Electricity can be tricky, and EV charging terms can be confusing. But don’t worry, here’s how to sort your watts from your volts, and what it all means in terms of pricing…
It’s probably been a good while since you were connecting bulbs to batteries and making basic circuits in the school classroom. So you never thought everything you learned back then about AC, DC, volts, amps, and watts would come back around, right?
But today, as we march towards a world powered by EV transport, those terms are pretty important to understand – especially if you’re looking to grow a charging network of your own.
So what actually is the difference between DC and AC? What makes a fast charger fast? And, more importantly, how much does it all cost?
Here’s everything you need to know about the world of fast charging (but were too afraid to ask)...
What’s the difference between AC and DC chargers?
Start talking about AC and DC in everyday life, and most people will probably be more familiar with the rock band than the electricity standards. So let’s start with the basics.
AC stands for alternating current and DC stands for direct current. We don’t need to get too into the weeds of physics here, but suffice it to say that both terms describe the way electricity ‘flows’ – with the word ‘alternating’ referring to the fact that AC flip between positive and negative currents. This is how electricity is produced at power plants; it’s a wave-like motion that means AC electricity can travel much farther than DC.
So how does all that relate to charging? Well, the main thing to remember is that electricity reaches homes and outlets as AC, and it’s usually our devices that transfer it into DC. Your smartphone or laptop, for example, has a transformer that converts that fluctuating AC electricity into DC before it sends it to the battery.
EVs are the same; they have an inbuilt converter that takes AC and converts it (though often, confusingly, this is called an ‘onboard charger’). The converted DC electricity is then passed on to the battery.
A DC charging station, then, is one that can do all that converting before the electricity makes it to your car.
What are amps, volts, and watts?
Whilst we’re in our science lesson flow, it’s worth doing a little refresher session on the units of measurement you’ll commonly run into in the EV charging world:
What are Amps?
‘Amps’ is short for ‘amperes’, which is the unit for measuring the amount of electric current being used. They’re named after French physicist André-Marie Ampère, who was a fundamental founder of modern electrical science.
What are Volts?
Volts are the force of the electricity flow – think of voltage in the same way we talk about the bandwidth of your broadband cable, or the flow of the water coming out of your faucets. The more voltage, the higher the force you can exert.
What are Watts?
Wattage is a measurement describing the delivery of energy in a given period, similar to horsepower in an engine. When we exceed 1000 watts we start using Kilowatts, which are what you’ll normally encounter with EV charging.
The three terms are closely related in that wattage is the product of ‘amps x volts’. Or, in other words: the amount x the force = the total ‘workload’.
So… Which charger is the fastest?
Put simply: DC chargers are faster than AC chargers, which is why they’ve earned the monicker ‘fast chargers’. You might also have seen these referred to as ‘Level 3’ chargers.
The fact that DC chargers can convert the electricity before it makes its way to your car, there are pretty huge efficiency gains – they can feed electricity straight into your car’s battery - if your car’s battery is able to do charge this way.
As for which commercially-available charger is the fastest? With new technology coming out all the time, it’s unlikely that any one make or model of charger will remain the fastest for very long. At the time of writing, the current fastest chargers on the market provide a 400 kW output.
A modular charger with such effect can fully charge an EV in as little as 15 minutes. Some are also designed to be able to charge four EVs at once, offering up to 62 miles of range for each in just a few minutes.
For reference, Tesla’s latest ‘V3’ superchargers support charging at up to 324 kW, which will fully charge a Tesla Model 3 in around 30 minutes.
Many DC brands are among Spirii-certified hardware partners, with chargers such as Alphatronic Hypercharger, ABB, Autel DC, Circontrol Raption 50, Kempower, Siemens, Tritium, and Wallbox – and the list goes on. This means that CPOs looking to work with almost any brand of DC hardware can do so via us! And did we mention that we continue to certify new hardware based on our partners’ requests?
How many volts are fast chargers?
DC chargers tend to be bigger and more powerful, alongside their intrinsic current-related benefits. The result is that these chargers offer between 400 and 900V, and can take a car battery from zero to 80% in a lightning-fast 30 minutes.
How much do fast chargers cost?
If you’re an EV driver, the cost of charging at a DC fast charger will depend a lot on your location, car, and energy provider or roaming network.
We actually have a blog here about how charging costs and roaming work, which you might find useful.
But what if you’re looking to build or grow your own charging network? For charge point operators (CPOs) and entrepreneurs who want to explore adding new charging stations to their commercial, enterprise, or residential properties, you’ll naturally be keen to know how much each one will cost, right?
At Spirii, we help our partners get up and running with everything they need to run a successful charging business – including fast chargers.
Our exact costs will vary slightly depending on a range of factors including scale and location, but as a ballpark, each AC charger will roughly cost between €1,500-2,500 including installation, while a DC fast charger will cost between €40,000-80,000.
Again, there are a whole bunch of factors that affect the final pricing here. The type of hardware and brand, including related equipment you need, the type of partnership, the business terms, the location characteristics and market will all shape the cost.
To learn more about your options and receive a quote, please get in touch!
Are fast chargers worth the investment?
With DC chargers costing a lot more than AC chargers – often around 30 times more, in fact – the natural next question is whether that extra investment is worthwhile.
The answer to that will, first and foremost, come down to your overall budget. If you only have enough for a few AC chargers, for instance, then that will obviously steer your decision-making. But for budding CPOs there are a couple of old adages to consider here: you get what you pay for, and it takes money to make money.
DC chargers are by far the most powerful EV charging technology, and they allow people to charge much quicker, which means that you can increase turnover in terms of the number of cars that can charge per day.
We’ve found that the majority of our partners see their energy consumption and potential revenue streams correlate to the price difference pretty closely, with DC charger revenue easily exceeding 30 times that of comparable AC charges.
Again, your choice will come down to budget, and should be based on the needs of your clients and drivers. Here it’s crucial to consider what type of charger is the suitable choice for the locations you've got available, since AC charging fits the needs of drivers that need parking for several hours where as DC fits the need of a driver needing a quick stop to do grocery-shopping or the liking.
However, with DC offering fast, user-friendly charging, they are a means to accommodate the burgeoning number of EV drivers in need of charging anywhere they go - and thus give higher turnover and preferable consumption rates, it’s the obvious no-brainer for CPOs that have fit locations and can afford the higher cost…
What to do next…
Looking for next steps or more info? Here’s what to do now…
If you’re looking to build or scale your charging business, we’ve more than got you covered. Spirii’s unique, connected and intelligent charging platform lets CPOs design a charging business that works for them, with their branding and our award-winning EV know-how underpinning everything.
With Spirii Connect, you’ll enjoy a portal offering full control of your stations, replete with live pricing control, real-time analytics and insights, and the ability to offer discounts, issue vouchers, set charger availability, and more!
And, for those brand new to the world of charging hardware, worry not: we can walk you through absolutely everything from choosing your perfect Spirii-certified hardware, to installation, setup, and scaling, and we offer 24/7 support for you and your EV-driving customers. Learn more about the Spirii platform.
And if you’re an EV driver? It’s time to check out the Spirii Go app, which we’ve designed from the ground up to be your one-stop charging enabler when it comes to charging and paying on the go across Europe.
With Spirii Go, you’ll be able to search for chargers by current and connector type, navigate to available ones using Google or Apple Maps, then charge and pay with simple in-app options. Spirii Go also makes roaming a breeze, with Europe-wide connection to thousands of chargers.
You can download the Spirii Go app for iOS and Android