The number of electric cars and plug-in hybrid cars on the road around the UK continues to rise, and with it, the number of public charging stations also grows by the day. For people that are new to electric or hybrid, charging can cause some initial confusion or apprehension, which is understandable. But fear not, you’re spoilt for choice, and it’s easy once you know how, and we’re here to help.
Where are electric car charging stations?
Charging points can be found at motorway services, multi-storey car parks, supermarkets and retail park car parks, as well as on local and residential roads (as standard charge points, or as lampposts converted into electric-vehicle chargers by the local council).
There are thousands of public charging stations, and probably a lot more charge points than you think. In fact, there are more public charge points in the UK than petrol stations. There are over 15,000 public charging locations, with about 25,000 charge point devices.
These are increasing all the time (the biggest increase in the last year has been new 150-350kW ultra-rapid chargers, for super-fast charging).
Use our electric charging points page to find any of these charge points, and to search for your nearby charging points (based on your postcode) or to search for charging points on a route if you’re planning a trip. It will tell you about paid and free (always handy) points, the provider, number of stations/bays, and the socket type. So you’ll know everything you need to.
Who runs charging stations?
The UK’s charging station network is owned and run by a number of different companies. Most are energy firms, and require you to register with them, and carry a swipe card to use their machines, or use an app.
If you’re planning on using your electric car or plug-in hybrid for long journeys and are likely to visit lots of different regions, you’ll probably need to register with more than one provider.
That might sound like a pain, but don’t despair. The country’s largest provider, Polar, costs just £8 a month to subscribe, and 80% of its stations are free for subscribers.
Those who own a Tesla can use Tesla’s ‘Supercharger’ network for (usually or almost) free, while Zero Carbon World requires no subscription and is free to use their charging stations.
Indeed, there are thousands of free electric car charge points across the UK, usually located in supermarkets, shopping centres, public car parks and hotels (though you may be limited to an amount of time on the charger, or you have to buy something from the shop etc.).
What about motorway services?
Most drivers do an average of 20 miles a day, which means most people can simply charge at home for all of their regular driving, and it’s only for long trips that charging en route is needed. Therefore it’s good to know a bit about charging at services for people who are new to EVs and planning to buy an electric or hybrid car.
The only provider of motorway charging points in the UK is Ecotricity, who have partnered with Gridserve to develop the Electric Highway; Europe’s first nationwide charging network. Currently it has 145 public stations at motorway and A-road services, providing around 300 individual chargers. These cost £6 for 30 minutes (however, if you get your household electricity supply from Ecotricity then you’ll be eligible for 52 free charges a year).
The government is planning to invest £1bn in charging points at motorway service stations, which should see more providers and possibly more competition on pricing, and it will see at least six high-power chargers in every motorway service area by 2023.
How long does it take to charge an electric car?
It varies greatly, depending on what electric car (or plug-in hybrid) you have, and the calibre of charger you use. The length of time an electric car battery takes to recharge is determined by how many kilowatts (kW) the charging station can provide, and how many the car can accept. The higher the wattage, the faster the charge.
Here are the three different types of charging and kW rates that exist:
Slow charging: 3kW. If you charge your car from ‘empty’ (either at home or at a station), a full slow charge will take about eight hours.
Fast charging: 7-22kW. A fast-charging point will take around three to four hours to fully charge an electric car’s batteries from zero. The majority of public charging stations offer this rate, and you can have this rate charge point fitted at home.
Rapid charging: 43-50kW. Only a few electric cars are compatible with rapid charging, but if you own a Tesla Model S or Kia Soul EV, a rapid charger will give you an 80% charge in as little as 30 minutes. These aren’t common in public, though Tesla has its own proprietary network just for Tesla cars.
However, these charging times don’t really apply to real-life charging en route, as the way to keep your battery in best condition is to charge up to 80% and not let the battery drop below 20%. This means that top-ups at services will generally take about 30 to 40 minutes.
The time frame can vary greatly, depending on the car’s battery and range, and the charge rate that’s available (and that the car can take). But the general point here is that for long journeys you can make an exception and charge at home to 100%, and then try to plan your stops, to charge about 50% when needed (when you get to 40, or 30, or 20% charge), and to save you waiting about at a charge point, put your car on charge and then go to use the facilities, and have some lunch, and stretch your legs. Equally if you stop to charge at a supermarket, you can use the opportunity to do some shopping.
It’s also worth mentioning that if charging from zero to full, that the last 20% takes the longest to complete, and charging from 20% to 80% allows for a quicker charge.
What about connectors?
There are two types of connectors, and for the vast majority of electric car drivers, it’s Type 2 that’s used. While Type 1 is an older version of connector, still used on some models like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.
Here’s the type of chargers available and their connectors:
Slow chargers: have a Type 1 (J1772) or a seven-pin Type 2 (Mennekes) connector.
Fast chargers: almost all fast chargers have a Type 2 connector.
Rapid chargers: DC rapid chargers use a JEVS (CHADeMO) or a CCS (Combined Charging System) connector. Rapid AC chargers are rarer, and have only a Type 2 connector.
CHAdeMO connectors come from Japan and fit electric Nissans, Toyotas and Mitsubishis (if they’re capable of rapid charging). While Volkswagen, BMW and Ford favour Type 1 (J1772) connectors and the related CCS system.
This might all sound a bit confusing, but typically, if your car accepts fast charging, which is the norm, then you’ll be using a Type 2 Mennekes connector.
Tesla chargers: as mentioned above, if you have a Tesla, their rapid ‘Superchargers’ charge at 120kW, and can give roughly 170 miles of range in 30-40 minutes. There are over 150 of these in the UK. These are now free up to 400kWh (about 1,000 miles), and then 20p per kWh thereafter.
Tesla also offer ‘Destination chargers’, at hotels, shopping centres, campsites, golf clubs etc. These are slower than Superchargers, operating at a maximum of 22kW, providing about 60 miles of charge in an hour.
As the UK starts to shift to electric motoring, it’s important to be considerate with how you charge at public stations, so that everyone with an electric car or a plug-in hybrid can get the charge they need. Here are some rules to stick by:
Watch your car’s charge status. Once the batteries are nearly charged (or charged to 80% if that’s enough for your onward journey) then unplug and move it from the charging bay so others can use it.
Plug-in hybrids should give priority to electric cars. If you’re charging a PHEV and someone with an all-electric EV needs a charge point, then do the right thing. Plug-in hybrids have a petrol engine to fall back on, while electric cars could be stranded until they recharge their batteries.
Avoid unplugging someone else’s car. If you’re at a services and an electric car has been charging for what seems like eternity, and if there isn’t another charger free, then you may be tempted to unplug theirs and use it. Try to avoid this if you can. Some consider it okay to unplug a car that’s finished charging, but it isn’t always easy to tell and may not be met with kindness. If you must do it, leave a note on the owner’s windscreen, explaining why. And keep in mind that some connectors don’t allow you to unplug them when the car is locked.
Report any damage to charging stations. The supplier’s phone number will be on the charging point.
Offer to help others who are new to charging. If you see someone having difficulty with their car or charger, ask if you can be of any help.
Leave the charging cable in place when you’re done. A loose cable can be a trip hazard or be run over and damaged.
A winter warning
It’s also worth mentioning that electric cars usually need to top-up sooner in winter than in summer, due to the use of heating and other devices, so it’s good to keep that in mind that if you establish a journey plan (to say, see a family member who lives in a different part of the country) that in winter you might need to top-up sooner than you did during those balmy summer days.
Workplace charging points
It’s also worth mentioning that many workplaces have charge points available, which is a great alternative to public charging, and is a convenient way to recharge during the day. If you’re new to electric, ask your HR department if there are any chargers on site, or nearby.
Public wireless charging on the horizon
The UK is working on plans to create wireless charging stations, at services and car parks, and to one day offer dynamic charging, where wireless transmitters could be embedded into the road network and be used to top-up batteries as electric cars drive along them.
Over the coming years charging times at stations will reduce dramatically as battery and charging capability improves, and more innovative and easy to access forms of charging will (hopefully) come into play in the not too distant future.
Remember the free chargers!
There are thousands of free electric car charge points in the UK, often located in supermarkets, shopping centres, public car parks, hotels and sometimes service stations. While they are limited to set periods etc. you might as well try to get free charge if you can! Free energy might not still be available in the future, so for savvy electric car drivers, it’s smart to plan top-ups around free charge points.
What about charging at home?
This is something we would highly recommend! About 80% of electric car charging is done at home, for local commutes and daily driving. And if you aren’t able to charge from home (install a charge point and easily charge overnight) then having an electric or hybrid car becomes a lot trickier.
If you are thinking of buying your first plug-in electric or hybrid car, and want to know about home charging, then read our guide here.
Find your perfect electric car
Using our EV search tool, you can choose what type of electric car you want, and add in your specific preferences, to get a list of electric cars that will suit your needs and wants. Every model presented will show you information on charging, from the time it takes for a full home charge, to how long it takes for a quick rapid charge (what you’ll be doing on long journeys). As well as info on range, battery, connector, and everything else.