Choosing the right EVSE – Electric Vehicle Service Equipment aka EV Charger

With my Fiat 500e set to arrive imminently I spent time over the past few weeks evaluating the current EVSEs. These are common referred to as chargers, but the charger is actually located in the car (for Level 1 and Level 2) and the device installed on an interior or exterior wall or mounted on a pedestal is actually a fancy safety device that makes sure power is shut off automatically if the connection is broken, preventing the risk of voltage arcing as one pulls the connector out of the socket. This is really important as 240volts is able to jump rather far and the arc could be dangerous and even lethal.

Current EVSE’s range from 16 amps to 40 amps in the amount of power they can deliver. Most current level 2 devices are rated for a maximum charging current of 30 amps. Cars also have a maximum rate at which they can charge with most newer ones charging at a maximum of 32 amps (a little over six percent faster than 30). A few cars such as the Tesla Model S and the Toyota Rav 4 EV can accept current at 40 amps. I focused my choices on the EVSEs that were 30 amps and above with a preference for 32 and 40 amp units.

The factors I ultimately considered included: Power output, price, warranty, aesthetics and availability. Most companies limit the warranty to just one year if you have someone other than one of their certified professionals install it. This seems silly to me as these “professionals” tend to charge a huge surcharge over what the cost for an electrician would charge for the amount of work. For example, purchasing a basic Aeroenvironment charger that sells for $899 online, from the Fiat dealer with installation included would add $1,100 to the price!

Ultimately after considering all of the major brands, I settled on Leviton, a name with a good and long reputation, who unlike Aeroenvironment isn’t in the military business. Leviton also offers 32 amp and 40 amp devices and offers a three year warranty when you self-install (or have your electrician install it). I preferred both the aesthetics and “future-proofing” offered by their 40 amp system and purchased it online from Amazon. It was delivered in two days with free shipping on a rather heavy unit! My electrician charged me less than $400 for the installation and the City of Berkeley charged me around $120 for the legally required permit. The total cost was thus around $1,700 for a much better device. If I had gone with a cheaper 30 amp from Bosch which sells for just $593 and would not have required the expensive six gauge copper the 50 amp circuit supplying the Leviton does. The actual cost would have been closer to $1,100 saving $900 over the Fiat recommended solution.

Here’s a photo of the installed device:

Here's my new level 2 charger, made by Leviton and delivering 40 amps at 240 volts!

Here’s my new level 2 charger, made by Leviton and delivering 40 amps at 240 volts!

 

Toyota RAV4 EV Test Drive at Downtown Berkeley, Toyota

I just test drove the 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV and I was in for quite the treat! In case you are wondering why the 2012 model in 2013, the vehicles are pretty much identical except for price as the 2012 as some huge incentives to help them sell. From a distance it’s hard to tell that this is an EV. The vehicle is more aerodynamic than the previous Rav4 but still looks like a Rav4. Thanks to the battery placement under the vehicle cargo capacity remains just as generous — a rare feature for an EV!

Acceleration is quick thanks to the power train, a detuned version of that in the Tesla Model S. It handles that power very well for an SUV and the suspension is firm but forgiving. From a driving perspective there was nothing to complain about. While it was quick in regular mode it felt like a performance car in sport mode! These strengths more than compensated for weaknesses such as the absence of an easy way to route to charging stations using the built in Nav system.

With the current $9,300 rebate from Toyota, and the combined federal/CA credit/rebate of $10,000, it’s quite a good deal. So did I buy it? No. For two big reasons. While the range is generous for a current generation EV, it’s not enough to go on a long trip and with the excellent cargo capacity that’s exactly what my family would want to be able to do with it. Toyota also left out the option of DC fast charge support so charging in route is not realistic unless one has the time to stop overnight. Add to that the fact that the fastest supported charging is through a 10kw charger and these are rather uncommon. Using a 6.6kW charger would make this truly an all night affair.

Next EV I’m going to look at is the Ford CMax Energi