Aug 15, 2018

Choosing a public charging network for your EV

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If you’re one of the over 105,000 EV owners in the UK, you would know the thinking around refuelling a car changes dramatically when you have an EV. You are no longer beholden to the petrol station. You have more control over putting energy in your car, because you can do it at home. Being anxious about travelling long distances is close to being a thing of the past as your choices for finding public charging places is continually increasing. In fact, charging is easy, if you had to in an emergency you could charge anywhere with a power point and extention lead.

Really range anxiety is a non-issue, but charge time anxiety could be.

Furthermore, you probably use your car most of the time for short journeys and travel less than 20 miles a day, so a full charge lasts you a few days. With the effortlessness of charging at home at night you are very comfortable with the range of travel you have. Charging the car is as relaxed as charging the mobile, you just keep it topped up at home. Really the only time you should be thinking about public charging is if you can’t charge at home or you’re planning a long journey.

But public charging has its place. The right choice on where to charge and how much you should be paying when publicly charging can be tricky. Having looked around at the different options, here are some helpful tips and the things we think you should consider.

 

Home first

Charging at home is the simplest and probably most convenient choice for charging. On an Economy 7 tariff, charging your EV at night while you sleep is a good option. Setting the charging on a timer, to work with the tariff, ensures the cheapest rate. Even better, charge with the sun. Home charging through a regular 13A socket will take time but if you have installed a 16A (3.7kW) or 32A (24kW) home charging unit charging time will be shorter. The smart electronics built into the units also mean they can be operated remotely giving you added flexibility to manipulate charging times. Grants for up to 75% of costs are available from the Office For Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) to assist in paying for installation of a specialist home charging system if you don’t yet have one.

 

Of course, you would be mad not to use a free public charger if there is one across the street from your home or work. For example, if you purchased your vehicle from a local EV dealer, they may well be happy to see you again and offer free rapid charging. But if you are on a long journey or away from familiar surroundings what are your options?

 

Plethora of charging stations

Unless you are a Tesla driver with free access to Tesla’s Supercharge Stations there'll likely be no charging package that comes with the car. But plug-in public charging networks are now spread across the country, so you should have no trouble finding a place to charge. Zap Map provides great information on the location of charge points across the UK. Finding the charging type that suits you is made easy by using the filter function on this website. Another one to look at is Open Charge.

Unfortunately there is no one size fits all option for EV charging networks.

Therefore, before planning a journey to unfamiliar territory, it pays to be sure you have compatible chargers and connectors to the network of choice.

 

The table below gives a comparison of the main charging providers and their fees.

 

Why so many different options?

The various charging businesses basically follow one of two different business models for charging networks:

  1. Hardware focused

  2. Network focused

The hardware sellers

Most companies are linked to manufacturers of electric vehicle charging points. Their main aim is to sell more charging hardware, to councils, shopping centres, hotels, car parks and the like. Consequently, their locations are sporadic and uncoordinated. Polar Plus is an example of this model. They are owned by Chargemaster who make charging hardware including rapid charge stations. Generally, most companies following this model offering free charging but sometimes after a connection fee is paid (i.e. the energy is free).

 

The network planners

In the second model the company has a planned network and is linked to an energy supplier. Ecotricity is one example of this model. They have charging points placed along the major highways. This is designed to help EV drivers who travel long distances. And if you are already one of their energy customers they will waive the connection fee but everyone else will have to pay to charge (and handsomely).

 

Which network?

Which network to choose needs to be given some consideration based on your circumstances. The charging networks tend to vary in their spread, subscription, membership models, and costs. Each network has its own means of payment, so just carrying a credit card will not get you access to charging. For most, membership RFID cards are needed: These are linked to your credit card for automatic payment. It’s done this way to collect data and statistics on charging and electricity use.

 

All companies have websites through which you can join. And most have an app to inform you where they are and the types of chargers available, slow (up to 3kW), fast (7-22kW) or rapid (43-50kW). The compatibility of your car charger sockets and the size of the battery will affect where you can go and how long it will take to charge. Rapid charge costs are higher, but an 80% charge takes about 30 minutes. However, rapid charging is not possible on every vehicle.

 

Making a choice

As we pointed out in the opening of this article, really work out if you need to publicly charge. Most EV owners will be able to charge a majority of the time at home and therefore rarely, if ever, need to use public charging networks. And if you’re in a pinch, all companies offer Pay As You Go options but you still need to subscribe to most of the charging networks to obtain the access card to unlock the chargers. Polar Instant is one exception, it uses an App to gain access.

 

In choosing which network, the choice comes down to convenience. If you need to regularly publicly charge, choose the company that has the charging points where you need them as they all cost much of muchness or offer free-ish charging. If there is a company with free charging stations near areas you regularly visit, like home, work or shops, you can charge the car while parked. If you’re public charging more than five times a month, it might be worth paying for a subscription just to avoid the connection fee for the companies that offer it.

 

That said, we think the planned networks are most valuable. They enable you to make long journeys that would otherwise be a challenge to complete. They generally will have charging stations in locations where you want them to. In addition, the expediency of a rapid charge they deliver will better suit your need to be on the move.

 

Of course, you can hold multiple associations. And not to be caught out some companies recommend keeping the membership card of fob hidden in the glove box so that you will always have it with you when you need it.

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