More electric cars than ever are being sold in the UK. But if you’re one of those thinking about plugging into electric motoring, you’ll want to know about charging points. After all, having a shiny new electric vehicle (EV) isn’t much use if you can’t charge it regularly and reliably. Here’s what you should know about the current state of charging electric cars in the UK.
How is the UK doing for charging points?
This depends on who you ask. A recent study by Highways England, the government body in charge of the UK’s main roads, found we’re not doing so well. It claimed there are parts of the country that are charging point ‘deserts’. However, leasing company OSV places the UK third in Europe in EV market share and number of charging points. We’re behind only France and Norway and equal with Switzerland. At the end of June, Zap-Map says there are 23,711 connectors across 8731 locations in the UK.
But the devil is in the detail
The Highways England report claims that there are no rapid charging points in Devon, Somerset, East Anglia, Kent and North Yorkshire. It says around one in seven motorways and main A roads in England are without the most efficient types of charger. Its figures show that 765 miles of its 4500-mile network aren’t within 20 miles of a rapid charger.
On top of that, more than a quarter (26.1 per cent) of all the country’s charging points are in Greater London. And out of 385 authorities questioned by Open Charge Map, only THREE had 100 or more charging locations. Two thirds of local authorities had 20 charging points or fewer.
What charger do you need?
You might be surprised to hear this but not all charging points are the same. It means you can’t simply rock up to the nearest charging point, plug in and expect to replenish your battery. It’s a bit like only being able to fill up with fuel on one brand’s forecourts and only being able to use a specific payment card for the pleasure. Awkward.
The different types of charger
There are essentially three types of electric car charger: slow, fast and rapid. Around half of all chargers are fast, the other half is split between slow and rapid. How long it will take to charge at different points depends on your EV and the size of its battery. Public charging points are typically now either fast or rapid chargers.
- Slow charger (3.7kW): according to Pod-Point this will take up to 11 hours to charge a Nissan Leaf from empty to full. However a Tesla Model S which has a 100kWh battery and nearly double the range of the Japanese car would take 27 hours.
- Fast charger (7 or 22kW): assuming this is a more modern 22kW fast charger, it would take six hours to fully charge the 40kWh Leaf or Tesla.
- Rapid charger (43-50kW): these are increasingly replacing slow chargers in the charging network. They will give up to 80 per cent charge in 30 minutes on some cars. It would take an hour to charge the Nissan from empty to full; two hours to charge the Tesla.
For charging on the go then you need a rapid charger. Home chargers are typically either fast or slow chargers. And while full EVs can charge on rapid chargers, plug-in hybrids can’t.
How many electric cars are there?
For the first time ever, there are more electric car charging stations than conventional fossil fuel stations in the UK. This is both fuelling and being fuelled by the rapid take-up of electric cars. There are currently 210,000 on the road in the UK – there were only 3500 in 2013. And there are forecast to be one million on UK roads by 2022.
How easy is charging?
The government claims that the fact there are around 10 electric cars per charging point isn’t a problem because most EVs are charged at home. However, talk to electric car users and you get a different picture. There are numerous tales of chargers being out of order, only working slowly or having a petrol or diesel car parked at them. Electric car drivers have a word for this: it’s called being ICE’d (for internal combustion engine).
Then there are the different charging networks such as BP Chargemaster, Ecotricity and Instavolt. Each has a different tariff and you have to be registered with them to use them. If you arrive at a BP Chargemaster site but you’re not registered with it, you have to do so pronto. It’s a small hurdle to overcome but it only fuels the idea that you still have to be very committed to plump for electric motoring.