A Guide to Charging Electric Cars

Charging is perhaps the single biggest point of differentiation between conventional and electric cars. Over the decades drivers around the world have grown used to all the familiar, elaborate paraphernalia of petrol stations – from awkward hand pumps to still fuel tank caps. Of course, all of that goes out the window with electric vehicles. No more expensive, inflammable liquid to pour into your tank: instead owners simply plug in a charger, sit back, and wait for the battery to fill.

EV drivers soon discover that charging an electric car is both surprisingly inexpensive and simple – essentially no different from plugging in your mobile phone, something most of us do on a daily basis.

The biggest complication you will need to get to grips with is the multiple types of charger and cable 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. 

It’s clearly important for drivers to be familiar with the type of charger required by their vehicle, as this will affect both their choice of home charging equipment and which public charging terminals they can make use of while out and about.

How to charge an electric car

Home charging vs public charging

Since the availability of public charging points can never be guaranteed, almost all electric car owners install home chargers – also known as ‘wallbox chargers’. These 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 wallbox 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

There are a few additional complexities to contend with when using a public charger. The charging point you select will provide 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. It’s also clearly 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

RFID stands for ‘radio-frequency identification’, a form of short range wireless transmission used for secure identification purposes. Users tap the card onto the charger to access the device and identify themselves. No phone signal is needed.

Contactless bank cards

Many people have contactless bank cards these days – the technology has transitioned from novelty to almost mainstream in a few short years. Contactless cards provide speedy access and users do not require an account with the network operator to use them so this can be a convenient option. But 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 hours would be required for a full charge. Technically this is possible but not recommended by most manufacturers.

The majority of 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.

Heavy usage – for example, a long drive at higher speeds – could make a top-up later in the day advisable but this is not a routine occurrence.

How often should you charge your electric car? As often as you need to.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

There are two different answers to the question, depending where you do your charging: at home or on the road.

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 engine. 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 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. Two hundred miles in a conventional petrol or diesel vehicle will cost you a lot more.

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.

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

Home charging devices are not cheap, with average prices ranging between £450 and £800. A government grant of up to 75% of the cost is available (up to a maximum of £350), but this is unfortunately set to be phased out on 1 April 2022.

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.

FAQs

Got a question about electric cars?
Have a read through our FAQs or email hello@elmodrive.com

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.