The lack of public charging infrastructure can be an anxiety source for those considering an electric vehicle. Just ask Star Tribune agriculture reporter Chris Vondracek, who wrote last fall about being stranded in a St. Cloud parking lot with his Nissan Leaf’s battery drained while a turkey convention was expecting his presence on a panel.
“Our state does not yet have widespread adoption of electric charging infrastructure,” he wrote. “And I’ve got the battle stories to prove it.”
And yet, Vondracek is one of many Americans turning to EVs for a variety of reasons, from saving money on gas to protecting our planet’s environment.
And about 80% of charging happens at home, where people can charge overnight like they do with their cellphones. So perhaps with planning, running out of charge will be as rare as running out of fuel.
Still, installing the equipment for an EV at home might seem like a logistical headache, and it might cost some money as well. But it’s usually not difficult, those in the industry said.
“I think it’s pretty fast and easy,” said Jukka Kukkonen , a consultant who teaches about EVs at the University of St. Thomas. “The installation is not that complicated.”
Here is what you need to know about readying your home for an EV as well as some other tips of EV ownership.
There are two kinds of electric-vehicle charging a person can have at home: Level 1 and Level 2.
Level 1 is simply plugging a cord that often comes with your EV into a normal household outlet. It doesn’t need any type of home upgrades, making it a cheap and simple option that many people have used and will use for years, Kukkonen said.
The downside: It’s slow. Kukkonen said Level 1 is good for people who drive about 30 miles a day or less on average.
Adam Wortman , who owns an EV-installation company in St. Paul called Ray of Light Electric, also recommended Level 1 for many people with a plug-in hybrid that also uses gasoline.
“I do talk people out of spending a bunch of money all the time,” Wortman said, including those who only drive short distances whom he advises: “Don’t do anything, just plug it into the wall.”
Level 2 needs more infrastructure, namely a 240-volt outlet and the EV charger itself. The Level 2 infrastructure can fully charge a car overnight no matter how far you drive, Kukkonen said. So that’s what Kukkonen recommended for most people.
While Level 1 doesn’t typically need home upgrades, Kukkonen said if you plan to charge this way long term or have any concerns about your electric system, have an electrician make sure the outlets and wiring you use are in good shape.
Most garages have outlets, and the cords are typically 15- to 25-feet long, so you shouldn’t need an extension cord, Wortman said. But if your EV doesn’t come with a cord, buying one will cost roughly $150 to $300, he said.
A Level 2 charger costs between $400 to $800, Kukkonen said, and installation is relatively easy.
What is more complicated is ensuring proper electrical wiring to facilitate the 240- volt hookup. Wortman said the key factor for time and cost is how far your electrical panel is from the charger. A panel in the garage often makes an easier and cheaper job. He estimated that installation could start as low as $400.
An electrical panel inside a house is usually tougher, though much more so for those with detached garages.
In those cases, Kukkonen said an electrician might have to run a conduit from the house to the garage. Wortman said they can also bring separate electrical service to the garage itself.
The variables make it difficult to estimate costs. Kukkonen said the more complicated work usually runs somewhere between $1,500 and $3,000, but Wortman said in some cases it could cost more.
Where to start?
For a Level 2 charger, Kukkonen recommended first asking the dealership if it has a deal for equipment and installation services. Next, he said to call your local electric utility to see what kind of programs it offers.
Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest electric utility, has a program open to all customers who have an EV or plan to buy one. If eligible, the company pays for electricians to set up the Level 2 charger and program it to run during off-peak hours at a cheaper rate than during times of high power demand.
It’s about $17 a month to rent the charger, which also covers maintenance. It’s $7 a month if you buy your own charger. The company doesn’t cover home wiring upgrades, however.
Xcel has proposed a homewiring rebate up to $500 for residential customers or $1,200 for people who meet certain criteria such as living within a state-defined environmental justice area. But the Public Utilities Commission would need to approve that rebate.
“That [cost] has been a barrier for customers,” said Alisa Sobczak , Xcel’s director of customer products marketing.
Many other electric utilities have EV programs, too.
East Central Energy, an electric cooperative based in Braham, Minn., has a $500 rebate for Level 2 charger installation and two programs where customers can earn cheaper rates for off-peak charging, said Brad Rooney , energy services supervisor.
Kukkonen said you can buy charging stations on your own from a local provider such as Eden Prairie’s EvoCharge. You can also buy a charger from an online retailer, he said, just make sure it’s good quality and listed as meeting safety standards from Underwriters Laboratories.
Nevertheless, Wortman said it’s always good to have early conversations with your electrician since they’re installation experts. And he recommended calling more than one to weigh different ideas and price estimates.
The types of charging plugs — which transmit energy to the vehicle — are in a state of flux. The most common plug is J1772. But Tesla has its own plug that most manufacturers are now offering.
Still, Kukkonen said, every charging station can easily use an adapter to fit whatever kind of plug style your car takes.
“I, for example, have a normal J1772 plug charging station in my garage, and I’m charging my Tesla with it by using an adapter every day,” he said.
Kukkonen said don’t fret about the evolving technology, just buy a charging station now and use an adapter if standards change. If you buy a Tesla, get their model, he said. If not, get the J1772.
Sobczak said Xcel’s main EV program installs ChargePoint and Enel X Way chargers, but many Tesla customers use adapters. If you have your own charger, you might be eligible for a second Xcel program that offers a $50 annual bill credit for charging during an off-peak window.
There are also tax credits and rebates potentially available for EV charging. One tax credit can provide 30% of the cost of installing a home charger, up to $1,000. But the credit is only for people in certain low-income or rural areas.
Kukkonen said for anyone considering home remodeling, think ahead about prepping your house for an EV even if you don’t have one now. EVs are becoming more common, so you might thank yourself in the future. Plus, it could also add value to your home if you end up selling it.
Overall, Kukkonen said not to let the logistics of obtaining a Level 2 charger delay your purchase of an EV. He recommended buying a vehicle and using the Level 1 option to start.
Walker Orenstein • 612-673-4246