Electric car charging points: how easy is it to ‘refuel’ an EV?

charging points

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.

charging points
Public charging points are frequently either fast or rapid. You don’t want a slow one (Picture Nissan)

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?

charging points

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.

21 comments on “Electric car charging points: how easy is it to ‘refuel’ an EV?

  1. Ray Stevens 25/06/2019 11:17 AM

    won’t be buying an electric car any time soon, when we go on long trips the last thing we need is to find they won’t fit my car, hence i will carry on with my diesel there’s no point in changing it to a petrol car, as the government would probably tell you they are back in fashion again at a later date…been there done that forget the leccy car its just like the leccy bikes all chargers are different and i have 3 of them lovely when you have to check if you have the correct charger..mine are listed with name of the bike on them…. car manufactures are no different

  2. chris owen 26/06/2019 10:25 AM

    Having different charging systems is the biggest disadvantage for EV adoption. Why can’t the government introduce a common system ?

  3. John Faulkner 03/09/2019 7:08 PM

    I am a low mileage, retired driver and own a first generation Renault Zoe.
    It has a 22kwh battery and a summer range of 90 miles and winter
    maybe 75.
    It is very cheap to charge and to run. I almost always charge it from home.
    I love it!

  4. John Evans 03/09/2019 8:16 PM

    43 to 50 Kw for s fast charger ? I hope. Someone is looking at the power distribution network. Inevitably, the better off car owners will migrate to fast chargers at home. The neighbours might find the lights going dim of an evening- unless there is some form of control, perhaps licences etc. And you can guess who is going to pay for all this investment – all electricity users! Best start on those new nuclear power stations sooner rather than later.

    • Dialogue 14/10/2019 6:00 PM

      Not really. Electricity is in plentiful supply after about 9pm and especially after midnight (wind farms work at night), and electric cars can set the time they want the charging to start. The National Grid aren’t worried about electric cars. There is even talk of customer’s being able to sell electricity from their car batteries to the Grid during peak hours in the future!

  5. Mike Smith 03/09/2019 9:13 PM

    My main problem with having an electric vehicle,is the amount of charging points needed if every-one changes,has any-one thought about the millions of people that do not have a drive to put the car on charge,ie flats,multi storey sky scrapers,towns and villages.Are we going to have cables running down flats,across pavements etc.It has not been thought out at all.

  6. Frank Nebs 03/09/2019 10:03 PM

    I am thinking of changing to a small electric car. I am low mileage, about 120 a week, made up of 4 days at 10 miles and one day at 80 miles, so range isn’t a problem. But I have solar panels that chuck out 2+kw in the summer and 300-w in the winter. Is it possible to “slow charge” at , say, 500w or 2kw, to just top up the battery so as I can use most of my free solar electricty before it goes back to the grid.

    • JB 06/09/2019 5:27 AM

      Not worth the cost and hustle I reckon.

    • duncan cork 10/09/2019 4:56 PM

      Hi there I found a variable output wall charger at EVONESTOP.co.uk It’s output can vary from approx 1.4kw up to 7.2 kw. Should be worth a look at £225. Hope this helps, Duncan.

  7. Chris James 04/09/2019 6:01 AM

    Petrol engines hybrids are viable option .l own a Bmw 330e which averages 55mpg overall with only home charging (50- 60p to charge) The diesel it replaced (330d) would do 50mpg on the motorway but could never come close to the figures the hybrid achieves around town and on short runs.The performance of both vehicles is near enough the same.

    • Spencer 14/10/2019 6:07 PM

      A Tesla Model 3 is cheaper than a BMW 330e with the kit, and gives you the equivalent cost of a petrol car that goes more than 300mpg if you use a cheap overnight energy tariff (5p/kWh). Admittedly, this works best if you can charge at home, but if you can you have the a ‘full tank’ each morning, and can travel up to 200 miles that day without worrying about charging at all. Most people do far fewer than 200 miles each day, so it can be a good option for many.

  8. Peter Stevens 04/09/2019 7:06 AM

    Cant change to electric as they are so expensive to buy. I have to have a car to be able to tow a caravan, electrics compared to diesel is no comparison. therefore diesel is the only option.

  9. D. Duke 04/09/2019 1:56 PM

    dlectric cars don’t seem to be very efficient and you don’t need to be in a hurry to get anywhere

  10. Mark 04/09/2019 9:22 PM

    We’ve done nearly 20k miles in our Leaf since April 2018, mostly in the UK but also on the continent, and it’s (mostly) a lot easier than this suggests (we live in rural Cumbria). We have a realistic range between recharges of 110-120 in winter and more like 140-150 in summer (assuming we don’t want to drop below about 15%) – more under ideal conditions.
    Finding suitable charge points isn’t a problem – an app like ZapMap will tell you where to find the right kind, and the networks’ own apps usually tell you if a charging point is in use or not.
    3 or 4 times in the past year I’ve had to wait 30mins+ because the only charger was in use, and once in rural Northumberland I had to do a significant detour because the charger I was aiming for was out of order. Otherwise no real issues.
    Charging on long journeys takes a little while, but the time it takes for a leisurely coffee is usually enough.
    And the pleasure of smooth, silent, relatively green driving makes it more than worthwhile – far less stressful than driving a conventional car!

  11. Carr 05/09/2019 8:34 AM

    When l went diesel encouraged to do so by the government l went for the most efficient and greenest vehicle l could afford.
    I had reached the position where l could change my car every 3 years.
    However now that governments stance has changed yet again l felt that l could not afford an electric car not that l wanted one but l would have purchased a new hybrid.
    The cost of this type of vehicle is so prohibitive now that l would have to drop to a much older model, the result of which, yep l have kept my 3 year old diesel and just keep it.

  12. Pete M 06/09/2019 12:54 PM

    Where’s the map?!!!! With the title of this article, surely we can expect a map of the points for charging, especially in remoter areas?

  13. Alex Hall 07/09/2019 7:39 AM

    I am on my second petrol/Hybrid–Honda Insight & Toyota Auris–both are good–but Honda pulled out of Hybrid–the Auris cannot be beaten-it is fast & economical, quiet & comfortable–I test drove a Nissan Leaf and liked it very much but did think about the problems of re-charging in the country–I live in Northumberland–VERY rural–I will re-think electric when the Auris needs replacing.

  14. Roger Dennis 09/09/2019 7:19 AM

    The other big question is where is all the power going to come from to charge all these cars, not to mention all the other electronic devices coming on to the market? The national grid already struggles to meet demand, especially in the winter time. Surely this makes the hybrid vehicle a more sensible option in the short term while more power stations are built in order to meet future demand.

  15. Philp 09/09/2019 5:02 PM

    Inductive charging is the answer. Wired into the parking spot. No cables necessary. Milton Keynes runs a fleet of buses this way. Cabless will soon be normal like mobile phones are now.

  16. Roger Dennis 09/09/2019 5:24 PM

    The big unanswered question is where is all the electricity going to come from to power the growing number of electric cars? Not to mention the proliferation of other electronic devices that will place ever increasing demands upon the National Grid as time goes on. Our electricity supplies are stretched at present, especially in the winter. So, perhaps the hybrid will be the better option from a purely practical perspective?

  17. W H Shambrook 14/09/2019 9:01 PM

    Electric cars are a Green Myth unless powered by Nuclear or Renewable generated electricity. If powered by Carbon Based generation, (only 32% efficient;) it is better to go 3 times the distance for the same carbon emission by putting the fuel in the car than burning 3 times as much at the power station. The way to reduce emissions is to make cars lighter and more efficient..

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