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Charge for a charge: Where can I power up my EV?

Keeping your electric car topped up and ready for the road is best done at home, but if you’re out and about, what are your options?

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The march continues. Every month, every registration number change, every year: more and more UK drivers are switching to electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.

As we have reported previously here at The Car Expert, motorists are very quickly coming to terms with this new form of transport: the speed and performance of a powerful EV, the lack of engine noise, the fuel savings, lower motoring taxes, the benefits to the environment.

Recent reports have shown the number of motorists now considering an electric vehicle as their next purchase rising by 32% in the last year, and when hybrid vehicles are included, the number of drivers anticipating opting for a low emission model for their next vehicle goes up to 37%.

Greater choice of charging points

Motorists’ fears about battery range and the number of places to charge their vehicle, if they owned one, are steadily diminishing. In short, the electric vehicle age has arrived – and probably earlier than expected, too.

The government has decreed that from 2030, all new cars will have to be either fully electric or plug-in hybrid models. Initially, many drivers thought: “that’s less than ten years away, what am I going to do?”

But as people come around to the fact that the electric charge is gathering pace, suppliers are also stepping up their game to bring greater supply and choice to the nation’s EV charging infrastructure.

So are you now happy that you would have sufficient charging options if you changed over to an electric vehicle? Do you already have an EV that you charge at home but are not sure what awaits you if and when you hit the A-roads and motorways? Or are you still unsure about charging a car at all, and can’t bear to consider that prospect at present?

Many who have taken to their electric car completely have a charger already installed at their home. Others are able to make use of one of charging points at their place of work. As petrol cars sit idle in the office car park, an electric car can be charged while it’s parked, giving the driver a useful additional boost to the battery range while they work.

Range worries driven off

With most electric vehicles now capable of driving ranges well beyond the regular day-to-day journeys undertaken by most drivers, worries about running out of electricity on a day-to-day basis have almost disappeared.

Recent findings by car benefit scheme experts Tusker, showed that the majority of UK motorists drive less than 100 miles a week and only undertake a journey of more than 100 miles once a month. So with the average range of an electric car currently standing at around 180 miles – and many cars being able to far exceed this – most commuters are comfortably within this range. For town users, their car might only need charging at home once a week.

Tusker, a carbon neutral business that’s committed to lowering emissions, actively encourages its customers to consider switching to an electric vehicle saying that, with the growing number of charging stations, range anxiety should now be a thing of the past.

The main issue for an EV owner is when they are faced with a much longer journey. It’s at that point that a bit of careful planning is needed. Even though there are now more than 16,000 electric vehicle charging locations in the UK, compared with about 8,000 petrol station locations, it’s still not as quick or convenient to pull up to a charger on the motorway as it is to pull into a service station for a tankful of petrol or diesel.

Fee not free

Where charging points were once free to top up at, suppliers have now introduced fees for their use. Charging for charging, in other words. It’s not surprising when you consider how many more people are looking to top up their cars with electricity. However, this increased cost, compared with plugging in your car at home, has put many drivers off using shopping centre, motorway service areas and town centre chargers.

There are, at least, steps being made to make charging up away from home easier for everyone. The government has asked for rapid chargers to be made payable by contactless card, taking away the need for drivers to have different accounts and cards with several suppliers.

The best way to find a charging point on your route is to use an App such as ZapMap or Opencharge Map. Other planning tools such as Google Maps also include the option of finding charging points. Some car manufacturers, such as Tesla, also have charging point locations built into their satnav software and can even plan you a route, stopping off at the correct times for a charge.

Charging points can be gategorised as slow, fast or rapid. Slow chargers, either from a mains point (at 3kWh) or via a specially fitted wall box (7kWh), are commonly used at home or work, as an electric car can be left to trickle away for hours using cables supplied as standard by the manufacturer. There are grants of up to 75% of the cost available to help you pay for these.

Depending on your electricity supplier and tariff, it will cost you about 14 pence per kilowatt hour (kWh) to charge at home, according to Zap-Map. That results in about £5 to £10 to fully charge a car overnight, depending on your car’s battery size and your electricity tariff.

Fast chargers and rapid chargers (which are faster than fast chargers) cost more money to use, reflecting their convenience factor. These are the ones you’re likely to find at public charging stations.

Charging points across the UK: who are the main suppliers and what do they cost to use?

To give you a quick comparison of the cost of charging with different providers, we’ll use a Tesla Model 3 – the most popular electric car in the UK in 2021. For the purposes of this comparison, we’re using the base model (called Standard Range Plus) with a battery capacity of about 50kWh that generates a real-world driving range of about 200 miles.

Charging costs are based on a complete battery charge from flat to 100% (which you’re unlikely to do very often). To fully charge the Tesla at home would cost about £7, so how does that compare with public charging prices?

BP Pulse (formerly BP Chargemaster)

BP subscription holders pay £7.85 per month (which is about £1.80 per week), which gets you tariffs starting at 16 pence per kilowatt hour (kWh) and free charging on selected BP Pulse points. New members get the first three months free. Pay-as-you-go tariffs start at 26 pence per kWh.

To fully charge our Tesla Model 3, you’d be looking at a cost of about £8 if you’re a subscriber and £13 on pay-as-you-go. if you’re a subscriber, you also need to add nearly £2/week to your cost.

Ecotricity

Ecotricity’s Electric Highway chargers are usually found at motorway service areas, with more than 300 charging points across the UK. The charge is 15p per kWh if you are an Ecotricity home electricity customer and double that if not, accessed via a smartphone app.

So if you have an Ecotricity account, charging the Tesla would cost £7.50. If not, it’s £15.

Gridserve

Gridserve operates the Electric Forecourts, which have multiple rapid chargers powered by renewable solar energy, starting from 24 pence per kWh.

No membership is required and users can pay with contactless cards at the charging point. A membership scheme is planned but there’s no obligation to sign up.

To fully charge our Tesla up at Gridserve, you’d be looking at £12.

Ionity

This joint, pan-European venture between several car makers has 335 ultra-rapid charging points across the continent and has linked up with Octopus Energy to provide more in the UK’s motorway service areas.

Ionity’s chargers operate at a much higher output than most other providers (350 kW compared to the average of 22kW at most public charging points), but not every car is compatible with such a rapid charging input.

No contract is necessary and you charge your vehicle and pay directly with a smartphone. The cost is 69 pence per kWh. MSP (Mobility Service Providers) customers can access and authenticate payments directly from the service’s smartphone app.

A full charge of the Tesla Model 3 from Ionity would cost about £35. Yes, that’s a lot pricier than other providers, but the charging is quite a bit faster as well.

InstaVolt

The company claims to have the simplest EV charging network in the UK. Its rapid chargers cost 40 pence per kWh on a pay as you go basis.

There’s no connection fee nor a membership fee, and payment can be made with contactless card. Charging points can be found on a map on its website.

To fully charge our Model 3 with InstaVolt would set you back about £20.

Pod Point

Pod Point charging centres can be found at supermarkets and shopping centre car parks and are sometimes free to use. Their rapid charge points cost around 17 pence per kWh and feature at busy travel sites such as motorway services.

A full charge of the Tesla with Pod Point is about £8.50.

Shell Recharge

Shell’s network is now made up of 108 charging points with plans for 200 by the end of 2021 and 5,000 points by 2025. You can use a Recharge card, a contactless payment card or Shells App to use them.

They cost 41 pence per kWh with no subscription, which means charging our Tesla would cost about £20.50.

Tesla

The world’s most famous electric car company operates two nationwide networks for the exclusive used of its own brand vehicles. The famous Supercharger network costs around 28 pence per kWh and the chargers are very fast (up to 150kW compared to the average of 22kW of most public chargers). These chargers are found on well-travelled routes, such as motorways.

Tesla’s other network is called Destination, and its charging points feature at popular places such as hotels, restaurants and shopping centres. The price will vary depending on the venue, and it’s often free. These charge your Tesla at a more sedate 22kW

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has suggested that the company may open up its charging network to non-Tesla vehicles in the future, but it remains to be seen if or when this happens.

Charging the Tesla with a Supercharger will set you back about £14, with the added bonus that it’s much faster than most public charging. Destination charge pricing will vary – it may even be free, although you’re normally spending money at the venue where you’re charging anyway.

Zero Carbon World

Zerco Carbon World’s ZeroNet network of pay-as-you-go charging points is available for the hospitality industry such as pubs, clubs and hotels. There are no subscriptions or access fees and many chargers are free to use. Others will vary according to the venue’s owners.

Because there is no fixed pricing, the cost to fully charge your car will vary from free to similar pricing to other charging points.

Summary

So, to travel about 200 miles in a Tesla Model 3 will cost you anywhere from £7 if charging at home to £34 using the most expensive charging provider – with a usual public charging price of about £10-£15.

By comparison, a similarly sized petrol car, like a BMW 3 Series or Audi A4, will probably cost you about £35-£40 in fuel to go the same distance.

Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.