Here in the UK, over 90% of electric vehicle (EV) charging is done at home. This is usually the cheapest and most convenient way of charging up, but sometimes we need to rely on public charging stations to top up our batteries.
Thankfully, the UK’s charging network is better than ever and constantly improving. From electric car charger home installation to supermarkets offering free charging while you shop, we’re here to help you figure out charging up both at home and on the road.
How do you charge an electric car at home?
Typically, home charging happens in one of two ways. Firstly, there’s slow charging, where you can plug your EV into a regular 3-pin plug socket. With a maximum charge speed of 3kW per hour, this means you can charge a Volkswagen e-Golf – which has a 35kWh battery – from flat to full in just under 12 hours.
Then there’s fast charging, where you can replenish your battery at speeds between 7 and 22kW per hour. You’ll need to install a home charging point for this, so a driveway is usually necessary. Once installed, charging your car at home is as simple as plugging in, while you can also set your EV to charge in sync with a cheap energy tariff. A 7kW fast charger will take your 35kWh Volkswagen e-Golf battery from empty to full in just five hours.
Sometimes, however, it’s not possible to have a home charging point, while if you’re going on a long journey, you’ll need to find somewhere along the way to plug in. If you’re wondering how to charge an electric car away from home, it’s time to get acquainted with the UK’s thriving public charging network.
How do electric car charging stations work?
You can find public charge points in car parks, at supermarkets or just at the side of the road in residential areas, as well as at service stations and other places such as cinemas, pubs and restaurants.
Rapid charging points are best if you’re stopping on a long journey, as they typically offer speeds of 50kW per hour. Going back to our VW e-Golf, this means you can fully recharge its 35kWh battery in just over 40 minutes from flat.
There are also superchargers which offer speeds of up to 150kW. Tesla’s charging network for example offers this supercharging capability.
Charging technology is improving at an incredible speed, with Fastned opening the UK’s first 350kW capacity charger last year. Using solar panels and 100% renewable energy, you could add almost 200 miles to your car’s range in less than 15 minutes. To put this into perspective, this means you can fully charge a Mercedes EQC – which has an 80kWh battery that delivers a 230-mile ‘real world’ range – in around half an hour. If you’re pulling over at a motorway service station, your car will be pretty much fully charged by the time you get back from using the facilities and grabbing a coffee or a bite to eat.
Whatever speed you’re able to get, you need to ensure the station you visit is compatible with your car’s connection. Be it Type 1, Type 2, CCS, Chademo, Commando or Tesla, your EV’s handbook and the charging network provider’s website will give you all the information you need. There are also apps you can use for this, but we’ll get onto that later.
Different companies operate different charging networks, and you may need to download an app, get a swipe card or open an account to use them. It’s a good idea to plan any long journeys or pick out the closest charging stations to your home or work, but this all becomes second nature very quickly.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car?
Charging up at home is usually cheapest, and there are lots of energy tariffs you can choose which are aimed at EV drivers. These offer very low off-peak electricity prices for charging overnight, while more and more companies are able to provide renewable energy to continue your good work in protecting the environment through driving an EV.
Energy tariffs start from as little as 5p per kWh, which combined with a 7kW charger will give you costs and charge times as below for a selection of popular electric cars:
There is a cost to install a home charge point, with the RAC estimating the average at around £800. The government’s Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme offers a grant for up to 75% of the cost of installing a charge point at your home, with a maximum contribution of £350 available.
This potentially leaves you with just £450 to cover yourself, which you’ll quickly recoup in fuel savings. Driving an electric Vauxhall Corsa-e, for example, is around £840 cheaper than the regular petrol version if you drive 6,000 miles per annum.
The cost of charging an electric car at a UK public charging station depends on which company operates the charge point. Polar is the UK’s biggest public charging network, with more than 7,000 charge points across the country. You can use these either on a pay-as-you-go basis through Polar Instant or sign up for a Polar Plus membership which costs £7.85 per month.
The cost of using Polar’s charge points is cheaper when you’re a member, with a price of 15p per kWh for a 50kW charger and 20p per kWh for a 150kW charger. You can see some examples of what this means below:
If you use Polar’s charging points on an ad hoc basis, it costs 25p per kWh for a 50kW charger and 35p for a 150kW charger. This translates to an increase in price as shown below:
Polar also offer slow AC charging at their points, while you can also use your contactless bank card to pay. Doing so costs 30p per kWh for a 50kW charger and 40p for a 150kW charger, although it’s not available for AC charging.
How to charge your electric car for free
There are also plenty of places you can top up your EV battery for free, including at supermarkets, where charge points doubled between 2017 and 2019. Tesco now has the most with around 300 points, slightly more than Asda and around double that of Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. Aldi, Co-op, Lidl and Waitrose also have a good number of charge points across their stores.
Morrisons and Lidl lead the way in terms of rapid chargers, while fast food outlet McDonald’s has partnered with InstaVolt to provide rapid charging at its drive-thru restaurants across the UK. You can also find free charge points in a range of places like car parks and restaurants, while an increasing number of companies are offering free charging for employees at work.
Are there enough charging stations for electric cars?
As of the end of July 2020, the UK had almost 12,000 charging locations, offering more than 33,000 connectors. Hundreds are being installed every month, with the 15 largest networks accounting for over 75% of all points.
There are now more EV charging locations than petrol stations in the UK, while you can use Zap Map to find on-the-go chargers, plan your routes and ensure you have the correct connector type, as well to pick out free charge points. There’s a handy downloadable app which is highly recommended for new and experienced EV drivers alike.