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Electric Vehicle Terms: EVSE vs. Charger - What Does Each Term Mean?

We help to clarify the terms used to discuss electric vehicle charging. Here is a quick overview of the two terms EVSE and Charger and how each is used by EV owners and experts.


Electric vehicle charging is about to become a more widely discussed topic. With Ford, Toyota, VW, and of course, Tesla, now having smash hits with their latest electrified crossovers, more and more first-time consumers are interacting with long-time EV owners and advocates. One term that is often used in various ways is “charger.” As in “Electric vehicle charger” or simply, “EV Charger.”

Related Story: Electric Vehicle Vocabulary Guide - Decoding the Alphabet Soup Of EV Acronyms

Like many terms, the word charger has many meanings related to automobiles. For example, Charger is the model of one of the more popular muscle cars in the market today, and a term that Dodge used for a good part of a century before EVs were a thing. Our discussion today will relate specifically to the term charger being used when a person puts energy into the battery of an electric vehicle.

Related Story: Everything You Need To Know About DIY Electric Vehicle Charger Installation

The Technical Use of the Word Charger
Electric vehicles all come with a component inside their powertrain that is called a charger. It accepts incoming current from an outside source and converts that incoming electrical current into stored energy in the vehicle’s battery. The component is termed a charger.

Image courtesy of Amazon and LectronThe Common Use the Word Charger vs. EVSE
Another way the word is used, and this is by industry experts and everyday consumers alike, is to assign the word charger to the external device that one connects to an electric vehicle to initiate and provide charging. Here is an example of how the word charger is most commonly used when discussing electric vehicles. "I searched for an available charger using Google Assistant while driving and found one at a Starbucks.” Here is a second example: “I just bought a Level 2 charger from Amazon for $399.” Here is a third: “Did you connect the Mach-E to the charger when you parked it?” In all three cases, the word charger is being applied in the way that owners of EVs commonly use the term.

One of the leading experts in America on EV charging is Tom Moloughney. Tom was a very early adopter of EVs, started and managed many of the earliest clubs related to EVs, he is a staff writer at Inside Evs, has a technical consulting business in its eighth year called Charging Ahead Consulting Services, LLC, and Tom was a program coordinator for Plug-in America, a service that educated dealers on electric vehicles. Tom also serves as the expert for many interviews and articles related to electric vehicle charging. I have personally reached out to Tom on more than one occasion. We have a video shown here in our story related to EV charging. At timestamp 6:00, Tom explains how the terms charger and charging are used by experts and owners.

EVSE or Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment
The term EVSE, or electric vehicle supply equipment, is defined as any device that enables the safe transfer of energy between the local power supply and an electric vehicle. Technically, chargers like the one on an EV owner’s garage wall, or a public charger, or a private charger like the ones Tesla has, are all EVSEs. It is not uncommon for a person seeking attention, and with a need to feel important, to insert a correction in a discussion of EV charging and point out that the “charger” is the device in the vehicle and the thing outside of the vehicle is an EVSE. While they may be technically correct, it is also true that most experts on the subject of EV ownership and charging use the term charger to describe the external device.

Supercharger image by John GorehamSupercharger
When Tesla created its Supercharger network, Elon Musk opted not to name the network “SuperEVSE.” Musk did this for two reasons. First, it would have sounded stupid. Second, Musk was an early adopter and perhaps the planet’s strongest advocate for electric vehicles and had been using the term “charger” to describe the external device that supplies power to an EV along with all the other experts, fans, and owners for years.

Charger  image by John Goreham

Need more proof that the word charger is “officially” acceptable as the term for the external equipment that supplies power to an EV? ChargePoint on its website says, “ChargePoint is the world's largest network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in North America and Europe.” The company didn’t call itself the world’s largest network of EVSEs because it would sound dumb to the millions of EV owners who use their chargers every day. On ChargePoint's front page of its website, the term EVSE does not appear once.

Electric vehicle adoption will require that the majority of the drivers in America become comfortable with the idea of how the vehicles work in day-to-day use. An important term is charging. There is no need to insert EVSE into any conversation around charging unless one is engaged in a technical discussion involving both the external and internal equipment involved. For example: “Hey Bob, this EV isn’t charging. Did you check that there was power to the EVSE? There is no code on the infotainment screen about any onboard charger issues.”

We hope this primer helps those learning about EVs to understand the use of the terms EVSE and charger. If you would like to offer any commentary in the space below, please do.

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin