Guide to Charging an Electric Car
Published 18 November 2019
Essentially, you have two options when it comes to charging your electric car’s batteries: you can either charge it at home using your own domestic mains electricity supply, or you can make use of public charging points.
There are three main types of electrical vehicle (EV) charging:
Rapid chargers are found at large motorway service stations and can get a car battery up to 80% charged in around 30 minutes. Not all vehicles are compatible with rapid charging. Due to the amount of power required these cannot be installed at home.
Fast chargers typically fully charge an EV in 4-8 hours. They can be installed at home from £1000, and are typically found in public charging stations.
Slow chargers are most often installed at home and take around 8-12 hours to fully charge an EV. Although it can take longer for the highest capacity batteries.
Charging your electric car at home
To charge an electric car at home, you will need a dedicated home charging point as it’s faster and safer than a 3-pin plug.
A home charging point is a compact weatherproof unit that mounts to a wall with a connected charging cable or a socket for plugging in a portable charging cable.
Fast charging points must be installed by a qualified specialist installer. Government grants are available for the installation of home EV charge points up to 75% (or a maximum of £500) of the cost of having the fast-charging point installed.
Most home chargers are either rated at 3 kW (slow) or 7 kW (fast).
Some manufacturers include installation of home charging points when purchasing a new vehicle.
Tip: An electric car will have either a Type 1 or a Type 2 connector and you’ll need to choose a home charger that’s compatible with it.
How long will it take to charge my electric car at home?
How long it takes to charge an electric vehicle (EV) at home depends on a number of different factors, including which car you have, its battery capacity and what sort of charging system you’re using.
The charger’s speed will depend on how many kilowatts (kW) it can provide, and how many your car can accept: the higher the number of watts the car can handle, the faster the car will charge.
Home charging points charge your car at 3.7kW or 7kW giving about 15-30 miles of range per hour of charge (compared to 2.3kW from a 3 pin plug which provides up to 8 miles of range per hour).
How often should you charge an electric car at home?
You can charge your car at home as often as you wish. Most people will charge their electric cars overnight, just like they do with their mobile phones. Charging overnight takes advantage of cheap nighttime electricity rates.
Some drivers like to plug in their car after every use so the car is always fully charged.
Public Charging Networks
There are at least 20 different companies and organisations installing and running nationwide or regional electric car charger networks in the UK. The major UK-wide networks include BP Chargemaster (Polar), Ecotricity, Pod Point and Charge Your Car.
It makes life pretty complicated as each individual network requires an EV driver to register and carry a network-specific swipe card or network specific smartphone app in order to use their charging points.
Although many EV charge points are free to use, the majority of fast and rapid chargers require payment. Charging tariffs tend to comprise a flat connection fee, a cost per charging time (pence per hour) and/or a cost per energy consumed (pence per kWh).
How do I find a public charging point?
According to Zapmap, there are around 15,500 public charging points in the UK – five times more than in 2011. And many of those chargers have more than one connector, meaning there are 26,500 plugs to use as of autumn 2019.
A lot of new electric cars come with a sat nav system that will direct you to the nearest charging point. Alternatively, there are websites such as Zapmap that shows the charging points nearest to where you searching from, what sort of connector they are compatible with and how fast they’ll charge your car.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the vast majority of charging points are found in cities and urban areas, and are much more sparse elsewhere.
How do I use a public charging point?
Most public charging points require you to have their provider’s swipecard, or mobile phone app, to unlock the charging point. This will allow you to connect the charging cable from your car to the charging point.
Often, the charging point will include a lock around its cable to stop it from being disconnected (either maliciously or accidentally). You’ll usually need to use the swipecard or app again to disconnect the electricity supply and unlock the cable.
Be aware, however, that different providers may have different ways of doing operating their charging points, so it’s worth doing specific research into how each company works. This will avoid or reduce the amount of time spent in the pouring rain trying to work out how on earth you work that particular charging point.
Charging on the motorway
Only Ecotricity provides charging stations on the motorway, with about 50 charging stations offering around 300 individual chargers. Not so long ago, these were free to use, but the company has recently introduced a £6 charge for 30 minutes of use. If, however, you also get your electricity from Ecotricity, then you’re eligible for 52 free charges per year.
The company was criticised for this move, but it defended itself by saying that the charge was introduced to stop plug-in hybrid (PHEV) owners from ‘hogging’ the charging points when ‘pure’ electric cars have more need. This is because, unlike PHEV owners, pure electric vehicles rely on their battery packs alone, a PHEVs has small petrol or diesel engines that will top up its battery pack if necessary. Some manufacturers, like Tesla, have introduced ‘idle fees’ that penalise drivers who stay parked in electric car spaces after their battery has finished charging.
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