Electric cars will soon account for 1-in-10 of new cars registered as more and more drivers look to make the switch. If you’ve never driven a battery-powered car before, they might seem a little daunting. There are 2 main questions that crop up more than most – how to charge them and how far can they go? Here’s the lowdown.
Although not everybody has a drive, garage or off-street parking, if you do they make electric cars far more convenient and easier to run.
You can charge an EV with a 3-pin plug, but most manufacturers say this should only be used as a last resort. This is mainly due to how long they take to charge this way – for example, an average electric car could take 24 hours or more to charge using a 3-pin plug.
Most EV owners plug their cars into a wallbox for recharging. A wallbox is a small charger put on the side of your house that speeds up charging. Wallboxes are typically 7kW units, which usually means a full charge can be carried out overnight.
Installing a wallbox typically costs around £800, although there are grants available – see below – to help reduce your costs. You can choose either an untethered unit that you plug your own cable into each time or a tethered option, which is more convenient because the cable is always attached.
The speed of the charge depends on 3 factors – how quickly the wallbox can charge, how quickly your EV can charge and the size of your EV’s battery. Home wallboxes typically vary in power from 3.7kW to 22kW, though the majority are rated at 7kW. This usually means a car can be fully charged overnight, which is also the time when electricity rates are the lowest. Many electricity companies are now offering dedicated tariffs for EV owners to help them to take advantage of cheaper rates.
Government grants for home chargers
With the government still keen to drive uptake of EVs, a grant is available to help reduce the cost of installing home chargers. You can claim up to £350 off the price of a charging point.
To be eligible, you must have off-street parking and use a company approved by the government’s Office of Zero Emissions Vehicles (OZEV) – Grant schemes for electric vehicles
You must also either own, be named as the primary user of or lease an EV and be able to provide evidence of this. If you're leasing an EV through Smart Lease, our team will be able to help you with this.
How much does home charging cost?
The cost varies depending on how big your EV’s battery is. We’ll use Vauxhall’s popular Corsa-e as an example here. Based on a typical home charging tariff of 17p per kilowatt and its 50kWh battery, you can expect it to cost around £8.50, which would provide charge for the claimed 209 miles of range. That said, you’ll rarely be topping up your EV’s battery from completely empty to full, so it will nearly always cost less than this.
Public charging isn’t quite as straightforward as doing it at home as there’s a range of companies that offer this facility, with each having different phone apps to operate their units. That said, an increasing number now accept contactless payments without the need for an app.
There are 2 types of public chargers – fast and rapid. The ‘fast’ ones typically charge at the same 7kW as a wallbox. If you want to charge your EV in less time than that you should find a ‘rapid' charger. These come in various speeds – 50kW, 100kW, 150kW and even 350kW. The higher the number, the quicker it can charge, although every electric car has a maximum rate of charge it can accept.
So, again, let’s take Vauxhall’s Corsa-e, for example, which can rapid charge at up to 100kW (meaning its battery can be topped from 0-80% in under 30 minutes), although this is the maximum rate it can charge at. So even if you plugged your Corsa-e into a 150kW charger, the maximum rate of charge it could accept would be 100kW.
There are an increasing number of public chargers in supermarket and shopping centre car parks and just about all motorway service stations have them, too. There are more than 40,000 connectors spread out at 15,000 locations across the UK. You can locate your nearest with services such as Zap-Map.
How much does public charging cost?
The amount you pay for public charging depends on the rate of charge and the provider. Typically a 7kW public charger will cost around 20p per kWh. So, charging the Vauxhall Corsa-e here would cost £10 – £1.50 more than at home. As for a 50kW rapid charger, these charge around 25p per kWh – equating to a full charge costing £12.50, which is £4 more than plugging in at your house.
However, prices can vary dramatically. The UK’s quickest chargers, Ionity, are capable of 350kW rapid charging but cost 69p per kWh, meaning a full charge could cost £34.50.
Demystifying plugs and sockets
Similar to home appliances and charging your mobile, when it comes to charging your EV, there are different varieties of plugs and sockets.
By far the most popular, a Type 2 plug is made up of 7 pins and is found at the majority of charging points. Type 2 is essentially a ‘slower’ charger that uses an alternating current (AC) and comes with power ratings of either 3.7kW, 7kW or 22kW, with 7kW being the most popular. These plugs are most often found in supermarket and shopping centre car parks and on wallboxes. Most plug-in hybrids also come with a Type 2 socket, too.
There's an exception to Type 2 chargers being 'slower', though. Tesla’s Model X and Model S cars use this socket to rapid charge using a quicker direct current (DC).
Combined Charging System (CCS)
The CCS is used for rapid charging your EV. Its arrangement usually features a Type 2 connector plus two larger, lower pins enabling a DC connection for rapid charging. CCS plugs are usually found on major trunk roads and motorways. The speed of charge is 50kW as a minimum, though this can rise to an impressive 350kW.
This was the original rapid charger and it's still favoured by Nissan today on its electric hatchback. This four-pin socket can typically deliver 50kW of rapid charging capability.
How far can an EV go on a charge?
This is a ‘how long's a piece of string’ question as it really depends on the car. There’s a big difference in range between the popular EVs.
Let’s take the electric cars we currently have available on Smart Lease, the Vauxhall Corsa-e, the MG ZS EV, the Volkswagen ID.3 and the Hyundai Kona Electric. Their manufacturers claim ranges vary from 163 miles on the ZS EV to 300 miles on the Kona Electric, while the Corsa-e and ID.3 can manage 209 miles and 263 miles, respectively.
The size of an electric car’s battery is an important factor in deciding range (the Hyundai Kona has a 64kWh battery compared to 44kWh for the MG ZS). The other factors that decide the range are the efficiency of the battery and the aerodynamics of the car. That’s in much the same way that two cars with the same size engine won’t be comparable when it comes to fuel consumption.