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 find public charging points is through Zap Map. There, you'll find an interactive map of public charge points in the UK which you can search by postcode or town. And you can filter according to the connector, charge speed and network you are looking for. This tool is handy when you're in a new town or you are new to EVs and just learning the location of charging points in your area.
How do You Pay for EV Charging?
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 plan.
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!
Is it expensive to charge your electric car on the public network?
It depends. Many public charge points in the UK are free to use, but they tend to be older machines or slower charging. To use a rapid charge point (e.g., 50 kWh or more) you'll definitely need to pay. The cost of public charging is usually higher than you'd pay for electricity at home. For example, the unit cost of electricity at home is around 16.3 pence/kWh, while many networks charge 30 p/kWh or even more.
|Electric Car Charge Cost of Public Charging Points|
|Ecotricity (if you're not an Ecotricity customer)||30p/kWh|
|Ecotricity (if you're an Ecotricity customer)||15p/kWh|
|GeniePoint||30p/kWh for Type 2 units (7kW & 22 kW) + 50p connection fee|
|30p/kWh for rapid units + £1 connection fee|
|London within M25 - 30p/kWh + £1.80 connection fee|
|Cumbria - standard price per kWh with no connection fee|
With over 7,000 charging points, POLAR is one of the largest public charging networks in the UK. POLAR operates a monthly membership plan for regular users and also a pay-as-you-go scheme.
|Polar Tariffs (per kWh)||AC charger||43 AC / 50kW DC charger||150kW DC charger|
POLAR Plus - Monthly Membership
Regular users should consider the POLAR plus membership programme, which is currently free for the first three months. From then on, POLAR membership costs £7.85 per month. POLAR plus members are 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 programme that has no monthly fee—you're just charged as and when you use their chargeable points. You'll pay 18p/kWh (fast points) up to 35p/kWh (ultra-rapid 150 kW points) and there's a minimum charge of £1.20 per transaction.
To use the pay-as-you-go programme, 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.)
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 interestingly they don't own the units. As a result their chargeable points vary in price (prices are set by the owners), although many CYC units are free.
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 over 300 EV charging points at motorway service stations all around the UK.
Membership is free and the cost is 30p per kWh, unless you're an Ecotricity customer in which case you'll pay 15p per kWh.
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 over 3,000 public charging bays across the UK, there may be a POD Point near you. Some private car park hosts may impose a charge, but amazingly the majority of POD Points are FREE to use.
GeniePoint is another national charging network that operates in England, Scotland and Wales. Membership is free, and most points have a connection fee (50p to £1.80 by region) plus a cost per kWh (30p/kWh) although some points are free to use. You can link up and use your own RFID card, or get one from Engie EV Solutions (GeniePoint's owner) for £9.
Source London works with local councils to provide charge points around the capital. They have two different pricing models: Full and Flexi. Full has a monthly membership charge of £4 but provides access to cheaper electricity (9.5p/minute on 22 kW units and 3.6p/min on slower units). The Flexi programme costs more for charging (around 2.5p/minute more) but you don't pay a monthly fee, just a one-time £10 sign up fee. Those charging in Camden, Kensington & Chelsea, and Westminster pay an extra 1p/minute surcharge.
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.