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Electric Car Charging Points: Charging On The Go

How would you charge an electric car on a roadtrip? Here’s where you can charge your car when out and about, how much it’ll cost, how you should pay, and how you’ll actually struggle to run out of charge.

Most drivers charge their electric cars at home or at work, but the UK charging network provides plenty of convenient opportunities for you to top up as you travel.
Is charging your electric car as simple as pulling up at the nearest charging point and replenish the battery? Not yet, but it’s heading in the right direction. In this article, we’ll take a look at the national and regional charging network providers, how they work, and which apps, cards or subscriptions might be right for you.

How do electric car charging points work?

We’re slowly getting a place where you can just pull up, plug your car in, charge, and pay as you might for petrol or diesel. But we’re not quite there yet.
For starters, you’ll have to make sure your car’s connector is compatible with the charging point. New chargers will more than likely have the standard Type 2 charger and CHAdeMO for Rapid charging, but just check you’re covered. There are also a couple of ways to pay (more on that below), including apps and subscriptions. Finally, different charging points offer different charging speeds and the size of your car’s battery will play a big part in how long it takes. Here are some ballpark figures, though: • Slow (3kW to 6kW), which take eight to 12 hours on average to fully charge your car • Fast (7kW to 22kW), which take seven to eight hours to fully charge your car, with higher kW taking less time • Rapid (around 50kW), which can take less than an hour to boost your car’s power up to 80 per cent Your car’s battery might not support rapid charging, so check this before you pull up.

How many electric car charging points are there?

There are well over 30,000 charging points now in the UK, which are available at service stations, car parks, roadsides and supermarkets.

Where does the power come from?

Power to charge the electric cars comes from the National Grid, who have said “the power system could cope with an overnight boom in electric vehicles”. As the number of electric vehicles on the road is steadily increasing, the system will have plenty of time to grow in line with demand.
Porsche Taycan at a public charging point
Porsche Taycan at a public charging point

How much do electric car charging points cost?

This depends on the type / speed of charging point you use, and which network provider is running the charging point.
You can price up a charge using the cost per kilowatt hour (kWh). Rapid charging points are usually the most expensive, costing £6 to £7 for around 100 miles of range (but only taking 30 minutes to get that). Slow and fast charging points usually cost less and charging from home can be incredibly cheap. A couple of network providers may charge additional fees, so keep an eye out for things like: • One-off registration fee, which is normally around £10 or £20 • Monthly subscription fee • Connection fee, which can be between 50p to £3 There may also be a cost per hour to charge, which is primarily used to discourage people leaving their cars plugged in all day. Some charging points, like Zero Carbon World’s, are free to use.

National and regional charging networks

UK charging points are owned and run by several different companies, called network providers. Think of charging point networks like phone networks: different providers offer access to the same thing for slightly different prices and packages. You just need to pick the one that gives you the best coverage in your area.
There are national network providers, who own and run charging points across the UK, like BP Pulse, Ecotricity and Pod Point. There are also regional network providers, who will cover local areas. You can use sites like Plugshare or Zap Map to find regional networks in your area, or an area you plan on visiting. This could be particularly handy if you don’t have a home charger and might need to rely on public charging points more regularly. Network providers operate slightly differently, so do a bit of research on who runs the charging points near you. You can just pull up and use some charge points, whereas other might require you to become a member of a charging point network. If you do have to sign up, you’ll get access to all their charging points from that point on. Networks vary in size, cost and the services they offer. Most offer slow, fast and rapid charging options so you’ll get the choice of a quick top-up whilst out on the road, or a full charge if you’re likely to be parked for some time. Outside of national and regional charging networks, you have a couple of other options: • If you’re driving a Tesla, you can use their dedicated Supercharger stations. • Some local authorities also offer public charging points, with government grant schemes funding them around the country. You can check with your local council to find out where points are located near you.
Mercedes Benz EQC charging in public
Mercedes Benz EQC charging in public

How to pay for electric car charging points

Some network providers offer annual subscriptions, some are pay as you go, and some use apps or pre-paid RFID cards.
Overall, the system is a bit fragmented when it comes to payments, but it’s getting a lot better. There are increasing numbers of charging points in the UK, and contactless payments are becoming much more common.

Contactless payments

Lots of charger networks now accept contactless payments, including leading network providers like Instavolt, Osprey and Shell Recharge (who also have an app, more on that in a moment).
This one is easy, given you simply charge your car and then tap your contactless card to pay, like you would at a petrol station. There’s usually a transaction fee though, so you’ll pay a little extra to use the charging point.

Apps

Apps can be accessed by a smartphone. Features will vary, but most will allow you to pay, manage your usage and will also show you charge point locations and details.
Best apps for UK charge points
Take a look at which providers are popular in your area, and who run the charging points on your local runs. On a national level, you’d probably get good coverage from a combination of these apps:
• BP Pulse (previously called Chargemaster) • Genie Point • Ecotricity Most other national networks providers can be accessed and paid for online (using a smartphone) or accept contactless payments.

RFID card

RFID card (Radio Frequency Identification) are pre-paid cards that allow access to charge points. They’re easy to use, and don’t rely on a strong internet signal to work. You might need to carry a few cards around, and there’s the risk of losing them.
Best RFID cards for charge points
Again, this will depend where you live, so take a look online and ask around.
Nationally, two of the biggest charging networks, Genie and BP Pulse, both offer RFID card options. Charge Your Car (CYC) is another, and their RFID cards are also compatible with ChargePlace’s charge points up in Scotland (and vice versa). Either card is £20 a year for unlimited access, so this could be a wise investment.

Subscription model

Like any subscription (think Netflix, Prime etc.), you pay a monthly or annual fee for access.
Should I subscribe?
There are a few advantages to subscription models. The cost per charge can be cheaper for subscribed members. If you get unlimited access for your subscription and rely on public charging points, you could get your money’s worth too.
But a lot of subscriptions can prove costly, so budget properly to make sure you’re getting the most out of a subscription.

Free electric charging points

There are also thousands of free electric car charge points in the UK. These can often be found in public car parks, supermarkets, hotels, shopping centres and occasionally service stations.
Free electric charging points will likely have restrictions in place. You may have to prove a purchase in store to use them, or only use them for a set period of time, for example.
Tesla charging station
Tesla charging station

Your questions answered

Can I take my electric car to any charging point?

No, there are currently two main blockers.
The first, covered above, is that different network providers run different charging points. If you don’t have the app, or aren’t subscribed and it doesn’t accept contactless payments, you’d need to sort that before you can use the charge point. The second is that different charging points use different connectors. Most will offer the standard Type 2 connector (and CHAdeMO for rapid charging), but it’s not always guaranteed. We cover the different types of connector in our introductory guide to charging cars. This is solved easily enough with some forward planning. Use free maps to find charging points along your route, then get yourself signed up and ready to pay before you set off. Some electric cars even have journey planners in the sat nav, which will point out the nearest compatible charging points as you go.

What if my electric car’s battery runs out and I can’t reach a charging point?

If your battery dies, you’ll have to be towed from the roadside. It can be expensive, as electric cars usually need lifting onto a flatbed truck to avoid damaging their motors.
This is an increasingly unlikely scenario though. The range of electric cars has increased massively in recent years, and electric cars often include warning systems that encourage you to recharge far in advance of a flat battery. Many electric cars also include sat nav features that will show you the nearest charging point.

Are public car charging points safe?

Public charging points contain many safety features.
• New electric cars and PHEVs contain circuitry that protects the onboard computer and electronics from overcharging, such as by slowing charge. • All EVs and PHEVS and charging points have waterproofed sockets and cables so don’t worry about leaving it plugged in while it’s raining. • Manufacturers have fixed it so that, if the car is locked and plugged in, the cable is locked in place and no-one will be able to unplug your car. If you’re leaving your car to charge, make sure it is locked. Consider investing in a lock to keep your charging cable secure. Regular maintenance is carried out on public charging points, but if you notice an issue – access is restricted or the charging point is broken, for example – you should report this to the operator.

Ready to make the switch?

Whether you’re still working out if electric is right for you, or you’re ready to take to plunge and start a new adventure, we’re here to help you. Head over to our electric car hub to learn more about charging and running an electric car, or to see how much you could save on a new electric car on Free Trader UK.
Handy links: • Charging an electric car at homeBest electric cars 2021Best EV finance deals 2021

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