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I'll find my way in charging car

Let’s talk about charging.

One common question I hear is about charging my electric vehicle. People want to know how long it takes, and where and how it’s done. They mention their apprehension about driving any kind of distance without knowing if they’ll get home.

These questions are valid and they remain on my mind as I get used to this new way of putting fuel in my car. We can read about charging options until our brains are full, but until we’ve gone through the process a few times, it’s all just theory. Most of us learned how to fuel our combustion engine cars by being in the car while our parents stopped for gas on a road trip or as part of the errand list for the day. When it came time for wheels of our own we imitated what we regularly saw. Not so for this new technology. We didn’t grow up with vehicle chargers. Our great-grandparents didn’t grow up with fuel pumping stations either, though, and they figured out the “new fangled” method. We can, too.

First, a very quick overview of vehicle charging terminology as I understand it. Level 1 charging is a very slow charge. The equipment looks like a fancy extension cord that plugs into a regular 110/120 volt outlet. It may take 20 to 40 hours to fully charge the vehicle using this method. Level 2 chargers require a 240 volt outlet, and the cords look like a slightly bulkier fancy extension cord. A full charge can generally be achieved in 10 to 20 hours. These two options both use AC electricity. The Level 3 charger uses DC electricity (typically 400 or 800 volts) and charges the fastest. There is a lot of variability in the speed of these Level 3 chargers, but an hour or so will often fully charge a vehicle. The Level 3 chargers I’ve seen look a lot like gasoline pumps with thick electrical cords instead of hoses, and connector plugs in the place of the nozzle.

There is a certain amount of standardization regarding the connectors, especially the Level 1 and Level 2 ports. If you’re charging on the road at a Level 3 charger, you’ll need to make sure the charging station has the right connector for you. But there’s an app for that. There are several apps, actually, that will help you find nearby charging stations and alert you to the number of spots available, the price for charging, and comments of other users. This last bit is particularly helpful, since some of the chargers are not in good working order and it’s nice to know this ahead of time. If you enter your VIN into the app, it will show you only compatible charging stations.

Some of the charging stations take your credit card directly, but many require an active account set up on your phone. I’ve taken some time to set up accounts with Zef Energy, Circle K, and Chargepoint so I’ll have my options readily accessible when I need them (I hope!). Many charging stations are at or near places of business such as gas stations and restaurants. Some are in parking ramps. Some are in the middle of nowhere. You can’t count on a restroom or convenience store while charging — although the apps are set up to give this information as well.

My charging experience so far has been easy. I don’t drive far or every day, so Level 1 charging is the method I use most often. I set up a station in our garage dedicated to the charger and I charge the car to 80 percent (as recommended for all but long road trips) whenever I’m not driving it. The dashboard displays the estimated range in miles, and I’ve been keeping track of the estimated miles versus the actual miles used. The displayed estimate is very accurate, so I can trust the number on the screen — in good weather, that is. In this nice weather, I can easily drive to and around Duluth and come home with plenty of miles left in the battery. Wind definitely affects mileage, for the better or worse, depending on direction. Rain does too, in that the wipers use electricity, and the climate control can drain the battery faster than expected as well.

I’ve never experienced a Level 2 charger like they have at Black Bear Casino, but I have used Level 3 chargers twice. I used a Level 3 charger on my return trip from Hopkins the day I bought the car. It was at the North Branch exit, but kind of in the middle of nowhere, and I didn’t like the isolation. Last week I took a trip to Pine City to check out the Level 3 chargers there. There is a Zef charger in Pine City proper that appeared functional, but I really wanted to try out the new Circle K units at the Holiday Station. The app indicated they would deliver 180 kW, but even though I was the only one charging at the time (there are spaces for four cars) only 50kW came through. Whether that difference was due to the charger or my vehicle I don’t know yet, but the charge was significantly faster than what I get at home. I liked this location near the gas station amenities, and I can see myself charging there in the future.

Now that I’m comfortable with a couple of charging options on the interstate, I’m ready to make my first Twin Cities trip. I’ll also spend some of these nice summer days investigating the charging stations in Duluth. Currently, there are no functioning Level 3 chargers for my Niro north of Pine City, but that will change. There’s a new one being built in West Duluth. Perhaps it will be usable soon. When I have a reliable charging option in Duluth, I’ll be able to make a little trip up the shore. It’s simply a matter of learning where to charge up the car.

Do you have experiences to share about charging your electric vehicle at home or on the road? I’d love to hear them. Send your story to [email protected].