Using public EV chargers: our guide

 Published 12th July 2022
Driver Guides  General Guides 

As increasing numbers of business drivers choose electric vehicles as their next company car, consideration naturally turns to how to charge them.

While most electric vehicle (EV) drivers will use a home charger, there will inevitably be times when the electric car needs charging on public chargers.

While most drivers are comfortable with using fuel pumps, the same cannot be said of public EV charge points.

Our guide walks you through what types of public chargers are available for your leased electric car, how you can use them, and what payment is required.

Public charging speeds

There are a variety of different charger designs installed throughout the UK, from tiny wallboxes to large industrial units. The look and shape of the charger doesn't make much difference to the charging requirements, but the speed at which you can charge your car does.

There are four main categories of charger - Slow, Fast, Rapid, and Ultra-Rapid or High-Power. These are divided into how the electrical current is supplied, with Slow and Fast points delivering AC current, while Rapid and High-Power supply DC.

DC chargers can top up a battery much faster than AC units, but cost significantly more to install and this will be reflected in the charging cost. AC units are slower, but typically found at destinations such as supermarkets, retail parks, and park & ride sites where dwell time is longer.

Slow chargers are nor relatively uncommon and will charge at up to 3.6 kW and Fast points either 7.2 kW, 11 kW, or 22 kW depending on supply. Rapid chargers are usually 50 kW, but can cover up to 100 kW units, while High-Power points are 150+ kW - as high as 350 kW currently.

A typical family EV with a 60 kWh battery will take around nine hours for a full charge on a 7.2 kW AC Fast charger - the most common type of public charger in the UK. It's worth remembering that rarely will someone need a full charge on their electric car.

That time reduces to 50 minutes on a 50 kW DC Rapid point - the most common type of DC charger currently installed in the UK. This is for a 10-80% charge, as after this point on DC chargers, the charging rate will drop off significantly as the battery is close to a full charge.

Should the EV be able to accept such speeds - and an average new family EV will take up to at least 100 kW DC these days - a High-Power charger will complete the same 10-80% charge in about 25 minutes for any charger matching its power rating or exceeding it.

Public charging speeds

There are reports of drivers needing a dozen different RFID cards and two dozen apps on their phone to be able to charge effectively in the UK, and at one point that may have had a small ring of truth. These days, however, it's simply not the case.

The majority of DC chargers have contactless bank card access so that drivers can tap to start and tap to finish. This is going to be rolled-out on fast chargers over the next few years as government guidelines come into force.

It is worth having a handful of apps or RFID cards however to make sure you're not caught out at a charger. There are some large nationwide networks that it's best to register an account with so you don't have to do it late on a cold and wet Sunday when desperate for a charge.

There are also a number of network aggregators, which allow a single account to be used across a variety of different networks. This removes the need for multiple RFID cards in most cases, and EV drivers will now often be able to cover almost all public charging with a credit/debit card, an aggregator RFID card, and a few apps.

All public chargers must allow ad hoc access, so there is no need to register an account, but if you're likely to use the network more than a handful of times, it's simplest to have a bank card saved to an account.

Many manufacturers now offer a charging service, often provided free for the first year or two once of running the car. These work in the same way as the cross-network aggregators, and will usually offer preferential rates on certain networks.

How to use public charge points

Most charge points are easy to use, but there are two different approaches to using them. This can be divided into tethered and untethered units, which will occasionally restrict the type of EV able to be charged off them.

Untethered chargers are the most common type of point in the UK, and allow any EV to be charged from them. Fitted with a Type 2 plug socket, the driver will carry the correct cable for their car to be able to plug in and use it. Simply follow the charger's instructions, but usually the driver plugs in the unit and car with their cable, and then activates the charger with a card or app. Reverse the process when completing the charge.

Tethered chargers are now uncommon on AC points, but all DC charge points will feature tethered cables. Because of the increased power output, the cables need to be thicker and heavier to cope with the supply. As such, when using these Rapid and High-Power chargers, pick the connector that fits your electric vehicle. Occasionally there won't be a choice of connector, with only the European standard of CCS available, but most will offer a choice of CCS or the Japanese standard CHAdeMO.

Like the AC chargers, plug the correct cable into the car, and activate the charging process using a card or app, reversing the steps when you have finished the charging session.

Payment will be billed to the bank card used to activate the charger, the one linked to the account you have used to charge through an app or RFID card, or the one inputted when selecting the ad hoc access. Costs are typically billed at a fee per kW used, though occasionally there is a connection fee to be added to the overall bill. Fees are shown before charging by the network operator.

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