A Guide to Charging Electric Cars

 

By far the biggest difference to driving an electric car compared to a petrol or diesel car is the way it’s fueled. Gone are the days of rocking up to a petrol station to fill up the tank – instead, drivers can fill up the car while at the supermarket, parked up at work, or even from the comfort of their own homes.

Charging an electric car is both surprisingly inexpensive and simple – essentially, no different from plugging in your mobile phone, which is something most of us do before we head to bed.

The most significant complication you will need to get to grips with is the multiple types of chargers and cables available. Different vehicle manufacturers use different types – the industry has yet to see the levels of standardisation we have observed in the mobile phone sector over the last decade or two.

Below, we’re going to dive into everything you need to know about charging an EV, including how long it takes to charge an electric car, how much it costs and how often you should do it.

Tesla Model S White Charging

Home charging vs public charging

While there’s a vast, ever-expanding network of public charging stations, many EV drivers choose to install home chargers – also known as ‘wall box chargers’. Charging your EV at home is affordable and hugely convenient, however, it isn’t possible for all drivers, particularly those who don’t have a driveway.

Charging your EV at home

Home chargers often have ‘smart’ capabilities, allowing owners to quickly switch them on or off from a phone, tablet, or computer.

Operating a home charger is simple:

  1. Activate charging mode
  2. Unspool the charging cable from your vehicle
  3. Attach it to your wall box charger
  4. Step back and wait. As with mobile phones, the charging process should begin automatically. If it doesn’t, there may be a loose connection

If you’re not in a position to install a charge point at home, this doesn’t mean you can’t charge your EV – you can actually use a standard three-pin plug. However, it’s important to note that charging your EV this way will take longer – sometimes up to 24 hours. For more information, check out our post on charging an EV if you don’t have a driveway.

Charging your EV in public

There are several variations when it comes to using a public charger. The charging point you select will provide either slow, fast or rapid charging. Alternatively, you may be given a choice at the charging station. What do these mean?

    • Slow: charging speeds of around 3 kilowatts (kW) per hour – only a little higher than the 2kW per hour provided by standard domestic plugs.
    • Fast: these provide either 7 or 22kW.
    • Rapid: charging speeds of either 43kW, 50k or 100kW. This is the most expensive option but one that requires minimal waiting time. Slower chargers may be a free-to-access perk in some locations, such as supermarket car parks or workplaces.

 Typically, slow and fast chargers are ‘untethered’, meaning the driver has to provide their own cable.

Public charging points are installed and operated by different network providers, so the procedure required to operate each differs somewhat. There are four principal types:

App-operated

These are open to anyone with the relevant app installed on their phone. That means it’s necessary to have a reasonable mobile or wifi signal at the time you use the charger or you will be unable to connect.

RFID card-operated

Users tap an RFID card onto the charger (similar to contactless debit card payments) to access the device and identify themselves. No phone signal is needed.

Contactless bank cards

Contactless cards provide speedy access and users don’t require an account with the network operator to use them so this can be a convenient option. However, the operator may charge a transaction fee. The energy used is typically charged at a higher rate too.

Plug & play

These are the easiest of all models to use. As the name suggests, simply plug in and start charging.

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

So, how long does it take to charge an electric car? It depends on two factors: the capacity of the battery and the speed of your charging device. To calculate the time required for a full charge, simply divide the former by the latter.

Electric vehicle chargers are built to be high-capacity devices, so fully charging the large batteries can be achieved in a manageable period of time. A battery capacity of 30 kilowatts (kW) would be typical for an electric car, but a standard domestic plug can only supply around 2kW per hour, meaning around 15-24 hours would be required for a full charge.

Most drivers plug in their vehicles overnight, leaving them good to go the following morning. This approach also allows them to take advantage of lower energy costs at night if their tariff is structured in that way.

How often should you charge your electric car? As often as you need to. Heavy usage – for example, a long drive at higher speeds – could mean you’ll need to top-up your car during the day, so if you regularly commute long distances this may apply to you. However, this shouldn’t be too inconvenient, as rapid charge points can charge your battery from 20% to 80% in around 20 minutes – or the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

The cost to charge an electric car depends on a number of factors, such as where you charge your EV, how long charging takes, and even the time of year.

Charging at home is almost always the most economical option. The amount you will be charged depends – very simply – on your electricity tariff and the capacity of your vehicle’s battery. Naturally, a larger battery will take longer to charge and cost that little bit more.

This very logical relationship can be expressed as a formula: pence per kW x battery capacity ÷ 100. For example:

Tariff rate per kilowatt = 17p (example rate – yours may be higher or lower: night time rates can be as little as 4.5 per kW).

Battery capacity = 60kW

17 x 60 = 1020 

1020 ÷ 100 = 10.20

Total cost of charge = £10.20, for around 200 miles of range. 200 miles in a petrol or diesel car will cost a lot more, even with energy prices being what they are in 2022 and 2023.

By contrast, public chargers, especially rapid chargers, normally have a fixed fee applied – for example, £6.50 for 30 minutes or a driving range of about 90 miles. That still only adds up to £13 for an impressive 180 miles. The low costs you’ll pay to charge an electric car are impressive.

Types of charger connectors

There are a number of different charger connectors, all with slightly different uses:

  • Five-pin connectors – for home and work use
  • Seven-pin connectors – home and work use
  • Three-pin plug – for use at home
  • CHAdeMO and CCS connectors – for rapid charging

 Adapters are readily available so you can safely and conveniently use the vast majority of public chargers.

Environmental factors

An electric car may require charging more regularly during extreme temperatures due to the ways we use our cars during these conditions, as well as the battery itself. For example, when it’s cold we use the heater to ensure the car is warm, and when it’s hot we use air conditioning.

The optimum temperature for an EV battery is around 20-40 degrees, so when the battery temperature is above or below this it can also affect its efficiency, which can drain it more quickly.

How much does an electric car charging point cost to install at home?

Home charging devices aren’t cheap, with average prices ranging between £450 and £800.

Are all chargers the same?

As we’ve already covered, there are several types of chargers, so it’s important that you have the right charger with the correct connector installed at home. Most home chargers are tethered to the station, so all you need to worry about is connecting it to your car.

How easy is it to find an EV public charging point?

A common worry amongst first-time electric car drivers is finding a public charging point, but this is becoming less of a concern as each day passes: there are now more than 42,000 charging points in 15,500 locations around the country and this number is on a firm upward trajectory. Most manufacturers’ apps have a mapping function to help with this process.

What is top-up charging?

Top-up charging is when you plug your EV into a charging station to add more charge to your battery. This is in addition to the overnight charging you will do at home or at a public charge point.

Top-up charging can be done throughout the day as and when you use your EV, such as at work, at the supermarket, or at a motorway service station.

Want to drive an electric car?

Many people are interested in the benefits of electric vehicles but are wary of making the leap straight into purchasing one. The technology is becoming ever more advanced but it is still new enough to leave doubts in the minds of some drivers. A great way to test the waters is with a subscription. Pay a simple, monthly rate, which includes everything from insurance to breakdown cover, and see for yourself just what all the fuss is about. 

FAQs

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

Depending on the capacity of the battery and the speed of the charging station, charging can vary. Slower charging stations can take 12-16 hours, whereas rapid charge points can charge from 10-80% in as little as 20 minutes.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

When charging an EV from home, it will cost approximately £12-14 to charge to 100%. Public charge points can vary, with rapid charge points costing around £6-8 for half an hour’s use.

How easy is it to find an EV public charging point?

There are now more than 42,000 charging points in 15,500 locations around the UK, with more being installed daily. There are many apps available that will direct you to your nearest charge point, and even tell you whether it’s available or currently in use.

Want to hire an electric car?

Many people are interested in the benefits of electric vehicles but are wary of making the leap straight into purchasing one.

The technology is becoming ever more advanced but it is still new enough to leave doubts in the minds of some drivers. A great way to test the waters is via subscription.

Pay a simple, monthly rate, complete with tax and insurance, and see for yourself just what all the fuss is about.

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