

    I would love to see how happy people are with various charging systems. and where they got them. My specific narrow interest is single phase CHadeMO 220 volt units as I have a 244V (nominally 220/225V) 200A Which uses 2 of three phases to effectively give single phase 220V power at just under 50kW. I am looking for anyone who actually sells these in the 30kW-50kW range. I have called Nissan and they referred me to AeroVironment. So I called AV and asked how much a L3 CHadeMO charger cost and when i could get one. What ensued was a great deal of stammering and no availability. So I called Nissan America with this problem. So far I have not gotten anywhere. I have also looked at alibabba.com but all say that they want 3 phase 308 volts. Contacting several Alibaba sellers that say single phase is available are seemingly using only one input of a three phase unit. The drawback to this is an 70% reduction in power output in kW and no assurance that it actually works.. I am so close that i can almost taste it!!!!! I am also so frustrated that I could (and quite likely will) Scream!!!! I have a 100mi/daily habit in three 17 mi trips. So 34 miles round trip*3 = about 100 miles/day or about 30,000 + per year!!! all in 17 mile trips.

  • Ann McChesney-Young

    I have a question. We’re thinking of leasing a Chevy Spark EV. I understand it can be charged on the level 3 SAE Combo chargers. Can it also be charged occasionally/partially on a level 2, in absence of a level 3 station? Thanks.

    • Donald Morales

      Yes as long as you have the dcquickcharge option on your spark.

      • Ann McChesney-Young

        Thank you! We have leased it and love it!

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