Terminology, charging and battery status
This series of articles related to electric vehicles is brought to you by ClipperCreek powered by Enphase. ClipperCreek has been a pioneer in the electric vehicle charging market since 2006 and has sold over 110,000 Level 2 AC charging stations since its inception. You can find our first article here: Buying your first BMW EV.
So you’ve finally made the switch to a fully electric BMW. Hopefully you haven’t bought your new electric vehicle at home and realized you have no idea what you’re doing, and immediately scoured the internet for advice. But if so, we’re here to help! Here’s the quick and easy guide to charging BMW electric vehicles.
What’s in a word? Explanation of common electric vehicle terminology
One of the most confusing aspects of electric vehicle ownership may just be the terminology! Not sure if your new BMW EV can handle amps from a DC charger? Well, first it can – but read on for a quick overview of the most commonly used EV terms.
- Ampere: the volume at which electricity flows. A higher value is preferable for charging purposes and is generally used interchangeably with the rate at which a charger will charge a given vehicle. Not to be confused with a volt or voltage, which measures the amount of force with which electrons travel (which is largely irrelevant to electric vehicle ownership).
- DC Charging: Also called Level 3 charging, these units use direct current instead of alternating current (what we use in our homes) to quickly charge a vehicle. Great for charging on the go in public spaces, but it doesn’t scale well for home use…yet.
- kW / kWh: kilowatts (kW) measures the power of an EV relative to power. The kilowatt-hour (kWh) measures the amount of energy consumed by the battery for one hour. Some people prefer to think of kWh as battery size, and while that’s technically inaccurate, it’s actually a reliable metric.
- Level 1/2/3 charging: Level 1 charging is no longer viable for most EVs, providing single-digit miles per hour of charge. It uses the ubiquitous 120-volt charger found in household outlets. Level 2 charging is becoming the new norm: it uses 240-volt outlets, also found in homes for appliances such as central air conditioners and clothes dryers. But remember: volts aren’t everything! Make sure your vehicle can handle increased amps – the Level 2 charging ranges of 12 to 80 amps – and adjust the settings as appropriate. Level 3 charging: see DC charging.
- SOC/State of Charge: Current battery level, usually a percentage. A fully discharged battery would have a SOC of 0%, a fully charged battery would be 100%, etc.
- Volts: The measure of the force that drives electrons through a circuit. Not to be confused with amps, which measure volume.
Hope this helps! You are now ready to review your charging options for your new BMW EV.
Charging options for BMW electric vehicles have improved dramatically since the first BMW launched the i3 nearly a decade ago. Essentially, there are three ways to charge: at home, in public, or at work. There are pros and cons to each of them, and we’ll go over them here.
Home charging is the easiest way to keep your BMW EV charged, but it does require a certain level of commitment. On the one hand, you will have to buy a home charging station. Luckily, it’s more affordable than ever – just a few years ago it was rare to find options without spending over $2,500. Besides the obvious convenience, it’s helpful to know that if something breaks, you can usually dispatch a neighborhood electrician and diagnose the problem within 24 hours.
Charging your BMW EV at work
Charging at work is a popular option for those who don’t work remotely. There are obvious downsides to this, mainly that it’s not that common yet. Another downside is availability – if there are only three or four chargers but twenty of your colleagues are driving EVs… well, do the math. Finally, if something breaks, many equipment checks are required in a sprawling corporate complex (most of the time). It may take a day, a week, or a month before they restore service. Not ideal. But charge at work box work for some, especially if you have a short commute.
Finally, there is public charging. Over 53,000 public charging stations exist in the United States (this includes Superchargers). No one is shocked, more than 15,000 of them are in California. But that doesn’t say it all. Based on this data from October 2022, Pennsylvania, with 1,260 charging stations on the map, is firmly in the top ten in the country. Pennsylvania is a big state – about 46,055 square miles, in fact. This means that a charging station exists – approximately – every 36.5 miles. This ignores the fact that a town like Harrisburg probably has a few (dozen) more than a town like Scranton. Do you see where I’m going? Imagine driving 36 miles – each way – only to find a charger that doesn’t work!
As you can tell from the last paragraph, living in a rural area – or even outside of a major city (not in California) makes it difficult to use public charging. Like charging at work, you’re also at the mercy of the powers that be that the charging station is even working in the first place.
Preconditioning your BMW EV and why it matters
Preconditioning is used to refer to two equally useful tools for an electric vehicle. The first, and most common, refers to cooling or heating the cabin in preparation for driving the car. I’m not sure about other brands (I believe Tesla does this too), but BMW EVs combine this with a second function: heating or cooling battery, preparing it to receive a charge. You can read more about its use here, and it has many benefits, including:
- Preconditioning enables faster charging
- Preconditioning extends battery life by ensuring the battery is charged and at an ideal operating temperature
- BMW electric vehicles will specifically allow you to heat and cool your cabin, as well as the battery
Battery Health Tips
It really is as simple as thinking of the battery in your BMW EV the same way you think of the battery in your cell phone or digital camera. A few quick tips:
- Avoid keeping batteries at extreme SOC. Full charging should be reserved for long journeys and the vehicle should never remain at 0% charge. An extremely high or low state of charge stresses battery components and will (over a long enough period) reduce battery longevity.
- Still prerequisite as this ensures that the battery is operating at its ideal temperature. Also, avoid exposing the battery to extremely high or extremely low temperatures.
- DC charging isn’t meant to be an everyday thing. Don’t overdo it: in the long run, it will impact the health of the battery. Level 2 is safe, reliable, and fast enough for most uses. That said; you have no reason to worry about the occasional DC charge, so take advantage of it when you can.