Everybody starts somewhere, whether it’s riding a bike, playing blackjack, or learning more about EVs. Many reading InsideEVs.com have had their training wheels off for years and split Aces and eights without thinking. EV 101 is for everybody else.
This article aims to call out and explain the basic EV lexicon so that you’ll recognize and understand the common terms and concepts. This will speed up your information intake and make for more rewarding research.
For the sake of simple organization, we’ll go through this alphabetically.
Short for ampere, the Amp unit is used to measure electric current, which is how fast an electric current flows. The higher the amperage, the faster the electricity is moving. You’ll see amps referenced in relation to EV charging, and the context is often akin to something like this; a 40-amp EV charger charges an EV’s battery faster than a 12-amp charger.
Battery Cell: The most basic unit of a battery that stores electricity.
Battery Module: A grouping of battery cells within a structure.
Battery Pack: The final shape of the battery system in an electric vehicle, composed of modules, including a surrounding enclosure, battery cooling, high voltage hardware and protective/structural features.
CHARGING SYSTEM BASICS AND LEVELS
Modern electric vehicles utilize a range of charging systems that increase charge speed;
- Level 1: Home-based chargers with Type 1 charging port (and plug) that utilize regular 120-volt outlets with typical 12-amp service. This type of charging works well with PHEVs for overnight charging.
- Level 2: Home-based 240-volt “wallbox” units that typically charge at 32 to 48 amps, and more powerful public fast charging units replenish batteries more quickly than Level 1. Level 2 capable vehicles utilize a Type 2, SAE J1772 charging port and cable and provide the charging capabilities required to refuel a BEV.
- Level 3: Utilizing 480 volts or more, DC Fast Charge units run at anywhere from 50 amps to over 300, and are currently only available at public rapid-charging stations, including Tesla Superchargers. The port/plug used for this on non-Tesla models is an enhanced Type 2. Teslas use a different Type 2 plug that’s referred to as a “modified Mennekes.” Depending on the vehicle, these charging units can add miles of range very quickly, providing 100 miles of range in 10-60 minutes.
*NOTE: Regardless of charge level, all modern EVs utilize charging protocols – CCS (Combined Charging System) or CHAdeMO standard – that enable two-way communication between the charging station and the vehicle to maintain safe current flow.
CHARGING CABLE WITH PLUG
These connect your EV to a power source to charge the battery – it’s just the same as your phone USB charging cable, only bigger.
The charge point, or port, is where the Charging Cable Plug connects to your vehicle.
A charging station Is where you “fill up” your EV, and it is the equivalent to a gas station for EVs. The station can be a public unit or even your own garage if you obtain a home charging unit.
Modern EVs communicate to smart devices, showing you the EV’s charge status; its battery level and charging progress. It’s like looking at your vehicle’s fuel gauge on your phone. And of course, there’s a charge status gauge in the car, too.
CURRENT (ELECTRICAL CURRENT)
Electrical current is a stream of electricity (charged particles) moving through a conductor (like a cable). There are two types of electrical current, alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC). Nearly all modern EV motors are AC while all EV batteries are DC. An inverter converts DC current from the batteries to AC to power the EV motor(s).
Instead of the typical MPG (Miles Per Gallon), EVs use MPGe, which stands for Miles Per Gallon Equivalent. It represents the estimated miles an EV can travel on the amount of energy contained in a gallon of gasoline.
ELECTRIC VEHICLE (EV)
Any vehicle that uses electric motors, either in full or in part, as propulsion. There are many types of EVs;
- BEV: Battery Electric Vehicles are 100-percent battery powered and must be plugged in to recharge. Teslas, the Ford Lightning, Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf, Kia EV6, and GMC Hummer EV are all BEVs.
- HEV: Hybrid EVs – also called Extended Range EVs or EREVs – include vehicles from a wide range of brands including the Toyota Prius and Ford Maverick Hybrid. These vehicles feature an auxiliary power unit (a gasoline engine) that works as a generator to supplement and maintain the battery charge, or in some cases provide drive power on its own. These vehicles integrate a small(er) battery and electric motors to enhance the efficiency of the gasoline engine. The battery’s charge is maintained by the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) engine — it cannot be charged by plugging into an external electrical supply. Hybrids offer greater fuel economy than traditionally powered vehicles, but can only travel very short distances on electric power.
- FCEV: Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles utilize a fuel cell, usually hydrogen-based, to generate electricity that runs the vehicle’s electric motor(s). The Honda Clarity is available as a fuel cell.
- PHEV: Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles like the Ford Escape PHEV and Kia Sportage PHEV that have a range extender engine, but with a larger battery pack than a standard HEV. PHEVs can also be charged from an external source. These vehicles can travel farther on electric power than an HEV before the ICE-powered generator turns on.
- ZEV: Zero Emission Vehicles emit no tailpipe pollutants from the onboard source of power. All BEVs are ZEVs.
INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE (ICE)
Internal Combustion Engine is a technical name for a traditional vehicle engine. The gas-powered engine in most cars, SUVs, and trucks. ICEs generate power by “combusting” air and gas to create power.
A kilowatt Is another measurement of electric power. For EV shoppers, battery packs and charging options are often rated in kWh (kilowatt-hours) or kW, respectively. Bigger numbers mean more driving range and faster recharging.
Motors and engines are different, even though most people use the terms interchangeably. Motors are always powered by electricity. Engines utilize a form of combustion, whether spark-fired (gasoline) or compression ignition (diesel).
Like ICE vehicles, the power of EV motors is expressed in horsepower and pound-feet of torque. Modern EVs can produce tremendous amounts of power, and even basic EVs often produce considerably more torque (for strong acceleration from a stop) than their equivalent ICE counterparts.
Just like gasoline- or diesel-fueled vehicles, EVs have an estimated range they can travel on a “full tank.” For an EV, a full tank is equivalent to a fully charged battery. As the range falls, recharging is necessary.
The term range anxiety refers to an anxious feeling of operating an electric vehicle with the fear of running out of battery charge while driving.
All modern EVs incorporate regenerative braking as a way to extend range by charging the battery pack as the vehicle slows.
UTILITY TIME OF USE (TOU) RATES
Utility rates vary according to high- and low-peak use hours. The rate charged to most EV customers is based not only on the total electricity used but also upon the time of day the energy was drawn.
Along with being the name of General Motors’ first mass-produced modern PHEV (2010), a volt is another measurement of electricity. In simple terms, voltage is electrical pressure, like water pressure in a hose. The higher the voltage, the stronger the stream of energy moving through the wire. Modern automotive battery packs often operate in the 350-400 volt range, with 800-volt architectures becoming more common.
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