Electric Vehicle Charging Levels Explained

2 years ago by George Bower 31

What Is

What Is Level 3?

Question: What is Level 3 charging?

Answer: Level 3 charging is one level higher than level 2 charging. Level 2 Charging is AC while level 3 is DC.



Level 3 charging doesn’t imply DC. It can be either AC or DC.

Both AC and DC have multiple levels of charging

Both AC and DC have multiple levels of charging

“Levels” are indicative of the charging power. The higher the level the higher the power whether it is AC or DC.

Higher charging level means higher power

Higher charging level means higher power

Most people refer to AC EVSE’s (Electric Vehicle Service equipment) as “chargers” but technically they are not. The charger is actually on board the vehicle. The on board vehicle charger converts household AC current to DC current since EV batteries are DC. The EVSE is the little box on the wall of your garage (generally 220V) or the portable unit that lives in the trunk of your car (generally 120v). These EVSE’s are an intermediary between your vehicle and the outlet in your home. The EVSE “talks” to your car and determines things such as what the maximum charging power the car will take and whether there is proper grounding.

Getting back to charging levels, there are no SAE level 3 charging specifications defined. Level 3 is TBD. The following SAE chart is a great reference for the details of all the different AC and DC charging levels.

SAE J 1772 Charging Specification

SAE J 1772 Charging Specification

The maximum power level for each level is summarized in the following chart.

Power summary for the various AC and DC charging levels

Power summary for the various AC and DC charging levels

AC chargers generally use household AC power (either 120V or 240v). Level 1 AC is 120v and level 2 is 240v. The maximum power you can get with a level 1 charger is 1.9 kw. That is the power you will get from your portable 120v AC EVSE. It is set by the maximum current available out of a 20 amp 120v wall outlet.

2016 Nissan LEAF Getting A 6.6 kW, "Level 2" Charge

2016 Nissan LEAF Getting A 6.6 kW, “Level 2” AC Charge

Stepping up to level 2 AC charging, we are at 220V and a maximum of 19.4 kw which corresponds to 80 amps. Most plug in Hybrids are level 1 or Level 2 AC. The Volt’s AC charger is 3.3 kw level 2. The Spark EV’s level 2 charger is also 3.3 kw while the Nissan Leaf is 6.6 kw. Note that these vehicle are not pushing to the high end of level 2. The high end of AC Level 2 (19.2 kw) is usually for a pure BEV like a Tesla.

There is a level 3 AC category which would be higher than the level 2 maximum of 19.2 kw but this category is currently undefined.

DC chargers do not reside in the vehicle as AC chargers do. The charger is contained in the large cabinet that the charging cord is attached. Level 1 DC goes to a maximum of 36 kw. Level 2 DC goes to a maximum of 90 kw.

Currently level 2 DC is the highest level defined by SAE specification at 90 kw. Anything higher than 90 kw falls into level 3 which is TBD. However the preliminary upper limit is 240 kw. That’s a lot of power.

What vehicles have the highest charging power capability?

charging levels gb 5

Audi Announces Nationwide 150 kW CCS Network

Audi Announces Nationwide 150 kW CCS Network

Tesla holds the lead in high power charging at 120 kw. However some of the earlier Tesla Model S’s can only take around 90-100 kw. These are known as “a” battery cars. Model S’s that can take the full 120kw are “b” battery cars. The “a” and “b” ratings can be found on the battery pack behind the front wheel of the car.

Tesla’s lead in high power charging is being challenged however. Audi has announced 150 kw charging and aligned itself with some other German manufacturers to install a super charging network in the United States.

The group is called the “Charging Interface Initiative Association” (CharIN). Audi has announced the e-tron Quatro concept that will enter production in 2018.  This will be Audi’s Tesla competitor with high power all electric front and rear wheel motors, competitive range with the Tesla, acceleration competitive with Tesla and interior room of an SUV.

Audi Q6 e-tron at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show

Audi Q6 e-tron at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show


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31 responses to "Electric Vehicle Charging Levels Explained"

  1. SparkEV says:

    Great article. But there are several caveats.

    First, all charging power is peak power. Average could be lot less and variable. Tesla does not charge at 120kW for any length of time (to about 40%). Leaf (24kWh) to about 60%, SparkEV to about 80%. So Tesla average is roughly 70kW out of 120kW supercharger from low to 80%, Leaf about 30kW, SparkEV 42kW (actually 44, but the answer is 42).

    Second, Tesla can share supercharger plug on same circuit while Chademo and CCS cannot (or do not at this time). That means multiple Tesla on same circuit would slow down charging, and may not necessarily be 120kW peak for all. Meanwhile, Leaf and SparkEV would be locked out if another’s charging.

    Third, Leaf is 6.6kW for SV/SL. Base S comes with 3.3kW. Before 2013, all Leaf came with 3.3kW.

    I just happen to be putting together a blog post on DCFC charging speed, will come soon 🙂

    1. SparkEV says:

      Oops. I should clarify that DCFC on Tesla can be peak of 90kW and 120kW while peak for Chademo/CCS = 50kW, at least for now.

      1. Breezy says:

        Why is it that CCS is currently limited to 50 kW? Is this a limit of the connector?

        As the article shows, the CCS standard for DC Level 2 allows for 90 kW.

        1. SparkEV says:

          I suspect it’s due to Chademo; it is (was?) rated for 62.5kW max. All the CCS chargers I encounter are dual head CCS+Chademo, and they probably use similar power electronics inside.

          Also, current crop of EV are about 20kWh. 50kW is 2.5C charging speed while 90kW would be 4.5C. Not sure if it’s good for the battery to charge at such high speed. Although some LG claim 8C charging capability, I don’t know if batteries in CCS cars made for that high charging rate. I suppose EV could slow it down as needed.

          1. The CHAdeMO protocol power limit is 200 amps, however almost no cars can accept above 125 amps.

            The voltage limit is 50 to 500 volt batteries.

            CCS very closely mimicked CHAdeMO, with the same 125 typical max today, and 200 amp future. The “150kW” that is being promoted is vapor ware.

            CCS voltage limit is 200-450 volt batteries.

            It hard to say what CHAdeMO will promote next, but I’m not aware of any movement for more than 200 amps.

            Tesla Supercharger can go to 365 amps!!!

  2. mr. M says:

    Thanks, finally someone made it reasonable.

    Now it would be beautifull if you could make a Level 1/2/3 cheatsheet for the european side of the plugs too. As far as i remember:

    AC DC
    Lvl 1 3.3kW(?) 20kW
    Lvl 2 43kW 150kW
    Lvl 3 ?? 350kW (?)

    1. SparkEV says:

      I’m not sure where Renault’s Chameleon would fit. It’s sort of level 3 AC, but not official?

  3. pk says:

    “The high end of AC Level 2 (19.2 kw) is usually for a pure BEV like a Tesla.”

    implying that the Spark EV and Leaf are what? Impure BEVs? Mudbloods?

    1. Ziv says:

      I think the logic of that sentence is that the Leaf and the Spark EV are pure BEVs but they have such a small battery pack that the high end of Level 2 charging would have a C rate that might be too high for the long term health of the pack.

  4. jerryd says:

    The Audi 150kw chargers are vaporware until they are actually deployed as not even designed yet, much less built,
    The future is smaller battery packs/mile as smaller long range EV’s come out.
    The tesla 3 likely only need 40kwhr for 200 miles with a safety factor is an example as likely the GM Bolt will be.
    a 100kw station would give these 150 mile range in 15-20 minutes is the sweet spot.
    And at high rates problems can happen faster, more often unless everything is perfect.

    1. Brandon says:

      Jerryd said: “A 100kw station would give these 150 mile range in 15-20 minutes is the sweet spot.”
      IMO it would take closer to 30 minutes at 100 kW speeds to get 150 miles of range. That said, 100 kW is most likely the next level charging speeds we will see in the near future in the US for affordable mass produced 200 mi range CCS and CHAdeMO equipped cars.

  5. vdiv says:

    Yes this is good for NA. Europe and the rest of the world get 3-phase AC charging that complicates matters a bit, but delivers more power with thinner wires.

    So what level is charging from a TT-30 or an L5-30 outlet (old RV or marinas) at 120V 24A? 🙂

    1. Mikael says:

      L2… 🙂

    2. Bill Howland says:

      Incorrect Mikael… He brings up a valid point.

      The Highest 120 volt rate is Level One – which at 16 amps, supposedly only the Tesla Roadster (@ 15 amps) and the I3 can use it. But I have yet to have it proven IF an I3 can draw 16 amps off of a 120 volt EVSE.

      The Roadster ‘supposedly’ could be used with Clipper Creek’s 20 amp 120 volt charging dock, but was hard wired so I’d guess you could put a TT-30 on it and draw 20, not its capability of 24 amps.

      I would have tested it myself if I knew of the existence of any ‘high power’ level 1’s.

      BUt all the former stuff is ‘Non-Standard’. The ‘Standard’ stops at 16 amps, and the vast majority of cars unexplainably don’t use it anyway, applying the somewhat arbitrary liit of 12 amps so that it can be used on the smallest circuit found in North America.

      1. David D. Nelson says:

        I have personally tested a 2016 Kia Soul EV+ on an EVSE on 120V set to tell the car that 20A is available and it charges at 18.4A, exactly the same current as when on 240V.

        On a side note, someone said they found that the 2016 Kia Soul EV derated the OBC by 10% or so as compared to the 2015 model. This would explain why my Soul doesn’t charge at the rate the EVSE says is available.

        1. Bill Howland says:

          Ok, very good David…

          That’s good to know, even though anything above 16 amps is , by definition, non-standard.

          Maybe the Kia Designers thought the charging ‘standards’ situation is such a complete JOKE that they said ‘we don’t care what the ever-changing ‘standard’ is, lets just let it go at the most the customer can supply, such as the CC 20 amp 120 volt unit’.

  6. Koenta says:

    The Tesla charging stations makes it possible to charge with 120kW. But, if multiple Teslas charge after each other the output power will be lowered to a current the charge plug pins can handle. This because the pins in the connector are getting to hot with constant high power. Till now this is no problem. But in The Netherlands at Schiphol airport it is. The taxis over there are mostly Teslas, 150pcs. And if they all want to fastcharge the plug on the charge station gets to hot and cuts output power.

    So if high constant fastcharging is needed they should come up with water cooled charge connectors. The pins inside need to be cooled if high power is needed and you don’t want to have a huge connector.

  7. Koenta says:

    Ps, AC charging s#cks. You always need a AC to DC converter in the car. Extra weight, cooling etc. And still “fastcharging” is slow…

  8. jim stack says:

    Koenta, Tesla does have a few cooled connector Super Chargers and may roll more out to beat the hot connectors. It’s a lot of power and that does make heat. http://insideevs.com/tesla/

  9. ClarksonCote says:

    Are the Level 3 standards both still TBD? The SAE chart has a copyright from 2011 on it.

  10. Good attempt at trying to explain SAE plug-in electric vehicle charging terminology. Unfortunately the author only succeeded in demonstrating how poor and dated the SAE references have become. note: “Level” reference are only used in the US, both Europe and Asia use verbs to describe the speed of charging.

    Note: SAE makes to reference to, nor includes any (level) language for CHAdeMO and Tesla charging protocols (both high-power 20 kW AC and 120 kWh DC).

    BTW: the whole “Level” reference to kW is very misleading as kW values change during a typical session such that a session could be Level1 or Level2 depending on when a measurement was taken. If using “Level” to refer to the maximum output value of an EVSE, it is possible that an EV may only be charging at Level1 speed from a Level3 EVSE. (either AC, or DC)

    A better solution IMO is to refer to the peak EVSE kW possible and an EVs average kW attained over a charging session. Technically the better reference is “Amps” as current flow is the most consistent value maintained during a batteries charging cycle.

    eg: a Spark EV will average ~22 kW over a 20% to 80% SOC when connected to a 50 kW DC charger … a Model S connected to same 50 kW charger will average ~45 kW over a similar 20% to 80% SOC charging session. In both cases the 50 kW charger would be supplying ~100 amps to the battery.⚡⚡

  11. martinwinlow says:

    Utter confusion reigns… which is why I much prefer the simple system of ‘slow’, ‘fast’ and ‘rapid’ to describe the 3 principle methods of charging – slow being that done from a domestic socket (up to about 3kW), fast being that done with a dedicated EVSE (up to about 11kW) and rapid being anything more. Simples. MW

    1. Yep. These clowns have done nothing but make something that should be easy to understand into a quagmire.

      This is exactly how I explain it to the mass market consumer:

      Level 1 – 120 volt household power
      Level 2 – 240 volt public and private
      Level 3 – DC fast charge:
      ———— CHAdeMO
      ———– Tesla Supercharger
      ———– CCS for USA and different for Europe

  12. SparkEV says:

    Brian Henderson, why do you post the same thing 4 times? If your SparkEV is charging at 22kW using 50kW charger from 20% to 80%, there is something wrong with your car, and should have dealer fix it. SparkEV charges at 45kW to 80%, the max speed out of the charger.

    1. Something weird happened while posting … the kind folks at InsideEVs have remove the ghost versions.

      As to DC charging it occurs at high power initially, and then decreases as the battery SOC (state of charge) increases. So yes initially a Spark EV will start at 45 kW if SOC is low. Near the end of a session (higher SOC) charging power will be under 10 kW. Was just referring to a session average charging power, not the highest maximum attained in the session.

  13. PureElectricPower says:

    Tesla use the best batteries compare with pther electric vehicles. Those panasonic batteries have 265Wh/kg energy density, long life and they are expensive. It’s hard to have high energy density and high power density. Tesla could use A123 batteries and then to charge with 400kW, but then 85kWh pack will weight over 2300 lbs. Do you want 6000lbs sedan?

  14. PureElectricPower says:

    Tesla Model S 70 has 115kW peak charging power.
    Model S 85 has 120kW peak charging power.
    Big difference in capacity but little in peak charging power. 85kWh battery should have 139kW peak charging power and new 90kWh – 148kW. Next year we should see that and even more with the next 95kWh battery pack.
    Tesla Superchargers have 135kW limit sign but I’m not sure if they can handle it.

    Sorry my English is not good.

  15. PureElectricPower says:

    Some can charge at 90 KW (85 KWh A battery pack, near 1.06C charge rate)
    some can charge at 105 KW (60 KWh with older battery pack, 1.75C charge rate)
    some can charge at 111 KW (60 KWh with newer battery pack, 1.85C charge rate)
    some can charge at 120 KW (85 KWh B or D battery pack, near 1.41C charge rate)

    notice that the 85kWh cars aren’t charging at as high rate compared to capacity as the 60 kWh are charging.

    If the cable or conector were the limiting factor it may be that newer battery packs on the 85 kWh size could handle the higher rate, imagine:

    85 kWh at 1.75C is 148.75 KW
    85 kWH at 1.85C is 157.25 KW
    90 kWh at 1.85C is 166.5 kW
    next pack 95 kWh at 1.85C is 175.75 kW /that’s almost 50% more than 120kW now/

    Since no car has been charging at higher than 120KW rates with the current 135KW superchargers it makes sense that something other than the battery packs was a limiting factor.

  16. Bill Howland says:


    The reason all this needs to be constantly explained is that the silly ‘standards organizations’ changed the labeling mid-stream.

    Except people still remember the first naming convention, even here in some of the responses.

    Other silliness is the “type 1 in NA, type 2 in europe” crap. Admittedly someone necessary since our distribution systems differ in general as to the size of demarcation between single and three phase.

    This could have been done with a common 7 pin connector, which would have allowed either single or three phase (or DC) on the same pins. But apparently all these idiots couldn’t figure that out. They need to go back to 6th grade math to learn about Least Common Denominator.

    Even Tesla was forced to have different Euro and NA versions.

    I wonder how many man-hours (and paychex) all this ‘discussion’ has generated, and what is the ‘current’ level of incompatibility between things which should just work, and amazingly, after all these years everything of interest is still in the To Be Determined stage.

    At the Drive Electric event in Syracuse, NY this year, someone brought a home-made EVSE that had to outputs for one Nema 14-50 input. Except it completely killed all the 215 volt facilities (only 125 was left) since it tripped all the hot tub breakers in the building. I brought my own EVSE since I knew It would work on a Hot Tub Breaker, and I wasn’t dependent on anything from the constantly heard ‘Its FULLY TESTED’, and “NOTHING CAN GO WRONG’. Uh Huh.

    You’d think there would be some pressure on these guys to come up with a coherent system. As it is now, and has been for going on 6 years now, it looks more like a big joke.

  17. Fabian says:

    Did not know L2 could go up to 80 amps. Interesting.

    Anyone know what the fastest L2 charger on any BEV in production is?

    1. Bill Howland says:

      Yeah hi,

      Level 2 AC used to have a 30 amp limitation until around 2010, then it was increased to 80.

      Tesla’s High Power Wall Connector @$US 750 is the best bargain. as has been proven by the guy who uses them to charge his I3 with his S to J1772 adapter. Not particularly authorized by Tesla but it does do 80 amps.

      Clipper Creek also makes an 80 amp model for $2195, and I’m sure EMW makes something for alot less cash. The LEviton 400 is 40 amps, then theres the majority at 32 or 30, and then plenty again at 16, 15, and 12 amps (really cheap).