With numbers of electric vehicles on UK roads rising dramatically, so too are the number of public EV charge points. Most electric car drivers rely on recharging their car from a home socket or nearby public/work charge points the majority of the time. It’s a cheap and time-efficient way to top up the battery.
However, this means that most drivers start a day with a full charge. What if they need to go further than that in one go? That’s where rapid public charging comes in, something that’s both essential and commonly found on motorways and major trunk roads.
We walk you through what type of charge points are likely to be found near motorways and A-roads, how long it will take to recharge an electric vehicle (EV) , and how to use one.
Rapid EV charge points - where to find them
Like fuel stations, EV charge points are often found in motorway services - it’s an obvious and useful place to put them. This means that, for much of the UK’s motorway network, there’s a rapid charge point - one of the fastest ways to recharge an electric vehicle - every 25 miles or so.
That’s more regular than many drivers might expect, and there’s a wide-reaching network that has its chargers located at motorway services. Although having suffered from years of under investment, the network has been bought out by a new operator , which is going about replacing old units and rapidly expanding installations to boost numbers at each location from one or two chargers, to more than half a dozen.
There isn’t only one network offering rapid - and even next-generation ultra-rapid - charge points. Though one network effectively has a monopoly at motorway service areas, other key networks have got around this by locating recharging sites close to motorway junctions, in effect creating micro-services across the country.
The Electric Highway, operated by Gridserve, is the network found in motorway service stations, though there are extensive numbers of EV charge points from the likes of BP Pulse, Instavolt, Shell Recharge, and Osprey close to the UK’s major road routes. These can either be found on the network’s in-house smartphone app/website, or on platforms such as Zap-Map or WattsUp .
How long does it take to charge an EV at a motorway service area
There are a range of factors that determine charging times: battery capacity, charger power, and EV specification. Broadly speaking, the larger the battery the longer it will take to charge. Just as having a petrol tank of 80 litres will take twice as long to fill as a car with a 40 litre tank, an 80 kWh battery will take around twice the time to charge as a 40 kWh pack.
Different charging speeds from points are available, and the vehicles will also determine how much power can be delivered by the charger. But broadly speaking a half hour charging session will add significant mileage to the car’s range. Some models may only need 10 minutes plugged into the fastest charge points, others will take closer to an hour for a significant charge.
Most drivers will spend at least 10-15 minutes at a service station. By the time they have ‘used the facilities’, grabbed a cup of coffee, and headed back to the car, a rapid charger will have added a fair number of miles to the range. Stop for a bite to eat as well, and many EVs can be practically fully recharged.
Using motorway charge points
Motorway chargers are some of the fastest in the country, fitting the needs of those requiring a quick recharge en route. As such, these high-power DC units all have tethered cables; the plugs remain connected to the charge point, so a driver doesn’t need to bring their own with them.
On parking up, the EV driver often needs to pick between two plugs - though only one will fit in the car, so the decision is easy. Increasing numbers of chargers have a single plug type attached - CCS - meeting the European standard found on the majority of EVs sold in the UK. On plugging in, some sort of authorisation is required to start, and then subsequently stop the charge at the end.
By law, this must be possible on an ad hoc basis, and for high-powered charge points like those at service stations, contactless credit/debit card access is usually possible. Just follow the on-screen instructions, tapping where required, and the car will start charging.
Sometimes there will be a smartphone app or RFID card available to start the charging process, and these will be linked to an account with details allowing the network to collect payment from a bank card.
On the rare occasions where there is no contactless access, an app is the most common way to allow for ad hoc access, with a quick process requiring a few details to be inputted - name, address, card information; similar to those required when shopping online - before the system works.
Drivers regularly requiring access to a specific network or two may prefer requesting an RFID card or tag where available. This could have benefits such as reduced charging prices, but can also ensure that a dead mobile phone battery or lack of phone/wifi signal doesn’t put a halt to charging. Again, the charge point needs a tap of the card at the required spot.
No matter the starting method, all charge points will check that there is a safe connection, before starting the charging process. This will also lock the plug into the car until the process is stopped, or until the car is unlocked and the driver specifically unlocks the charger where possible. It keeps the process safe and secure.
Finally, to stop charging, drivers usually reverse the process of starting it, though stages will be explained to users where required. They then remove the plug, replace it on the charge point’s holder, and drive off.
The charge point will calculate how much electricity has been delivered and bill the driver through the payment process used. This is normally priced at a unit basis, per kWh of electricity used, but occasionally could be on a time basis. Payment methods accepted and prices will all be available up front before the charging process starts.
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