Electric car charging: the whys and wherefores

Electric car charging: the whys and wherefores

Most electric car owners always charge up at home. But there’s also every good reason to top up while you’re in town for, say, a business meeting. And, with a UK network of rapid-charge points, you can (in theory) plan day-long trips involving hundreds of miles and several fast charge-ups.

Here we’ve compiled the answers to many of your ‘what-if’ questions…

Is there an official map showing the UK’s charging points?

No. The closest you’ll find is the one on Go Ultra Low’s web site, showing the location of over all publicly available charging points. This, incidentally, is a site operated by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Trader, which is the main industry organisation representing car makers and dealers.

The site’s supported by the government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles, and also BMW, Nissan, Renault, Toyota and Vauxhall.

Nissan Leaf EV charging point


How many charging points are there?

At time of writing (early June 2014), there are over 6100 listed. Many are in London; coverage is patchy in some areas and even major cities aren’t always well served. According to the map, Leeds, for example, has just three. Many charge at the ‘standard’ rate of 3.6kw/hour, but the Govt. has promised a network of 500 rapid chargers will be installed by next year. These charge at up to 50kw/h.

EV charging point

How fast do they charge?

Most run at 3.6kw/hour. To charge a vehicle fully from almost ‘flat’ using one of these takes about 8 hours. Fast chargers (7kw/h) deliver a full charge in 2-4 hours. Rapid chargers (22kw/h or 50kw/h) can take as little as 30 minutes to give 80% charge.

Will every charging point work for any car?

When it comes to rapid charging, Nissan uses a system called CHAdeMO, Renault used a 43kw AC charger, while BMW uses the Combined Charging System, CCS for short. There are more CHAdeMo chargers than others at present but, by the end of next year, a good network of rapid chargers that work across all three systems is promised. As of now, not all chargers are compatible with all cars

Must I pay to use a point?

It depends. There are a number of companies operating charger networks and each works differently.

Ecotricity (http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/for-the-road/our-electric-highway) charges nothing for using their points and the electricity is free, too. You’ll need a membership ‘swipe’ card, though, which they’ll send you if you ask them to.

Others, such as Polar (http://www.chargemasterplc.com/index.php/) charge you £20 per year to use the network plus £7 for a 30-min rapid charge, and £1-£1.50 per hour for other types of charger, so a full charge typically costs £4-£6.

Some of the charger networks are accessible via a mobile phone app, which is free to download. In most cases, however, you still need to obtain a membership card.

Since 2013, all points installed using Govt funds must be available to all on a pay-as-you-g basiso.

Some chargers are located within public car parks. With these, you may also need to pay the regular hourly parking charge – although some car parks and on-street parking exempt electric cars from such fees.

electric smart charging

What cables/connectors will I need?

For rapid chargers and other ‘heavy duty’ set-ups, the point has everything pre-installed, so you ‘connect the charging point to the car’. But it’s worth carrying with you whatever cables are supplied with the car, just in case.

My car comes with a cable that has a standard 3-pin domestic plug attached. Can I use that?

At most charging points, yes. And you can, of course, plug it in when visiting friends or at your office. If the cable crosses a pavement or other public space, however, you must take care that no-one trips on it. And if you connect it using an extension lead, check first that this is rated at 13 amps and is fully unwound (to prevent heat build-up) in the cabling.


Are all connectors compatible across all cars/charging points?

Standard and fast charging requires a ‘Type 2’ connector, which is the sort most (but not yet all) electric cars have as standard. If yours has/accepts 7 pins (to plug into a 7-hole socket), then it’s likely to be a Type 2.

Can I use a charging point when it’s raining?

If it’s a public charging point, installed outdoors, they designed for our weather: it should be safe to use even if it’s tipping down.

Who’ll help if you run the battery flat and strand yourself?

The AA and RAC will come out with a portable fast charger – the electrical equivalent of the gallon of fuel they carry for conventionally powered cars. Not every patrol has this, so they may get instead tow you to the nearest charging point, or take you home.

Can I get a charging point installed at work and/or at a friend’s or relative’s house?

Yes. And in many cases, installation is free. You can get a charging point installed (usually at no cost), even if you don’t own or run an electric car.

The Govt is committed to paying 75% of installation costs, up to £1000. (https://www.goultralow.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/OLEV-domestic-recharging-grant-guidance.pdf).

British Gas (http://www.britishgas.co.uk/products-and-services/energy-saving/electric-vehicles/electric-charging-offers.html) is currently among companies offering to install a charging point at home for free. You will need space for off-street parking to qualify.

VW e up EV cabling

Article by Ray Castle


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