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Electric car charging guide

Everything you wanted to know about electric car charging, but were afraid to ask...

Nissan Leaf charging

You can charge an electric car or plug-in hybrid through a mains three-pin socket, a specially fitted home wallbox, or at a public charging station on the road or at your destination:

Wallbox or home charger

If you own or lease an electric car, you can get a home charging station installed. These come in either slow 3kW or faster 7kW and 22kW forms. For the Nissan Leaf, the 3kW wallbox will give a full charge in six to eight hours, while the 7kW unit reduces the time to three to four hours.

Public chargers

There are currently about 17,000 public charging points in the UK, and this number is growing all the time. As of this year, it is a legal requirement for all large petrol stations and motorway services to provide charging points. They are usually fast or rapid chargers.

Ecotricity, which provides charging points at all motorway services in the UK, charges about £6 for a 45-minute recharge with a rapid charger. In a Nissan Leaf, this should fill up the battery to 80% of its full range.

BMW i8 charging

A slow charger usually means a domestic three-pin plug (up to 3kW), and would take more than 12 hours to fully charge an electric car. A fast charger, typically found at a workplace or public location, will take the ‘Type 2’ seven-pin plug attached to the charging cable in your car and will have an output of 3.6kW, 7kW, 11kW or 22kW. Depending on the charger’s power and what your car can accept, a charge will generally take between one and six hours.

Rapid chargers, also called quick chargers, will have a plug of their own that attaches to your car, and can charge in an hour or less. While lesser chargers all output AC electricity, most rapid chargers give DC.

AC rapid chargers have an output of 43kW, while DC rapid chargers have an output of 20kW-50kW, although installation of 150kW and 175kW chargers has begun in the UK. These can recharge the latest electric cars in just 45 minutes.

Tesla has a network of its own ‘Superchargers’. In the UK, these are capable of dispensing 145kW, although the firm’s current cars can only accept up to 120kW.

Tesla Model S at supercharger

In Europe, a consortium of major car manufacturers has begun installation of 350kWcapable chargers. These could result in EVs being charged in as little as five minutes.

The National Grid conducted a study into installing 100 of these across England and Wales and found that this would put 90% of drivers within 50 miles of such a charger. The chargers would be wired directly into the electricity transmission network, rather than local grids, dispelling concerns about power shortages.

80% charge

You might wonder why manufacturers and the press often quote a charging time to 80%, rather than 100%. This is firstly because not fully charging each time extends the life of the battery, and secondly because the last 20% takes longer to complete relative to the first 80%.

Getting a charger installed

The average cost of installing a home charging point is £1000. However, EV owners can get a £500 government grant towards the cost of this, and a further £300 from the Energy Saving Trust (EST), significantly reducing the cost.

Nissan Leaf home charging

It’s worth noting that you need to own or lease an EV to qualify for the grants; you won’t get one if you simply use one every now and then or haven’t bought an EV yet. The same government grant can be claimed by businesses for installation at places of work.

What’s the cost of charging?

While 80% of EVs are charged at home by owners, the public charging network is growing, and with it the difference in how much you’ll pay to charge depending on which provider you pick.

You’ll need to sign up with a public charging company before you can use its chargers. Most let you join for free, but some charge an initial fee.

We recommend opting for one that shows its tariffs in kWh rather than cost per minute, because it’s easier to work out how much a recharge will be if you have the kWh cost.

Volkswagen e-Golf front

Example: Volkswagen e-Golf

  • Battery capacity 35.8kWh
  • Official range 144 miles (WLTP)
  • Real Range 117 miles
  • Cost to charge at home at standard rate (14p per kWh) £5.01
  • Cost to charge at home at discounted rate (7p per kWh) £2.50
  • Cost to charge at public fast charger (30p per kWh) £10.74
  • Cost to charge at public rapid charger (35p per kWh) £12.53

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