Electric Vehicle Charging Guide
For traditional petrol and diesel vehicle drivers, it’s usually a fairly simple choice to decide where to fill up your motor; generally it’s the nearest petrol station. But for electric vehicle drivers the choice is not so simple; largely due to the multitude of different charging options available.
The first choice to make is how quickly you need your vehicle to charge up. For example, if it’s the end of the day and you don’t need the car until the next morning, then a slow overnight charge would be suitable. However, if you’re en-route and need to fill up quickly, then a much faster (and generally more expensive option) will probably be the one to go for.
Electric vehicle chargers come in three different speed ratings: Rapid, Fast and Slow. This represents how power is outputted and hence directly affects the speed the connected vehicle is charged.
There are two types of Rapid charger: Alternating Current (AC) or Direct Current (DC). Currently, AC chargers have a 43kW (kilowatt) rating. DC chargers tend to be 50kW or more, meaning they can charge most Electric Vehicles (EVs) to 80% in under 60 minutes. Most rapid chargers tend to be Direct Current.
Tesla’s use Tesla Superchargers, which are Rapid DC and can charge at high speeds, utilising power of 120kW. This is certainly one of the benefits of opting for a Tesla, but of course, you’ll pay for it, as Tesla’s don’t tend to come cheap. Check out our exclusive review of the Tesla Model 3.
Fast charging usually has output between 7kW and 22kW. As the power output is so much less than rapid chargers, it naturally takes longer to charge a vehicle. As a result, a full charge takes around 3-4 hours.
It does get slower though... and slow chargers are charging units that have a power output of up to 3.7kW and are designed really for overnight charging. This is because it can take a good 6-12 hours to charge an electric vehicle; and sometimes more. Even with a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) - where a battery is used in conjunction with a traditional petrol or diesel engine - it can take a 2-4 hours to charge the battery. Connection to a slow charger is made using a standard 3-pin plug socket.
Types of Chargers
Nothing is ever simple, and as such, there are a number of different types of charger available. None will be compatible with every vehicle, so before buying or leasing an electric vehicle, or getting a home charger installed, make sure you have the correct type of charger.
This is the slowest, least efficient way of charging your vehicle and should only be used as a last resort. EVs will allow you to charge your vehicle at home using a standard 3-pin plug socket, but be warned it will charge at a painstakingly slow rate, giving you roughly 8 miles of range per hour of charging. However, if you are happy charging your vehicle overnight, then it can be a very convenient and cheap way to add some juice to your car.
Type 2 / Type 2 Combo (CCS)
Most European manufacturers are favouring this type of charger. The Type 2 has a 7-pin socket and is used for both Slow and Fast charging. It also has an in-built locking mechanism, which makes connecting and recharging easier and safer.
UK Home charger installations will tend to come with this option so you can recharge much faster than if you only had a standard 3-pin plug socket. A Type 2 connection at home (with 3.7kW single-phase power) will give you approximately 12.5 miles of range per hour. However, you may be able to have the higher powered 7kW installed (like most public charging stations in the UK) and so you can charge up to 25miles of range per hour.
Some public charging stations may have the Type 2 Combo (CCS) socket that is used for Rapid charging. This is great as it can have a higher power rating and can charge your vehicle much more quickly; at roughly 75 miles per hour of charging.
Over in Europe, research has begun on the next-generation of Type 2 chargers. The plan is to install a network of Rapid chargers capable of 350kW output. With this power output, you can expect to gain up to 525 miles of range per hour.
Tesla Type 2
Obvious from its name, but Tesla Type 2 is the connection used by all Tesla Vehicles. These are the only Direct Current (DC) chargers that use a Type 2 connector. All others are Alternating Current (AC). These Tesla Superchargers will give a vehicle approximately 180miles of range per hour.
Type 1 and CHAdeMO
Essentially, this is the US format of the Type 2 / CCS setup. In the US, Type 1 is used for Slow and Fast charging and CHAdeMO is for Rapid Charging. The Type 1 connector has a 5-pin socket and does not feature a locking mechanism.
Charging rates for Type 1 are pretty much the same as for Type 2.
Depending on your vehicle, the connection type will vary - just like smartphones all tend to come with different charging cables. Your vehicle’s battery size plays an important role in how fast your vehicle may charge. Larger EV's tend to have larger batteries, and these are usually more capable of the fastest (Rapid) charging.
The Public Charging Network
Currently, there are around 17,000 public charging points in the UK. Thanks to new legislation, it is now a compulsory requirement for all large petrol stations and motorway services to provide charging points. So as time moves on, there will be more and more of these appearing up and down the country. They also tend to be capable of either Fast or Rapid charging.
Tesla has its own network of ‘Superchargers’. In the UK these can dispense power up to a massive 145kW, although currently Tesla cars themselves are limited to a meagre 120kW.
Currently, when topping up your electric vehicle, you’re most likely to see one of the following installations: BP Chargemaster (Polar), Ecotricity, Pod Point and Charge Your Car.
Depending on which one you use, the payment methods available will vary. Some may take traditional bank cards, some an RFID card, and some of the more advanced may connect to your account via a smartphone app.
Tariff and Costs
Before you can charge your vehicle, you’ll need to sign up to whichever company manufacturers the charging network and create your own account. Usually this is free, but double check as some require a membership sign-on fee.
Once signed up and connected, you’ll be charged in one of the following ways:
- Time (pence per hour)
- Energy Consumed (pence per kWh)
We recommend choosing one that charges per kWh as it’s easier to calculate how much you’ll be paying. Also bear in mind, some will also charge an initial connection fee each time you connect your vehicle. So it’s worth checking beforehand if you’re planning on just putting in a small amount to keep you going. In addition, like traditional petrol stations, actual price will vary dramatically, so be sure you’re happy with the price before connecting.
Ecotricity, for example, charges roughly £6 for a 45 minute charge from a Rapid Charger. In the Nissan Leaf, this will get the battery up to 80%. Check out our exclusive review of the Nissan Leaf e+.
Home Installation and Charging
If you’re lucky enough to have off-street parking, then a home installation of an EV charging point could very well be the most practical, convenient and cheapest way of regularly charging your electric car.
To keep things simple, many companies offer a fully installed package for a fixed price. The cost is usually around £1,000 and you may be eligible for a Government grant of up to £500 to help with the installation cost; that is if you own or lease your vehicle. You may also be able to get an additional £300 from the Energy Saving Trust (EST). So the resulting outlay could very well be minuscule; especially when compared to how much you’ll be saving on running costs.
You’ll find the majority of home charging setups have a power output of around 3.7kW or 7kW. The 7kW packages are the wall-mounted high power ones, and will cost more to install, but they will charge your vehicle much faster.
The installation will be done on its own separate circuit (to save your car shorting out your entire house), and you’ll be able to monitor your electricity use either by your traditional meter, or by a smartphone app.
If you buy an electric car from new, you may be offered a free home installation as part of the deal. This is because many vehicle manufacturers now have deals with some of the charging companies, so it’s worth haggling to see if you can get this included.
Unfortunately, if you don’t have off-street parking, you’re unlikely to be able to benefit from having your own charging point. This is because most councils won’t allow cables trailing across the street or pavement, for obvious safety reasons. Having said that, there are new technologies being researched to enable this, such as electric pads that sit underneath your vehicle to charge it wirelessly, and possibly using the power from lampposts. This is because since their switch to LED, there is a lot of leftover power that can be harnessed.
Charging at Work
One possible alternative to home charging is charging at work. An increasing number of workplaces are having charging points fitted. They are a very practical way of charging your vehicle, as you can do it while you’re busy and your vehicle is stationary for hours at a time, rather than having to wait around at a service station.
These charging points are generally for both employees and visitors, and are being fitted often as a way to attract new workers as a staff perk and also to attract new visitors and customers.
Unlike home chargers though, work-place chargers generally have a higher electricity output, 7kW to 22kW. They often come double-socketed too, so two vehicles can be connected at once. Like home installations, workplace grants are available as well as capital allowances to incentivise companies to have the EV points fitted. Depending on the company, they may even offer free charging if they want an even greater attraction for staff and visitors.
Whilst the charging network is not yet ready for the whole of the UK to instantly adopt an electric vehicle, it’s huge rate of expansion means it won’t be long before it is. For more information about the UK charging infrastructure, check out our article Can Britain's Charging Infrastructure Support the Growth of Electric Vehicles?.
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