Posted 09/02/2015 in Reviews by Steve
Except for cases where an EV driver is looking to conform to the limitations of existing wiring or a constrained budget, the selection of charger rating is usually dictated by the specifications of the car. In a residential installation, there’s usually no advantage to purchasing a more expensive charging station that has greater capacity than a car can handle. The exception to this is if a purchaser wants to “future-proof” the installation and anticipates the purchase of an electric car with a faster onboard charger, although falling prices might make advance purchases a false economy.
For people looking to save some money by purchasing a lower cost 240v charger or using existing wiring, here’s a good rule of thumb to compare the power ratings of various charge units:
Miles per hour of charge (mph)
120v 12 amp, 1.4 kw - 4 mph
240v 15 amp, 3.6 kw - 10 mph
240v 20 amp, 4.8 kw - 15 mph
240v 30 amp, 7.2 kw - 20 mph
240v 40 amp, 9.6 kw - 30 mph
These rule of thumb estimates use rounding and individual results may vary, but the ratios will remain accurate. Measuring charge rate in mph usually makes for a more useful comparison than citing the watts.
Schneider Electric, a Fortune 500 company best known for their respected Square D brand sold by electrical industry supply houses and Home Depot, is not a household name in consumer appliances in the US. But the company has nearly two centuries of engineering experience and continues to produce high quality modern products including residential and commercial EV charge stations. The company’s residential EVlink is a 30 amp, 7.4kw wall mount unit which has a couple features not found on most other home units. The first is the ability to very easily delay the start of charging for up to 8 hours to take advantage of off-peak rates. Although most EVs now have this capability built in, the EVlink gives you another option for managing the timing of your charge. Just tap the button on the face panel and each click sets the timer back one hour. A segmented circle LED displays the length of the delay. The same LED display also shows charging progress once the unit starts charging. Indicator lights identify the unit status. The EVlink’s indoor rated enclosure features modern styling with the ability to apply a “custom skin” sticker over the entire face panel of the unit. Using the EVlink web site, you can choose from several hundred designs or upload your favorite photo. The EVlink comes with an 18 ft cable. The charging station will restart automatically in the case of a temporary power outage or transient fault so charging will complete unattended.
One of the more original product features I’ve ever seen is Schneider’s “Charge the world, Change the World” promotion. For each EVlink purchased, Schneider will donate one of their “In-Diya” solar powered battery operated LED lamps to a family without electricity. It’s a pretty cool idea. I personally tested the In-Diya at the same time I was evaluating the EVlink and both units worked exactly as intended. MSRP is $799, but Amazon and Home Depot sell it for $599 with free shipping.
ClipperCreek recently lowered pricing on their 240 volt 15 amp charge station to $395. The sub-$400 price makes the LCS-20 the lowest cost 240v charger available from a major manufacturer.
The unit is matched for plug-in cars with 3kW on-board chargers which includes plug-in hybrids, older Leafs, the Chevy Spark, Smart ED and Mitsubishi iMiEV. The unit is also ideal for people who want to install the slower 240v charger using an existing 20amp electrical circuit to avoid the expense of installing new wiring to the garage or parking space.
The LCS-20 is intended for hard-wired installation in a garage or parking area. The compact rugged case, shared across the company’s LCS line, carries a NEMA 4 rating suitable for outdoor installations.
The 30amp Clipper Creek HCS-40 will charge a car twice as fast as the 15 amp LCS-20 if the car has a 6.6kW charger like the Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV and most newer Leafs.
A couple of thoughtful design features make it clear that Clipper Creek designers understand the little details that make the charger easier to use. There is no on/off button. The unit stays in a very low-power standby mode, drawing power only to light the single status LED, until it is plugged in. Cord reel ears are integrated into charger body; the cord wraps around the unit to keep it off the floor. ClipperCreek provides a rugged, low cost plastic charge coupler holster for just $19 that keeps the charge coupler out of the way until needed.
The company’s reputation for reliability is well deserved. This reporter’s two ClipperCreek units, an LCS-25 and an HCS-60 operate flawlessly. Neither one has ever had so much as a hiccup and have never required a reset or any other attention. The LCS-20 is made in America, has ETL Certification and comes with a 3 year warranty.
Aerovironment’s TurboCord is such a marvel of compact, elegant design that you can’t help but wonder why all electric cars do not come with this unit standard-issue. The $649 Dual-voltage TurboCord plugs in to either a standard 120v household socket or a 20 amp 240v outlet. A small snap-on plug adapter changes the orientation of the plug blades to fit the right socket. The TurboCord is especially well suited for owners of plug-in hybrids and other cars that have 3kW chargers which charge at 16amps. Although the TurboCord will charge cars with 6kW chargers like the Fiat 500e and most newer Nissan Leafs, it will be at half the speed they are capable of.
All of the unit’s control electronics are stuffed into a tiny enclosure that is also a handle and the unit’s wall plug. It is by far the smallest 240v EVSE on the market, less than half the size of the 120v units that auto manufacturers provide with EVs. The complete unit weighs just 4.2 lbs. The 20 ft cord is also remarkably small and lightweight for a 3kw unit. Indicator lights at the top of the enclosure show charge status; blinking blue for charging and solid blue for charge complete. A solid or blinking red LED indicates various fault conditions that can be decoded and diagnosed with the help of the user manual and Aerovironment customer support. Given Aerovironment’s reputation for quality and reliability, problems are very unlikely. Aerovironment even made the TurboCord waterproof, not just with case seals, but by potting the entire electronics assembly with waterproof putty that also makes the electronic circuits impervious to damage from bumps and vibration.
The 240v connector plugs into a NEMA 6-20R outlet, which uses the same small blades as a 120v outlet, but with one of the blades rotated 90 degrees relative to the other, like a T. The TurboCord comes in its own high quality nylon carrying case, allowing you to carry just one cord for both 120v and 240v charging at 6-20R outlets.
This article originally appeared in the Q4 2014 issue of Electric Car Insider. The current print magazine is available on independent newsstands throughout the U.S. and Canada including Barnes & Noble, Hastings and Chapters Indigo. Never miss an issue by subscribing.