Many potential electric car (EV) owners worry about what to do if their car runs out of charge while they're away from home - the answer is public charging points. With dozens of electric charging companies out there, understanding the market can be confusing. We've put together this guide to help you sort through the electric car charging options across the UK.
The best way for an EV driver to look for a public charging point is through Zap Map. There, you'll find an interactive map of public charge points in the UK, which you can filter by connector, charge speed, network, etc. It helps to be aware of the charging networks in your area. Below, we give details on some of the largest networks in the UK.
Paying for EV Charging - Basics
Generally speaking, paying for electricity at public charge points feel a lot more high-tech than paying for gasoline at a traditional petrol station. You may use an RFID card to access a particular network and/or an app on your smart phone to control the electricity flow (start charge/stop charge) and also to handle the payment, whether you're on a membership program or a pay-as-you-go plane. At the end of a charge session, pressing a "stop charge" equivalent button on your phone will send a signal to release the cable from your car. Then off you go!
With over 5,000 charging points, POLAR is one of the largest public charging networks in the UK. POLAR operates a monthly membership plan for regular uses and also a pay-as-you-go scheme.
POLAR Plus - Monthly Membership
Regular users may want to consider the POLAR plus membership program, which is currently free for the first three months. From then on, POLAR membership costs £7.85 per month. As a POLAR plus member, you'll be entitled to full access to all POLAR Network charging points. In 80% of the network, charging is free. The other 20% of the network are chargeable points, which cost 9p per kWh (cheaper than the average 17p per kWh cost of charging at home). Also, some Charge your Car (CYC) charge points have higher rates, which are set by the site owners.
The Polar Instant apps are available to download from the App Store (for iPhone) and Google Play (for Android). On both the POLAR live map and the apps, you can see details of any charges and also live availability (complete with socket & charge speed information).
POLAR Instant - Pay As You Go
If you don't expect to be a regular user of public charge points, it may be more economical for you to use the pay-as-you-go POLAR Instant program. With it, there is no monthly fee - you're just charged as and when you use their chargeable points (many points are actually free to use).
To use the pay-as-you-go program, download the POLAR Instant app, register as a user on the app and finally add some credit to your account using a credit/debit card. (When you charge your car, this credit is depleted.)
For chargeable points, you can expect to pay £1 - £1.20 per hour for a 13 amp socket and £1.50 - £1.70 for a Type 2 socket (with a minimum charge of one full hour) or £6 for 30 minutes of rapid charging. Additionally, each time you charge your car you'll incur a £1.20 admin fee, which is deducted from you balance once the charge is complete.
POLAR also owns "Charge your Car" and "Plugged in Midlands."
Charge Your Car
Charge Your Car (CYC) operates a network of public charge points - but they don't own the units. While many CYC units are free, chargeable points may vary in price, since prices are set by the unit owners.
Membership costs £20 per year, for which you'll be supplied with an RFID card to access the network. The app is free to download. Each time you plug in, you'll incur a £1 connection charge, plus any other electricity charge imposed by the owner (this could be a flat rate or a per kWh rate). Generally, rapid connections are charged.
If you take regular road trips, you'll be familiar with Ecotricity, which runs the Electric Highway public charging network that operates from service stations around the country.
Membership is free but the connection charge is £3 each time you plug in. While 22 kWh Type 2 units are free to use, there is a 17p per kWh charge elsewhere. If you charge while shopping at IKEA, your cost will be refunded in store through a £6 discount off purchases.
If you're also an Ecotricity energy customer, you won't pay any connection fees if you have been a customer for a year OR you've used up your allocation of 52 free rapid charges per year - whichever comes first.
POD Point has a network of home, workplace and public charging points around the UK. You may have seen a POD Point at your local Sainsbury's, Lidl, Nissan dealer, Southern Rail station, or any number of other businesses. POD charging doesn't require an RFID card, like many of the other EV charging networks - only an app on your phone.
With over 900 charging bays, there may be a POD Point near you. Some private car park hosts may impose a charge, but amazingly over 95% of POD Points are FREE to use.
Other EV Charging Networks
There are a number of other, smaller charging networks operating in the UK. To find one near you, browse through the handy map at Zap Map.