It looks like electric vehicles may start arriving next year in sufficient numbers to create meaningful new business for electrical contractors. The EV Project, the largest deployment of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure in U.S. history, is spearheading it. The EV Project is led by eTec and Nissan with 40 other partners and is partially funded by a $99.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

This summer, the EV Project will start installing 10,950 Level 2 chargers and 260 Level 3 fast-chargers in metro areas in Arizona, California, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington. Next fall, 4,700 all-electric Nissan Leaf cars will go into those markets. The Chevrolet Volt is also debuting this year, and other manufacturers will introduce dozens of all-electrics and new hybrid models over the next few years.

The electric car industry is growing, and it will need electrical contractors to build and adapt the infrastructure.

It is possible for an individual to bring an EV home and plug it in, without undergoing incremental electricity upgrades. They would have only Level 1 charging at 120 volts at 15 amps, said John McDonald, an IEEE Fellow and general manager of marketing for transmission and distribution at GE Energy.

“Assuming a typical 18 [kilowatt-hour] electric vehicle battery, it would take about 11 hours to fully charge [at Level 1],” McDonald said. “If the consumer is not satisfied with the charge time, he would then have to upgrade to Level 2, increasing to 240V, and use a 30A circuit. This would decrease charge time to around 3 hours.”

According to McDonald, making Level 2 upgrades involves the following, which should all be performed by a trained electrician:

• Confirm that the main service in the home can handle an additional 30A service.

• Change the breaker in the panel to support 30A.

• Confirm the service-wire gauge is adequate for 240V/30A.

• Change the outlet.

Car companies are not clear on how they will implement charge control onboard the car, so most quote a range of 15–30A. A Level 1 electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) car will likely have a 15A draw for charge control. 

Plugging a known 15A (or potentially higher) load into a 15A circuit is not recommended (the National Electrical Code only rates these circuits at 80 percent for continuous use). If the outlet is a 15A circuit, it will likely need to be upgraded to a minimum of 20A, which could include replacing the outlet and breaker to 20A and using 12 AWG wire.

For safe Level 2 charging, there will be a requirement for a J1772 plug. This will change the game to what most experts believe will require the installation of a Level 2 EVSE.

The average cost of a Level 3, 480V public access, fast-charge station likely is to range from $2,000 to $4,000 or higher depending on location, electric service and built-in safety-security features. Prices should drop sharply as supply increases.