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Understanding EV Charging: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3

The rise of electric vehicles (EVs) represents a pivotal shift in the automotive industry, driven by the need for sustainable transportation solutions and the desire to reduce carbon emissions. As more consumers make the switch to EVs, understanding the nuances of EV charging becomes increasingly important. The convenience, efficiency, and overall experience of owning an electric vehicle are heavily influenced by the type of charger used.

Electric vehicle chargers come in three primary levels: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. Each level offers different charging speeds, costs, and applications, catering to various needs and circumstances. Whether you’re an EV owner looking to install a home charger or a business considering offering charging stations to customers, knowing the differences between these chargers is crucial for making informed decisions.

We will demystify the world of Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 chargers. We will explore their specifications, applications, advantages, and costs, helping you understand which charger is best suited for your specific needs. Whether you are new to the EV community or looking to optimize your charging setup, we will equip you with the knowledge to navigate the evolving landscape of electric vehicle charging.

Woman's hand holding electric charging station handle to charge her ev
Selecting the appropriate EV charger is crucial for maximizing the convenience and efficiency of owning an electric vehicle.

What are EV Chargers?

Electric vehicle (EV) chargers are devices designed to replenish the battery of an electric vehicle by supplying it with electrical energy. Unlike traditional gasoline or diesel vehicles that refuel at gas stations, EVs rely on electricity to power their motors, and this electricity is stored in large batteries. EV chargers serve as the critical link between the electrical grid and the EV’s battery, enabling the transfer of electricity.

Functionality and Importance

EV chargers come in various forms, each with its unique characteristics and intended applications. The primary function of an EV charger is to convert electrical energy from a power source (such as a home outlet or a commercial power supply) into a form that can be safely and efficiently stored in the vehicle’s battery. This involves several key processes:

  1. Voltage Conversion: Depending on the type of charger, the voltage may need to be converted from the power source to a level suitable for the vehicle’s battery.
  2. Current Regulation: Chargers regulate the current flow into the battery to ensure safe and optimal charging rates, protecting both the vehicle and the power source.
  3. Communication: Modern EV chargers often communicate with the vehicle to monitor battery status and manage the charging process, ensuring efficient energy transfer and preventing overcharging.

Types of EV Chargers

There are three main types of EV chargers, classified based on their power levels and charging speeds:

  1. Level 1 Chargers: These chargers use a standard 120-volt AC household outlet. They provide a slow charging rate, typically adding 2-5 miles of range per hour of charging. Level 1 chargers are often used for overnight charging at home.
  2. Level 2 Chargers: These chargers operate at 240 volts AC, similar to large household appliances like electric dryers. They offer a faster charging rate, adding 10-60 miles of range per hour. Level 2 chargers are suitable for both home and commercial use, providing a more efficient charging option for daily needs.
  3. Level 3 Chargers (DC Fast Chargers): These high-power chargers use direct current (DC) and operate at 480 volts or higher. They can add 60-100 miles of range in just 20 minutes, making them ideal for commercial settings and long-distance travel. However, they are not typically used for home charging due to their high cost and power requirements.

Importance of Choosing the Right Charger

Selecting the appropriate EV charger is crucial for maximizing the convenience and efficiency of owning an electric vehicle. The right charger ensures that the vehicle is always ready for use, minimizes downtime, and can even impact the overall cost of ownership. For instance, while Level 1 chargers are cost-effective and easy to use, they may not be sufficient for drivers with long daily commutes. Conversely, Level 3 chargers provide rapid charging but come with higher installation and operational costs, making them more suitable for commercial use.

Level 1 Chargers

Definition and Specifications

Level 1 chargers are the most basic type of electric vehicle (EV) chargers, utilizing a standard 120-volt alternating current (AC) household outlet. They typically operate at 12-16 amps, providing a slow but steady charging rate. On average, a Level 1 charger adds about 2-5 miles of range per hour of charging, depending on the vehicle’s battery capacity and efficiency.

Applications

Level 1 chargers are ideal for home use, especially for EV owners with short daily commutes or those who do not drive long distances regularly. Because they use standard household outlets they require no special installation, making them a convenient and cost-effective option for many drivers. They are particularly suitable for overnight charging, allowing the vehicle to replenish its battery while parked at home.

Advantages

  1. Low Cost: Level 1 chargers are the least expensive charging option. Many EVs come with a Level 1 charging cable, so additional purchases are often unnecessary.
  2. Ease of Use: These chargers plug into any standard 120-volt outlet, eliminating the need for specialized equipment or electrical work.
  3. No Installation Required: Since they use existing household outlets, there are no installation costs associated with Level 1 chargers.

Disadvantages

  1. Slow Charging Speed: Level 1 chargers provide the slowest charging rate, which may not be practical for drivers with long daily commutes or those who need to recharge their vehicles quickly.
  2. Limited Use for Long-Distance Travel: Due to their slow charging speed, Level 1 chargers are unsuitable for long-distance travel or quickly replenishing the battery during a trip.

Costs

  • Initial Cost: The initial cost of a Level 1 charger is typically low. Many EVs come with a Level 1 charging cable included, so there may be no additional expense. If a separate Level 1 charger is needed, it usually costs between $150 and $600.
  • Operational Cost: The operational cost of using a Level 1 charger is minimal, depending primarily on household electricity rates. Charging an EV at home is often cheaper than refueling a gasoline vehicle, though the exact savings depend on local electricity prices and the vehicle’s efficiency.

Practical Considerations

When considering a Level 1 charger, it is important to assess your driving habits and charging needs. If you primarily drive short distances and have the opportunity to charge your vehicle overnight, a Level 1 charger may be sufficient. However, for those with longer commutes or less time to charge their vehicle, upgrading to a Level 2 charger might be a better option.

Level 1 chargers are an accessible and economical choice for many EV owners, especially those who can take advantage of overnight charging. While they may not offer the fastest charging speeds, their low cost and ease of use make them a viable option for a significant number of EV drivers.

Level 2 Chargers

Definition and Specifications

Level 2 chargers are a step up from Level 1 chargers, offering a faster, and more efficient charging solution for electric vehicles (EVs). These chargers operate at 240 volts AC, similar to large household appliances like electric dryers or ovens. They typically deliver between 16 and 80 amps, with common residential units providing around 30-40 amps. This results in a significantly faster charging rate, adding approximately 10-60 miles of range per hour, depending on the EV and the specific charger.

Applications

Level 2 chargers are versatile and can be used in various settings, making them suitable for both home and commercial use. They are ideal for:

  • Home Use: For EV owners who need faster charging than what a Level 1 charger offers, Level 2 chargers provide a practical solution. They can fully charge an EV overnight or even in a few hours, depending on the battery size.
  • Public Charging Stations: Level 2 chargers are commonly found in public spaces such as shopping centers, parking garages, workplaces, and other destinations. They offer convenient charging opportunities for EV drivers while they go about their daily activities.
  • Commercial Use: Businesses and organizations often install Level 2 chargers to attract customers or provide amenities for employees. They can serve as an added incentive for eco-conscious consumers and demonstrate a commitment to sustainability.

Advantages

  1. Faster Charging Speed: Level 2 chargers offer significantly faster charging compared to Level 1 chargers, reducing the time needed to replenish an EV’s battery.
  2. Greater Efficiency: They are more efficient for daily use and accommodate longer commutes or frequent driving without extended charging periods.
  3. Wide Availability: Level 2 chargers are widely available in public spaces, making it easier for EV drivers to find charging stations when needed.

Disadvantages

  1. Higher Initial Installation Cost: Level 2 chargers require a dedicated 240-volt circuit, which may necessitate professional installation. This can increase the initial setup cost.
  2. Requires Electrical Upgrades: Some homes may need electrical upgrades to support a Level 2 charger, adding to the overall cost.

Costs

  • Initial Cost: Purchasing a Level 2 charger ranges from $500 to $2,000, depending on the brand, features, and power output. Installation costs can vary widely, from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the installation and any necessary electrical upgrades.
  • Operational Cost: While Level 2 chargers use more electricity than Level 1 chargers, operational cost is still relatively low. Charging at home is generally cheaper than refueling a gasoline vehicle, and public Level 2 charging stations may offer competitive rates or even free charging in some locations.

Installation Considerations

When installing a Level 2 charger at home, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Electrical Capacity: Ensure your home’s electrical system can support a Level 2 charger. An electrician may need to assess your panel and potentially upgrade it to accommodate the additional load.
  • Location: Choose a convenient and accessible location for the charger, preferably near where you park your vehicle.
  • Permits and Regulations: Check local regulations and obtain the necessary permits before installation. Some areas may have specific requirements for EV charger installations.

Level 2 chargers offer a balanced solution for EV owners who need faster charging without the high costs and infrastructure requirements of Level 3 chargers. They provide a practical and efficient way to keep your EV charged and ready for daily use, whether at home or on the go.

Level 3 Chargers (DC Fast Chargers)

Definition and Specifications

Level 3 chargers, also known as DC Fast Chargers, represent the pinnacle of EV charging technology, offering the highest charging speeds available. Unlike Level 1 and Level 2 chargers that use alternating current (AC), Level 3 chargers use direct current (DC), which allows them to deliver power directly to the vehicle’s battery without the need for the vehicle’s onboard charger to convert the current. These chargers typically operate at 480 volts or higher and can deliver between 100 and 400 amps, enabling them to add 60-100 miles of range in just 20 minutes.

Applications

Level 3 chargers are primarily designed for commercial use and public charging stations. Their high power and fast charging capabilities make them ideal for:

  • Public Charging Stations: Located along highways, at rest stops, and in urban centers, these chargers provide quick top-ups for EV drivers on the go, making long-distance travel more feasible.
  • Commercial Properties: Businesses, shopping centers, and large public venues install DC Fast Chargers to attract customers and offer added convenience.
  • Fleet Operations: Companies with electric vehicle fleets use Level 3 chargers to keep their vehicles operational with minimal downtime.

Advantages

  1. Fastest Charging Option: Level 3 chargers can charge an EV battery from 0% to 80% in as little as 20-40 minutes, depending on the battery size and charger power. This rapid charging is essential for reducing downtime during long trips.
  2. Convenience for Long-Distance Travel: The high-speed charging capability makes Level 3 chargers ideal for long-distance travelers who need to quickly recharge and continue their journey.
  3. Support for High-Use Scenarios: Businesses and fleet operators benefit from the fast turnaround times, ensuring their vehicles are ready for use with minimal waiting.

Disadvantages

  1. High Initial Installation Cost: The equipment and infrastructure required for Level 3 chargers are significantly more expensive than Level 1 or Level 2 chargers. Installation can range from $10,000 to over $50,000, depending on the specific requirements and site conditions.
  2. Requires Specialized Infrastructure: Level 3 chargers need a substantial power supply, often necessitating upgrades to the electrical grid or the installation of dedicated transformers. This adds to the complexity and cost.
  3. Not Suitable for Home Use: Due to their high power requirements and installation costs, Level 3 chargers are impractical for residential settings.

Costs

  • Initial Cost: The cost of purchasing and installing a Level 3 charger can be substantial. Equipment alone can cost between $10,000 and $40,000, while installation costs vary widely based on site-specific factors, potentially adding another $10,000 to $30,000 or more.
  • Operational Cost: Operating a Level 3 charger incurs higher electricity costs due to the significant power draw. Public charging stations often charge premium rates to recoup these costs, and businesses must consider these operational expenses when providing charging services.

Implementation Considerations

When considering the installation of Level 3 chargers, several factors need to be addressed:

  • Site Assessment: Evaluate the site to ensure it can support the high power requirements. This may involve working with utility companies to upgrade the electrical supply.
  • Permitting and Regulations: Obtain the necessary permits and comply with local regulations, which can vary significantly by region.
  • User Accessibility: Place chargers in easily accessible locations with adequate signage and amenities to enhance the user experience.

Future Trends and Innovations

As EV technology evolves, so do charging solutions. Innovations in ultra-fast charging, improvements in battery technology, and the integration of renewable energy sources are poised to make Level 3 charging even more efficient and widespread. Companies are also exploring wireless and automated charging systems to further enhance convenience and reduce the physical infrastructure required.

Level 3 chargers, or DC Fast Chargers, provide the fastest and most efficient charging solution for electric vehicles, making them indispensable for public and commercial use. While they come with higher costs and infrastructure requirements, their ability to rapidly charge EVs is essential for supporting long-distance travel and high-usage scenarios.

Comparison of Charging Levels

Charging Speed

  • Level 1 Chargers:
    • Speed: Slow
    • Output: Adds approximately 2-5 miles of range per hour.
    • Use Case: Best for overnight charging or for drivers with short daily commutes.
  • Level 2 Chargers:
    • Speed: Moderate
    • Output: Adds approximately 10-60 miles of range per hour.
    • Use Case: Ideal for daily home use, workplaces, and public charging stations.
  • Level 3 Chargers (DC Fast Chargers):
    • Speed: Fastest
    • Output: Adds approximately 60-100 miles of range in 20 minutes.
    • Use Case: Suitable for commercial use, long-distance travel, and public charging infrastructure.
  • Level 1 Chargers:
    • Setup: Plug-and-play; uses standard 120-volt household outlets.
    • Installation: No professional installation required.
    • Cost: Minimal setup cost, often included with the purchase of the EV.
  • Level 2 Chargers:
    • Setup: Requires a 240-volt circuit, similar to large household appliances.
    • Installation: Professional installation typically required.
    • Cost: Moderate setup cost; charger costs range from $500 to $2,000, with additional installation fees.
  • Level 3 Chargers (DC Fast Chargers):
    • Setup: Requires a specialized high-voltage power supply (480 volts or higher).
    • Installation: Extensive professional installation needed, often involving significant electrical infrastructure upgrades.
    • Cost: High setup cost; equipment costs range from $10,000 to $50,000+, with substantial installation fees.

Installation and Setup

Cost Analysis

  • Level 1 Chargers:
    • Initial Cost: Low; typically included with the EV or costs between $300 and $600.
    • Operational Cost: Low, depends on household electricity rates.
  • Level 2 Chargers:
    • Initial Cost: Moderate; equipment costs between $500 and $2,000, plus installation.
    • Operational Cost: Higher than Level 1 due to increased power usage, but still economical for daily use.
  • Level 3 Chargers (DC Fast Chargers):
    • Initial Cost: High; equipment and installation costs can exceed $50,000.
    • Operational Cost: High due to significant power draw; often reflected in usage fees at public stations.

Use Cases and Practical Considerations

  • Level 1 Chargers:
    • Ideal For: Home use, overnight charging, and drivers with short daily commutes.
    • Limitations: Slow charging speed; not suitable for long-distance travel or high-usage scenarios.
  • Level 2 Chargers:
    • Ideal For: Home use, workplaces, public charging stations, and drivers with longer commutes.
    • Limitations: Higher initial cost and requires professional installation.
  • Level 3 Chargers (DC Fast Chargers):
    • Ideal For: Commercial use, public charging infrastructure, and long-distance travel.
    • Limitations: Very high initial and operational costs; not practical for home use.

Understanding the differences between Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 chargers is crucial for making informed decisions about EV charging infrastructure. Each level offers distinct advantages and is suited to different applications:

  • Level 1 Chargers are cost-effective and easy to use but best suited for low mileage and overnight charging at home.
  • Level 2 Chargers provide a balance of speed and cost, making them ideal for daily use at home, workplaces, and public locations.
  • Level 3 Chargers offer the fastest charging speeds, essential for commercial use and long-distance travel, but come with high installation and operational costs.
Electric car charging station for charge EV battery. Plug for vehicle with electric engine. EV
Choosing the right EV charger involves evaluating your specific needs, budget, and the available infrastructure.

Choosing the Right Charger for Your Needs

Selecting the right EV charger depends on various factors, including your driving habits, the type of vehicle you own, your budget, and the available infrastructure. Here’s a detailed guide to help you choose the most suitable charger for your specific needs.

Home Charging Considerations

  1. Daily Driving Habits:
    • Short Commutes: If you drive short distances daily (e.g., less than 40 miles), a Level 1 charger might be sufficient. It can easily replenish the battery overnight.
    • Longer Commutes: For longer daily drives, a Level 2 charger is recommended. It provides faster charging, ensuring your vehicle is ready for use each day.
  2. Vehicle Type:
    • Battery Size: Larger batteries require more time to charge. For EVs with large battery capacities, a Level 2 charger offers a practical solution to avoid long charging times.
    • Charging Capabilities: Some EVs are designed to take advantage of faster charging speeds offered by Level 2 or Level 3 chargers.
  3. Budget:
    • Initial Cost: Level 1 chargers are the most cost-effective, with minimal setup costs. Level 2 chargers have higher initial costs due to the need for a 240-volt circuit and professional installation.
    • Long-term Savings: Consider the long-term savings in fuel costs and potential incentives or rebates for installing home chargers.
  4. Electrical Infrastructure:
    • Existing Setup: Check if your home’s electrical system can support a Level 2 charger. Some homes may require upgrades to handle the increased load.
    • Installation Feasibility: Assess the feasibility and cost of installing a dedicated 240-volt circuit for a Level 2 charger. Professional consultation with an electrician is recommended.

Commercial and Public Charging Considerations

  1. Customer Needs and Convenience:
    • Attracting Customers: Offering Level 2 or Level 3 chargers can attract EV drivers to your business, providing a valuable service while they shop, dine, or work.
    • Charging Speed: Level 2 chargers are ideal for locations where customers spend a few hours, while Level 3 chargers are perfect for quick top-ups in high-traffic areas.
  2. Location and Accessibility:
    • Strategic Placement: Install chargers in easily accessible locations with clear signage. Ensure there is adequate space for vehicles to park and charge.
    • Infrastructure: Assess the site’s electrical infrastructure to determine if it can support the installation of Level 2 or Level 3 chargers.
  3. Investment and Operational Costs:
    • Initial Investment: Level 3 chargers require significant upfront investment, including equipment and infrastructure upgrades. Level 2 chargers have lower initial costs but still require professional installation.
    • Operational Costs: Consider the ongoing costs of electricity and maintenance. Implementing a fee structure for public charging can help offset these costs.
  4. Regulations and Incentives:
    • Permits and Compliance: Ensure compliance with local regulations and obtain necessary permits for installation.
    • Incentives: Explore federal, state, and local incentives or rebates for installing EV chargers, which can help reduce initial costs.

Future-Proofing Your Charging Infrastructure

  1. Emerging Technologies:
    • Upgradability: Choose chargers that can be upgraded or are compatible with future technologies, such as ultra-fast charging or wireless charging.
    • Software Integration: Look for chargers with advanced software features, such as remote monitoring, usage reporting, and payment processing.
  2. Sustainability:
    • Renewable Energy: Consider integrating renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, to power your EV chargers. This can reduce operational costs and enhance sustainability.
    • Energy Management: Implement energy management systems to optimize charging times and reduce strain on the electrical grid.

Choosing the right EV charger involves evaluating your specific needs, budget, and the available infrastructure. For home use, consider your daily driving habits and the vehicle’s charging requirements. For commercial or public installations, focus on customer convenience, location, and the potential return on investment. By carefully assessing these factors and planning for future advancements, you can select the most appropriate charging solution to ensure efficient and convenient EV charging.

Future Trends in EV Charging

As the electric vehicle (EV) market continues to grow and evolve, so does the technology and infrastructure supporting it. Here are some of the key trends shaping the future of EV charging, promising to make it faster, more convenient, and more sustainable.

1. Ultra-Fast Charging

  • Definition: Ultra-fast chargers, often referred to as Level 4 chargers, aim to provide even quicker charging times than current Level 3 (DC Fast Chargers). These chargers are expected to deliver power levels exceeding 350 kW.
  • Impact: This technology will significantly reduce charging times, allowing EVs to be charged in minutes rather than hours, making EVs more convenient for long-distance travel and reducing downtime.
  • Implementation: Automakers and charging networks are investing in ultra-fast charging stations, and as battery technology improves to handle higher power levels, more EVs will be able to take advantage of these rapid chargers.

2. Wireless Charging

  • Definition: Wireless or inductive charging uses electromagnetic fields to transfer energy between a charging pad on the ground and a receiver on the vehicle.
  • Impact: This technology eliminates the need for physical connectors, making charging more convenient and user-friendly. It can be particularly beneficial for urban areas and residential settings where space is limited.
  • Implementation: Ongoing developments and pilot programs are testing wireless charging for both static (parked vehicles) and dynamic (moving vehicles) applications. As the technology matures, it could become a standard feature in new EV models and charging stations.

3. Smart Charging and Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Integration

  • Definition: Smart charging systems optimize the charging process by adjusting charging times and rates based on grid demand, electricity prices, and the availability of renewable energy. Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology allows EVs to return stored energy to the grid during peak demand times.
  • Impact: These technologies enhance grid stability, reduce energy costs, and promote the use of renewable energy. They transform EVs into active components of the energy ecosystem, contributing to overall energy efficiency and sustainability.
  • Implementation: Utilities and automakers are collaborating to develop and deploy smart charging infrastructure and V2G capabilities. These systems rely on advanced software and communication protocols to manage energy flow between vehicles and the grid.

4. Expansion of Charging Networks

  • Definition: The expansion of public and private charging networks to meet the growing demand for EVs.
  • Impact: Increased availability of charging stations will alleviate range anxiety and support the widespread adoption of EVs. A dense and reliable charging network is crucial for convincing more consumers to switch to electric.
  • Implementation: Governments, businesses, and charging network providers are investing heavily in expanding charging infrastructure. This includes installing chargers in urban areas, along highways, at workplaces, and in residential complexes.

5. Integration with Renewable Energy

  • Definition: The integration of EV charging stations with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.
  • Impact: This reduces the carbon footprint of EV charging and promotes sustainable energy practices. By using clean energy to power EVs, the overall environmental benefits of switching to electric vehicles are maximized.
  • Implementation: Many new charging stations are being equipped with solar panels or connected to renewable energy grids. Energy storage systems, such as batteries, are also being incorporated to store excess renewable energy for later use.

6. Modular and Scalable Charging Solutions

  • Definition: Modular charging stations that can be easily expanded or upgraded to meet increasing demand.
  • Impact: This flexibility allows charging infrastructure to grow alongside the EV market, ensuring that the needs of EV owners are consistently met. It also allows for cost-effective upgrades as technology advances.
  • Implementation: Charging network providers are developing modular systems that can be quickly installed and scaled. This approach is particularly beneficial for commercial properties and public charging networks.

7. Enhanced User Experience and Connectivity

  • Definition: Improvements in the user interface and connectivity of charging stations, including features like mobile app integration, real-time status updates, and automated payment systems.
  • Impact: A seamless and convenient charging experience encourages more people to adopt EVs. Enhanced connectivity also allows for better management of charging sessions and efficient use of resources.
  • Implementation: Charging stations are becoming more user-friendly, with features like contactless payments, remote monitoring, and integration with navigation systems to help drivers find available chargers.

The future of EV charging is set to be defined by rapid technological advancements and the expansion of infrastructure. Ultra-fast and wireless charging technologies promise unprecedented convenience, while smart charging and V2G integration will enhance energy efficiency and grid stability. The continued growth of charging networks and the integration of renewable energy will further promote the adoption of electric vehicles. As these trends develop, they will collectively transform the EV charging landscape, making it more efficient, sustainable, and accessible for all.

Final Thoughts

As the electric vehicle (EV) market continues to expand, understanding the various levels of EV chargers—Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3—becomes essential for both current and prospective EV owners. Each charging level offers unique advantages and serves different needs, from the slow yet convenient home charging of Level 1, to the balanced speed and versatility of Level 2, to the rapid, high-power charging of Level 3 for long-distance travel and commercial applications.

Choosing the right charger involves considering your daily driving habits, vehicle requirements, budget, and the available infrastructure. For home use, Level 1 and Level 2 chargers provide practical and cost-effective solutions, while Level 3 chargers cater to commercial settings and public charging stations with their fast charging capabilities.

Looking ahead, the future of EV charging is poised to become even more dynamic and user-friendly with the advent of ultra-fast charging, wireless technology, smart charging systems, and the integration of renewable energy. These advancements promise to enhance the convenience and sustainability of EV ownership, further driving the adoption of electric vehicles.

Investing in the right charging solution not only ensures that your EV is always ready for use but also contributes to a more sustainable and efficient transportation ecosystem. By staying informed about the latest trends and developments in EV charging, you can make educated decisions that meet your specific needs and help pave the way for a cleaner, greener future.

Ron Jones

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