The electric car: connector types and charging modes

Published by on 12.02.2020 - 5 min

Are you wondering how to determine the connector type and charging mode for your vehicle, whether at home or at a public charging station? Despite the technical terms involved in electric mobility, it is actually a very simple matter. Read on to learn more!

By driving an electric car, you’re opting for simplicity and fluidity. When it comes to charging, however, it can seem a bit complicated at first. In reality, despite the different terms and types of connectors, charging your electric vehicle is quite simple.

Different modes and different connectors, but a high level of compatibility

In technical terms, there are two main criteria to consider when choosing a charging station for your electric vehicle. First, you must make sure that the charging station and the vehicle speak the same language, meaning that they are technically capable of exchanging energy. This is what we call the “charging mode.” Next, you must confirm that a physical connection can be established between the car and the charging station. This should be easy to see, because it depends on the type of connector. And since the automobile industry is very flexible, you can buy adapters that make all the different types compatible with one another.

Aside from the technical side of things, it is also important to consider how you use your electric vehicle. Around 80% of electric car drivers charge their vehicles at home, so naturally, certain charging modes and connector types can be used at home.
But your electric vehicle driving habits will also help determine which type of charging is best for you.
For example, if a driver already has a charging station at work, a standard outlet used for slow charging may suffice at home. A regular outlet can be used to top up the car, although it is important not to charge your vehicle for too long, for risk of overheating. Alternatively, you can install a plug with a residual current circuit breaker. Keep in mind that with systems like these, it could take more than 34 hours to fully charge a Nouvelle ZOE, for example. The faster, safer option is to install a Wallbox at home.
For home charging, whichever charging mode you choose, great care must be taken with the electrical installation. If there are any issues with the system, such as overvoltage, many models of electric cars will quite simply refuse to charge. That is why it is strongly recommended to have your installation checked by a professional.

 
The faster the charging, the more the electrical circuits require advanced control devices dedicated to monitoring and regulating the strength of the current.

RENAULT ZOE

The different charging modes

 Regardless of the connector type used by the charging station, the speed of charging and the compatibility with different charging modes depend on the maximum power that the car’s onboard electronics are able to absorb. The aptly-named Caméléon charger, developed by Renault for ZOE, can handle charging at anywhere from 1.8 to 43 kW.

Mode 1: for supplemental charging

Basic “Mode 1” charging involves plugging your vehicle into any normal grounded outlet. All electric cars can be connected to domestic outlets, but the absence of a dedicated circuit limits the power provided. Charging is therefore very slow, because the power tops out at 2.3 kW. Depending on the battery capacity of the vehicle, it will take between 10 and 30 hours to fully recharge. Be careful with this charging mode: it is best to use it only for top-ups, as there is a significant risk of overheating. On the same note, it is better to charge your vehicle at night, when most of your electrical devices are turned off, so that the charger has access to as much power as possible.

Mode 2: for slow home charging

As with mode 1, the vehicle is charged by plugging it directly into a domestic outlet. Where it differs, however, is that mode 2 charging uses a reinforced outlet with a circuit breaker to avoid abrupt power cuts. These outlets are usually similar to those used outdoors. For longer periods of charging, there is still a risk of overheating. That is why, with mode 2, to increase the strength of the current (and thereby the amount of power provided,) it is necessary to have an electronic control unit that regulates charging. This electronic control unit will control the charging in general. It monitors the charging parameters and stops the transfer whenever anything abnormal is detected. Mode 2 charging is systematically integrated into the charging cable itself. This is exactly the type of charging cable Renault offers with its Flexi Charger. Charging is slightly faster than with mode 1 (3.7 kW,) and, more importantly, is much safer.

Mode 3: the ideal home charging set-up

For more extensive charging at home, “mode 3” is the best, safest option. With mode 3 charging, a control device is built into the charging point. This mode, which is recommended for charging at home or in other private spaces, calls for the installation of something called a Wallbox, an electronic unit that controls all the various elements of charging. These units often come equipped with various programming functions, and are fed by a dedicated electrical circuit capable of delivering more than twice the power of a standard domestic socket. That is why this type of installation must be handled by a professional. A helpful hint: governments often offer subsidies to help pay for the cost of a charging point and its installation. As an example, a 7.4 kW Wallbox can fully recharge a ZOE in approximately 9 hours.

Mode 4: rapid charging

“Mode 4” refers to the rapid charging generally found in public places, parking lots, and rest stops. They generally deliver a high-powered direct current, allowing a ZOE to recover the equivalent of 80% of its range in just 1 hour and 10 minutes. Among the various publicly available charging stations, you will find some equipped for “mode 3” (normal charging,) and others for “mode 4” (rapid charging.) As rapid charging stations are fairly costly to install, the price of charging also tends to be quite high. For now, there aren’t many of these rapid charging stations available. There are just 15,000 in Europe, out of the 200,000 public charging stations available in 2020.

RENAULT ZOE Cameleon

Different types of electric car connectors

In addition to the different charging modes, which depend on the power and control of the electrical grid, electric cars also come with different outlets built into the body of the vehicle. Depending on the model, several different types of connectors exist. So that you don’t find yourself unable to use a charging station with an incompatible outlet, electric vehicles are often delivered with cables or adapters that let you use several of the most common charging modes.

Type 1 connectors: the most common in the world, but not in Europe

Type 1 connectors are also known as “SAE J1772” or “Yazaki” connectors (after the Japanese parts manufacturer that supplies them.) They are the most common connector in the world, as they are widely used in Asia and in many countries with a 110 V electrical grid. As these connectors are not available everywhere, if you have a car with a Type 1 connector, you must make sure you also have a type 2 or type 3 adapter. With type 1 connectors, the charge is limited to 7.4 kW, which is not compatible with rapid charging, leading to the invention of more versatile connectors. These connectors allow for various speeds of charging using a single-phase AC power supply (32 Amps for 230 Volts.) Lastly, these connectors do not have a sufficiently advanced locking system to prevent an ill-intentioned person from unplugging them.

Type 2 connectors: the standard European connector

Much more common and much faster,  “type 2” connectors, also known as “Mennekes” connectors, have become the standard in the European Union. They offer anywhere from 3 to 43 kW of power. These versatile connectors can be used with all of the most common charging setups, including both Wallbox home charging installations and rapid charging stations found in public spaces. This European electrical connector has become the Swiss army knife of the modern electric car. They are found on nearly every charging station, where they have been gradually replacing type 3 connectors since January 2016. The ZOE was the first electric vehicle to include a Caméléon charger, specially developed by Renault, under its hood. With its type 2 charger, this system can handle both single-phase and three-phase AC power supplies. As a result, the car can be charged in nearly any scenario, whether at home, at a public charging station, at a rental agency, or even in a parking lot.

Type 3 connectors: being phased out

“Type 3” connectors, which were developed in Europe, can still be found at some charging stations in public spaces. Since January 2016, however, they have been gradually replaced by “type 2” connectors. If necessary, there are adapters available that allow a car equipped with a “type 2” connector to be plugged into a charging point with a “type 3” charger.

Type 4 or CHAdeMO connectors

The “type 4” or CHAdeMO charger, is used for “mode 4” rapid charging. They are compatible with high-intensity DC power, but not with AC charging stations, in other words, those that are connected directly to the power grid. That means that cars with this type of connector must also be equipped with a second connector. In Europe, this has led to the invention of a plug that combines a type 2 connector with a special add-on designed for DC charging. These are called “Combo” or “Type 2 CCS (Combined Charging Systems)” connectors, and can be found on New ZOE.

 

Copyrights : Jean-Brice Lemal (Planimonteur), Frithjof Ohm (Frithjof Ohm INCL Prezsch)