Article Source Carbuyer
Our guide to public charging stations gives you the lowdown on where you can charge electric cars and plug-ins, and how you should do it.
So you’re interested in buying an electric car, and are wondering how many charging stations there are around the country, and how they work. Look no further, as our guide answers those questions and many more. We’ll talk you through the different types of public charging station and how much they cost to use, and give you a brief guide to charging conventions and etiquette. This guide concentrates mainly on electric cars (EVs), though much of what we cover will also be of interest those considering a plug-in hybrid (PHEV).
WHAT IS A CHARGING STATION?
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The first thing to clear up is what a ‘charging station’ is. Don’t expect a dedicated forecourt with paper towels and a shop. Public charging stations are generally just a set of charging posts, or points, each charging one car at a time. They’re found at motorway service stations and at both outdoor and multi-storey car parks at large shopping malls and supermarkets, and at similar locations. IKEA has teamed up with one major charging point provider and is rolling out stations across all its UK stores.
These larger locations are becoming more popular for public charging areas compared to the occasional on-street bays that first offered public charging. The swing towards bigger locations comes from a better understanding of charging behaviour. This shows that UK drivers travel on average just 20 miles a day, which means most charging happens at home rather than when out and about. The greatest need for public points is at motorway services, where EV drivers regularly need to charge up to continue their journey.
There’s no standard number of individual points for a charging station, and on-street charging points still tend to number just one or two.
How many public charging stations are there?
There are now thousands of public charging stations. According to Zap-Map, which monitors the UK’s charging infrastructure, there are currently around 4,200 locations providing more than 6,500 individual chargers. What’s more, those numbers are continually increasing, with 700 new locations added in the past year alone. With growth at this rate, it won’t be long before charging stations outnumber the UK’s 8,500 petrol and diesel stations.
Who runs the charging stations?
The UK’s charging station network is owned and operated by several different companies. Most of these are energy firms, and many require you to register with them and carry a swipe card to use their machines, although some offer a smartphone app to make life easier. If you’re planning on using your electric car or plug-in hybrid for long journeys and are likely to visit lots of different regions, you’ll probably need to register with more than one provider.
It costs just under £8 a month to subscribe to Polar, the country’s largest provider, but 80% of its stations are free for subscribers. Those who own a Tesla Model S or Model X can make use of Tesla’s ‘Supercharger’ network for free, while Zero Carbon World requires no subscription and charges nothing for using its charging stations. There are also a number of regional companies with their own networks.
What about motorway charging stations?
The only provider of motorway charging points is Ecotricity, which has more than 50 public points at service stations around the UK, providing around 300 individual chargers. These used to be free, but now cost £6 for 30 minutes’ use – although those who get their domestic electricity supply from Ecotricity are eligible for 52 free charges a year. Ecotricity came in for a bit of stick when they introduced pricing to their stations, but the company says the move was made partly to prevent PHEV owners from hogging the free points for too long, when they have petrol engines as back-up; Ecotricity wants to make sure enough access is available to those whose purely electric vehicles have low batteries.
How long does it take to charge an electric car?
Given the variety or electric cars and charging stations, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the time taken to charge an EV can vary too. The length of time an EV’s batteries take to recharge is determined by how many kilowatts (kW) the charging station can provide and how many the car can accept – the higher the wattage, the faster the charge. Three different rates exist:
• Slow charging. Rate: 3kW. If you charge your car from ‘empty’ (either at home or at a station), a full slow charge will take around eight hours.
• Fast charging. Rate: 7-22kW. A fast charging point will take around three to four hours to fully replenish an electric car’s batteries from zero charge. The majority of public charging stations offer this rate, and you can also have a fast charge box installed at home.
• Rapid charging. Rate: 43-50kW. Only a few electric cars are compatible with rapid charging, but if you own a car such as the Tesla Model S or Kia Soul EV, a rapid charger will give you an 80% charge in as little as 30 minutes. Public charging points that offer rapid charging aren’t as common as fast chargers (Zap-Map puts their numbers at just under 1,000), but Tesla has its own proprietary network for use exclusively with its cars.
Remember that not all cars can accept fast charging. The entry-level Nissan Leaf, for example, can accept a maximum charge rate of 3.7kW. This means it’ll take around eight hours to fully charge. Go for Nissan’s 6.6kW option and that time halves.
Do different cars have different connectors?
Not all cars have the same types of charging connector, although there aren’t that many varieties. There are two connectors to consider: the one that plugs into your car, and the one that connects to the power source. While slow chargers at home plug into a standard three-pin socket (and sometimes an industrial socket like the one caravans and builders use), most public charging points have their own lead tethered to the station, so we’ll focus on the end that connects to the car.
A Type 2 Mennekes connector
Slow chargers These have have a Type 1 (J1772) connector or a seven-pin Type 2 (Mennekes) connector.
Fast chargers Almost all fast chargers have a Type 2 (Mennekes) connector, though some use a Type 1 (J1772).
Rapid chargers These come in two flavours: AC and DC. DC rapid chargers use a JEVS (CHADeMO) or a CCS (Combined Charging System) connector. Rapid AC chargers are rarer, and have only a Type 2 (Mennekes) connector.
CHAdeMO connectors are of Japanese origin and are fit electric Nissans, Toyotas and Mitsubishis if they’re capable of rapid charging. Volkswagen, BMW and Ford favour Type 1 (J1772) connectors and the related CCS system.
A CCS connector
In practice, you only need to make sure you’re using a charging point with a connector that fits your car. Assuming your car can accept fast charging, you’ll probably find yourself using a Type 2 Mennekes connector.
Can I install a charging point at home?
It’s fairly easy to have a charging point installed at home, and this is generally a sensible idea. A home charging point will allow you to use fast charging – though not rapid. It’s estimated that around 80% of electric car charges take place at home, and the Government will give you a grant towards the cost of installing your own charging point. This is capped at 75% of the cost of installation, or £500, though some car makers will carry the entire cost of installation, meaning you won’t have to pay a penny.
It’s important to understand the correct connectors and charge rates for electric vehicles, but it’s also a good idea to know the informal conventions that surround charging at public stations. The broadly accepted rules are:
Keep an eye on your car’s charge status. One the batteries are nearly charged (or charged to 80%, an amount some consider ideal), unplug your car and move it from the charging bay so others can use it.
Plug-in hybrids should give priority to pure electric cars. If you’re charging your PHEV and someone in a Nissan Leaf needs your charging point, do the right thing. You’ve got a petrol engine to fall back on, whereas they may be stranded until they can recharge their batteries.
Don’t unplug someone else’s car. If you’re at a motorway service station and encounter an EV that’s been left in a charging bay for a long time, ask if staff can make a tannoy announcement, encouraging the car’s owner to move. Some consider it okay to unplug a car that’s finished charging, but this isn’t always easy to tell and may not be met with kindness. If you must do it, leave a note on the owner’s windscreen, explaining why. Bear in mind some connectors don’t allow you to unplug them when the car is locked.
Report any damage to charging stations to the network operator. The supplier’s phone number will be on the charging point.
Offer to help. If you spot someone who’s having difficulty with their car or charger, ask if you can be of assistance. Charging stations have become a lot more reliable over recent years, but problems still crop up from time to time.
Stow the charging cable neatly when you’re finished. A loose cable can pose a trip hazard or be run over and damaged.
There’s no denying that owning an electric car needs more forethought than a conventional petrol or diesel model requires. Even if you’re confident about how to charge your car and how long this is likely to take, journeys that exceed the batteries’ range will require longer or more frequent pit stops than you might be used to.
There are huge advantages though, mainly to do with cost and the environment. Electric cars are extremely cheap to run because their recharging costs are almost negligible, while the fact they don’t emit any nasty pollutants from their exhausts means there’s no road tax to pay. And, of course, their lack of emissions can only be a good thing for our towns and cities. If you buy your electricity from a green provider, recharging becomes more environmentally friendly, too.
It’s important to bear in mind electric car technology is still developing, and given that public charging points only started to appear in the UK in 2007, it’s impressive that the charging network has grown as much as it has.
There does need to be an industry-wide agreement on connectors and payment, though, as the number of possible options for both is too varied at present. Nobody has yet come up with an elegant solution for the 30% of households who have to park on the street, either, and leads trailing across the pavement pose too many risks.
Still, if you consider that it took decades before early railway companies standardised their trains and tracks to make them interchangeable between networks, it’s remarkable that electric cars and public charging stations are already as universal as they are.