Guide To Electric Car Charging – EV Charging For Beginners

One of the biggest changes, in making the switch from petrol or diesel fuel to an electric car, is getting used to charging your vehicle. It is an essential aspect of electric vehicle (EV) ownership and it is important to understand the key issues. Our handy guide to electric car charging aims to make EV charging simple, even for beginners.

Charger types

The first thing to consider is the different types of EV charging. There are three main types of charge point. These are: rapid, fast and slow. As you can guess from the names, these different types vary in charging speeds. This is down to the power output of each type of charging point.

Rapid chargers are the quickest way to charge your car. These can be split even further into two categories: ultra-rapid and rapid. Ultra-rapid charging points are DC only and can charge at 100 kW, with the potential to charge up to 350 kW. However, the majority of the UK’s rapid charging infrastructure consists of rapid charging points. These charge at 50 kW DC, with 43 kW AC rapid charging also often available.

Rapid charge points are typically located at motorway service stations in the UK. They are occasionally offered for free to certain drivers, but more often these are the most expensive type of public charge point. Drivers can charge their vehicle to 80% within 20 to 40 minutes, which offers great convenience but comes at a premium price.

To give some indication of charge point prices, Pod Point rapid chargers are available at Lidl for 23p/kWh and at Tesco for 24p/kWh. This works out at about £6 or £7 for 30 minutes of charging, which would give a typical electric car around 100 miles of range.

Fast chargers provide power from 7 kW to 22 kW, which means that a typical EV can be fully charged in between 3 to 4 hours. The most common public charge point available in the UK is a 7 kW untethered Type 2 inlet, which is a fast charger.

Slow chargers provide power up to 3 kW. These are best used for overnight charging as it takes between 6 to 12 hours to charge a typical EV with a slow charger. Electric cars are connected to slow chargers using a cable with a 3-pin or Type 2 socket.

All electric cars have set inlets, and these require specialist connectors to plug them in. Cables are provided with the car which allow for charging on slow and fast chargers across the UK. Rapid charging uses connectors which are tethered to the charger. This has the added advantage that drivers do not need to carry any cables around with them to cover this charging type.

Most new electric vehicles will use the Type 2 standard for charging and will have a Type 2 CCS inlet fitted to enable rapid charging. The Type 1 inlet is usually only found on older electric vehicles. Rapid charging is split across the CHAdeMO and CCS standards at the moment. CCS is now becoming more popular, but in the UK the two biggest selling plug-in vehicles use CHAdeMO inlets.

Electric cars allow charging at different rates. If you have a car that can only charge at 7 kW, then even if you plug it into a 22 kW charge point, it will still only draw a maximum of 7 kW. It is important to note that many plug-in hybrid cars are not able to use rapid charging points.


Public charge points

There are a large number of public electric vehicle charging networks available across the UK. Some of these networks offer national coverage, whereas others are specific to certain regions. Some of the major UK-wide network providers include BP Chargemaster Polar, Pod Point, Ecotricity, Tesla, Instavolt, and Charge Your Car.

Regional networks are often operated by, or have links to, these national providers. This means that it is possible to use regional charge points using a national account in most areas. However, the level of access will depend on the individual network and the specific charge point. Well defined areas, such as London, Scotland, and the Midlands, all have regional charging networks in place.

All public charging points are required to offer ad-hoc access. Many electric vehicle charging points across the UK are free to use. However, most of the fast and rapid chargers charge some level of fee. Charging tariffs are usually based on a cost per energy consumed basis (pence per kWh), although some networks may operate a price per charging time (pence per hour) or a set fee for a charging session instead.

Payment methods for charging points vary across networks. Most networks offer access through the use of an app or RFID card. Contactless bank card access is also becoming more common. This has the added advantage that there is no need for prior registration or account set up. The UK government has announced that all newly installed rapid and higher-powered charge points should offer the capability to for drivers to pay by debit or credit car by the end of Spring 2020. This will make charging even more convenient for EV drivers.

If you are the proud owner of a Tesla electric car, you are able to access the Tesla Supercharger Network. This is completely free for older vehicles and there are also a set number of free hours available for new vehicles (post January 2017).

Charging your electric car at home

For many people, their main charging point will be at their home. Charging your electric car at home is convenient and can be a cost effective way to recharge your vehicle. There are government grants available to support with the cost of installing a home charging point for your electric car. The usual cost is around £1000 but a grant from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) can help to reduce this by up to £500.

The majority of home charging point are either rated at 3 kW or 7 kW. If you get a higher-powered wall mounted unit, this could halve the time it takes to fully charge your electric vehicle. However, the cost of installation is likely to be much higher.

A large number of companies offer a fixed price for a fully installed charge point, meaning no surprises in the final bill. You may also find that many plug-in car manufacturers have deals with charge point suppliers, allowing them to offer lower prices. In some cases, there may even be the opportunity to get a free home charge point as part of your new electric car purchase.

One important point to consider is that you are likely to need an off-street parking space for home based charging. This avoids the potential difficulties that could be caused by trailing cables across public footpaths and other public areas. However, on-street residential charging units are slowly becoming more common in some areas.


Charging your electric car at your workplace

As well as having the convenience to charge your car at home and in public spaces, it may also be helpful to have the facility to charge your electric vehicle at your workplace. An increasing number of businesses are getting electric vehicle charging units installed for the use of their employees and visitors. If employees’ vehicles will be stationary for the majority of the day while they are at work, it makes perfect sense to utilise this opportunity to conveniently keep the car fully charged.

An added benefit may also be that the provision of electric vehicle charging points makes the business more attractive to customers. They may choose to visit the site of a company that has this facility over one that does not and once there, customers may stay for longer whilst their car charges, giving them more opportunity to engage with the business.

Workplace charge points are relatively similar to home based charging points. However, power ratings tend to be higher with more 7 kW and 22 kW units being available. Many workplace charging points also offer a double socket, so that they can charge two cars at the same time. Having higher powered units available means that company fleets of electric cars can top up their charge in the middle of the day, so that they can increase the effective number of business miles driver per day. This reduces the reliance on the public rapid network which can work out to be more expensive.

Business owners, who are providing a charging point for electric vehicles in the workplace, can decide whether they will provide this free of charge or will have a fee in place for the use of the facilities. Many companies have opted to offer the charging point at little to no cost in order to encourage the use of electric vehicles and the charging point by their employees and customers. There are also company benefits, such as grants and enhanced capital allowances, available for charging points that are installed at workplaces.