All new cars sold in the UK will be electric within the next decade or so as the drive to cleaner motoring pushes on. This change of powertrain brings a change of habits, with drivers who have been topping up a diesel or petrol tank for years having to get used to plugging in and charging up a battery.
On a basic level, charging an electric car simply involves plugging it into a charge point, for which you’ll need a car (obviously), a chargepoint and a charging lead.
Unsurprisingly, the details can be a little more involved than this. In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about charging an electric vehicle (EV), including how long it takes to charge an electric car, how to get a chargepoint installed at home, how much it costs to charge an EV, and more besides.
|How do you charge an electric car at home?|
|How do you charge an electric car in public spaces?|
|Where are electric car charging points located?|
|Which charging points can I use?|
|Charging an electric car FAQs|
Put simply, the higher the kiloWatt output of a charger, the faster your EV’s battery will be charged. Domestic three-pin plugs tend to charge at 2.3kW charge rate and are known as ‘slow’, while dedicated 7kW wallboxes (see below) are technically known as ‘fast’ – although, unhelpfully, a 7kW charge is considered slow in practical terms.
Public chargers that can deliver 50kW are known as ‘rapid’ chargepoints, with those delivering 100kW or more called ‘ultra rapid’.
Home chargers and other ‘fast’ 7kW units charge using AC (alternating current), while rapid chargers deliver electricity with DC (direct current) power.
Using a BMW iX3 and its 74kWh battery as an example, a 50kW charger will take around an hour and a half to charge from full to empty.
It’s worth noting that in order to preserve battery health, fast and rapid chargers may slow the rate they charge at as the battery nears the 100% mark. Do also note that EVs have a maximum charging speed they can accept, so if you find a 150kW charger and your car can only accept 100kW, the latter speed is the maximum you will get.
How do you charge an electric car at home?
Our dedicate guide to home charging has more details, but to recap: there are two basic options for charging at home: you can either use a domestic three-pin plug, or have a dedicated charging port installed – although in the vast majority of situations, both require you to have off-street parking.
A three-pin plug will get the job done in a pinch, but it will take quite a while – something in the order of 35 hours depending on the car and its battery capacity. It’s also worth highlighting that if there are any weak spots in your home electricity circuits – perhaps the wiring, fuseboard or plug socket are old – such a continual, high-demand draw on your mains supply can risk dangerously overloading the circuit.
Note that if your driveway or garage is far away from a plug socket, you should not use a standard extension cord to charge your electric car as they are not designed to carry the sorts of electrical loads charging entails. For this and other reasons, charging via a domestic plug is best done only in an emergency.
The second option, having a dedicated home chargepoint – sometimes called a ‘wallbox’ – installed is the best solution, and it’s one the vast majority of EV owners choose if they can – though you’ll need to pay somewhere in the region of £800 to get one of these fitted.
Home wallbox chargers deliver electricity at a higher rate than a three-pin plug – around 7 kiloWatts (KW) versus the 2.3kW or so you’ll get from a conventional socket. As a result, charges are much faster, with home wallboxes adding roughly 30 miles of range in an hour, and a complete replenishment of the battery taking around 10 hours, depending on the car.
If those charge times seem long to you, it can be helpful to think of charging an electric car in the same way you do your mobile phone, rather than comparing it directly to filling up a fuel tank; many EV owners charge little and often, rather from empty to full.
How do I get an EV chargepoint installed at home?
Home wallboxes must be installed by a professional technician, who will typically be appointed by the company you buy the wallbox from. They will need to have an initial consultation with you to determine how and where the charger will be installed, and if your home electricity circuit is capable of having a wallbox added to it or if it needs to be upgraded in any way; houses with older wiring may need to have their circuitry improved.
The installation process typically takes two hours, and the wallbox company should liaise with the electricity board to let them know you are having a charger installed. Lead times for wallbox installations can be relatively long depending on demand, so it’s worth starting the process well in advance of the day you take delivery of your EV.
There are a variety of wallbox chargers on the market, and our guide to the best home EV chargers should be your first port of call if you’re thinking of getting one. You should also speak to your energy company to see if they offer a dedicated plan for EV owners, or a service such as Economy 7, which can deliver cheaper electricity overnight when demand on the rest of the grid is low.
It used to be possible to get a government grant to help towards the cost of home wallbox installation for your house, but this ended in April 2022, and now only people who live in rental accommodation, who own a flat, or who are landlords can get the grant, which is capped at £350.
It is possible to charge at up to 22kW at home, but this will require a three-phase electrical supply, which most homes do not have, and which can cost several thousand pounds to install.
With regard to the cost of charging an electric car at home, this will depend on the size of your car’s battery, your electricity tariff, what time of day you charge, and the prevailing price of energy. You can roughly calculate the cost by looking up the size of an EV’s battery and the cost your energy supplier charges per kiloWatt hour.
If, for example, you have a Skoda Enyaq with the 62kWh battery, and your energy supplier charges £0.28 per kWh of electricity, an empty-to-full charge will cost £17.36.
What about people with no off-street parking?
If you have a driveway or garage, life with an EV is relatively straightforward, and most owners do the majority of charging at home. Many apartment blocks with dedicated car parks will have chargers, or occupants can work with landlords and freeholders to get them installed. Those with no off-street parking at all (around a third of the population) do not have things so simple, unfortunately.
Solutions do exist, though, including making regular, more substantial charges at fast public charging stations (see below), kerbside chargers such as those found in lamp posts (these tend to charge at 7kW), workplace charging, and chargers at locations such as supermarkets, gyms and car parks.
How do you charge an electric car in public spaces?
Public chargers are dedicated points that can be found at a variety of locations including by the roadside, at motorway services, in public car parks, or at standalone destinations that are modelled similarly to petrol stations, complete with a shop and washroom facilities.
Many public points are rapid 50kW units, while some can deliver as much as 350kW – although chargers that can deliver such a high rate of charge are rare at present. Moreover, most EVs can’t take so fast a charge, often being capped at 50kW, 125kW or, in the case of a high-end model like the Porsche Taycan, 270kW.
Public charge points are operated by a number of companies and organisations, including oil companies like BP and Shell, and dedicated charging firms such as Instavolt and Gridserve Electric Highway, as well as local councils.
Each network will have its own pricing structure, and while some offer cheaper charges for people who pay a monthly membership fee, it is often possible to use them on a pay-as-you-go basis, activating the charger with your bank card or a contactless mobile phone payment.
Many of these networks are interlinked, so membership of one might gain you access to others, and many of the national providers are linked to other, smaller regional services. There are dozens upon dozens of different networks out there but, below, we’ve detailed some of the main ones, along with a little information on how their service works.
- BP Pulse – subscription via RFID card and pay-as-you-go via smartphone app
- ChargePlace Scotland – subscription only, access through RFID card or smartphone app
- Charge your Car – subscription and pay-as-you-go, both available via RFID card or smartphone app
- ecarNI (Northern Ireland only) – free subscription via RFID card and free charging
- Ecotricity – rapid chargers accessed via smartphone app, 22kW fast chargers via RFID cars
- ESB – subscription and pay-as-you-go, access via RFID card or smartphone app
- ESB ecars (Republic of Ireland only) – free subscription, access through RFID card, free charging
- GeniePoint – Pay-as-you-go available via both RFID card and smartphone app
- Instavolt – pay-as-you-go via contactless credit/debit card
- Ionity – Europe-wide rapid chargers, via app or RFID card
- Pod point – free subscription and mostly free charging, access through smartphone app
- Osprey – pay-as-you-go via contactless credit/debit card or Apple Pay
- Source London – subscription via RFID card only
- Shell Recharge – pay-as-you-go, access via smartphone app
- Tesla – subscription, no RFID card or contactless card needed. You do, however, need a Tesla (the charge point communicates directly with the car)
- Ubitricity – Subscription, access via ‘smart cable’, pay-as-you-go available through QR code
- Zero Carbon World – no access system largely free to use at equipped hospitality locations
Do note that some public chargepoints consist of two points on one charger ‘unit’. Some chargers are not able to charge two cars at once, while others may deliver slower charging if two vehicles are plugged in.
- If you don’t have an EV, don’t park in a charging spot. Ever. (This is known as ICEing)
- Don’t park in a charging space if you’re not charging
- If you have been charging, move your car as soon as it’s charged
- Use the various apps available to alert you when your car’s charged, and don’t wander too far away
- Never unplug other cars to charge your own, unless there’s a note of that car telling you that you can
- Respect the charge cables and connectors provided (don’t leave anything lying around)
- Generally be considerate and help each other out
What happens if you drive an electric car until the batteries run out? Watch our video to find out.
Where are electric car charging points located?
It is effectively possible to install an EV chargepoint anywhere there is an electricity supply, and they have sprung up everywhere from fast food restaurants and campsites, to National Trust car parks and hospitals. Head to our interactive map for a full rundown of charging point locations.
However, electric car drivers do get an OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) grant of £350 towards the cost of purchasing and installing a home charger, so that will cut your outlay. Scottish residents can also claim an additional grant of up to £250.
At service stations
A growing number of oil companies are preparing for the future by installing fast, public EV chargers at petrol forecourts and other destinations up and down the country. BP Pulse, for example, has several thousand public points, including at some of its forecourts, while Shell has installed chargers at a number of its filling stations. It’s likely that as EVs become more and more commonplace, the number of filling stations that are repurposed for public charging will grow as well.
Destination chargers are also open to the public, but while a ‘normal’ public charger will often be a dedicated point typically delivering a 50kWh charge, destination chargers tend to deliver 7 to 11kW wallboxes, similar to the kind you can get installed at home. Destination chargers found at a variety of locations including hotels, gyms, museums, restaurants and golf courses.
The best-known electric car company, Tesla, stole a match on established vehicle manufacturers both with its EV technology, and with its dedicated chargers, known as ‘Superchargers’.
Other car makers are catching up with joint endeavours such as the Ionity charging network being rolled out by BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Hyundai and Volkswagen, but the Supercharger network remains a big draw for drivers.
There are around 800 Tesla Superchargers in the UK, and these tend to deliver 120-150kW, although faster Superchargers are being introduced. Our handing Tesla charging stations map shows you where they are located.
Tesla Superchargers used to be exclusively for the use of Tesla owners, although the company has said it plans to allow them to work with other brands of EV – although this is so only happening on a trial basis in mainland Europe so far.
Which charging points can I use?
The following information may sound rather involved but, if you’re buying a new EV, it will almost certainly have a Type 2 and a CCS socket, and you’ll be good to go at the vast, vast majority of domestic and public chargers. Home and other slower (IE 7kW) wallbox chargers typically have Type 2 connection, whereas CCS plugs are found at rapid public chargers.
Many home wallboxes have tethered leads, meaning one end of the lead is hardwired into the wallbox and cannot be removed, and the loose end plugs into your car. Some home or destination chargers will not have a tethered lead, in which case you will need to provide your own; the most common connection is Type 2. Our guide to EV connector types has more detail on this topic.
Type 2 cables are sometimes included in the price of a car, and sometimes optional. The same goes for chargers that can plug into domestic three-pin plugs. Check your car’s specification before buying to find out if you need to buy any leads, and keep them in the boot of your car.
In the early days of electric cars there a variety of plugs and connectors proliferated, but the industry standard is now effectively Type 2 and CCS. A few EVs (most notably the Nissan Leaf) use connectors known as ‘CHAdeMO’ for rapid charging, but this socket has essentially been superseded by CCS.
All public chargers delivering 50kW or more will have tethered leads that connect to your car. Almost all will have CCS plugs, and many will also have CHAdeMO connectors. It is not possible to buy an adaptor to convert a CHAdeMO plug to CCS, or vice-versa.
While EVs other than Teslas are not compatible with Tesla Superchargers at present, Teslas are able to use all other chargepoints, although Model S and Model X owners may need to use an adaptor.
How long does it take to charge an electric car?
On paper, a car with a 100kWh battery will take one hour to charge from 0-100% using a 100kW charger, and a car with a 50kWh battery charging at 100kW will take 30 minutes to do the same. If using a 7kW charger, that would be 100 divided by 7 for the 100kWh battery, so 14.29 hours, while a 50kWh battery charging at 7kW would take 7.14 hours to go from totally empty to totally full.
However, people tend not to let their batteries get to 0% because a) this is not good for battery health, and b) as it’s good to allow some margin for error and not run out of charge on the road. Similarly, for the sake of battery health, charging to 100% generally isn’t advised, while EV battery management systems tend to ‘throttle back’ the charging speed as batteries fill up, with the last 10 or 20% of charge taking longer than earlier portions of charging. You may also find that if other EVs are charging at the same place as you, the speeds collectively drop due to the amount of electricity that can be delivered to that location.
As a very, very rough rule of thumb, though, a 45-minute charge at a rapid public chargepoint is generally enough to get you a decent amount of charge – maybe not right up to 100%, but from 20-80% should be feasible.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car?
Public charging tends to be more expensive than charging at home: Ionity charges £0.69 per kWh at its UK chargers, so a theoretical full-to-empty charge of a 77kW EV would cost £53.13. Gridserve, meanwhile, charges £0.66 per kWh for its 60kW points (£50.82 for a charge), while all Instavolt points are £0.75 per kWh, meaning charging a 77kWh battery will cost £57.75 (all prices correct as of Dec 2022).
If charging at home, the amount you pay will be dependent upon your home electricity tariff. Simply look up the price you pay per kWh and multiply that by the number of kWh your EV’s battery has. Note than many EV owners have specialist electricity tariffs that offer a reduced rate of electricity during off-peak hours. By using the car’s smart charging feature or a smart home wallbox charger to schedule charging, you can take advantage of lower prices.
So for example, using an Octopus Go tariff, you’ll pay just 12 pence per kWh when charging from 00:30 to 04:30. Assuming your wallbox puts out 7kW, you’ll be able to take on board 28 kWh for that period – enough to top up a meaningful proportion of the battery, and for a cost of just £3.36. You would need to do that 2.75 times to replenish a 77kWh battery from 0-100%, at a cost of £9.24. Do the same charge on the same tariff outside of off-peak and you’ll be paying something like 45 pence per kWh (rates vary regionally), so a 0-100% charge on a 77kWh battery will cost £34.65.
Charging an electric car FAQs
How do electric cars charge?
The batteries in electric cars work on the same principle as any other battery: when you plug an EV into charge, electricity from the socket flows into the batteries, which store it as chemical energy. When you drive the car, that chemical energy is converted back into electricity, which is used to power the car’s motor or motors.
How long does it take to charge an electric car?
As discussed above, this depends on the power of the charger you are using, the speed at which a car can accept a charge, and the size of a battery pack. Many EV owners charge at home little and often, but as a rule of thumb charging an EV from, say, 20% to 80% should take between 30 and 90 minutes.
Do you have to pay for electric car charging?
As a rule, yes: if you charge at home you will pay via your electricity bill, although if you have chargers at work, your employer may pay for the electricity drawn from these.
The majority of public chargers also cost money, but there are around 5,000 free public EV chargepoints in the UK, most of which are located at supermarkets, public car parks, car dealerships, shopping centres and similar locations; most free public chargers are 7kW or 22kW units.
How do I pay for electric car charging?
If charging at home, the electricity you use will simply be added to your bill. If you’re paying to use a public charging station, most offer on a pay-as-you-go option, allowing you to just pay via credit/debit card, or by using contactless mobile phone payment. You may also choose to join a specific network. Taking BP Pulse as an example, for £7.85 a month (correct as of April 2022) you’ll receive discounted charging rates, as well as an account card or fob that will make charging a little more straightforward.
Can I charge an electric car without a driveway?
People without off-street parking will be reliant on public chargers, or chargers at their workplace. Wallbox companies will not install a fast charger at your home if you do not have off-street parking.
It is inadvisable to trail an extension lead across the pavement to charge your EV, both because conventional extension cords are not designed to handle the high draw an EV requires, and because of the potential trip hazard a trailing wire can create.
EV charging is something on local authorities’ radars, though, and a combination of dedicated rapid pavement chargers, chargers retrofitted to lamp posts, and pop-up kerbside chargers have started to appear across the country.
Are all electric car chargers the same?
As discussed above, EV chargers deliver electricity at different speeds. As a rule of thumb, home and workplace chargers give you 7kW, while it’s reasonable to expect public chargers to deliver 50kW or more.
In terms of connectors, CCS and Type 2 plugs are essentially the industry standard, although some cars (notably the Nissan Leaf) use CHAdeMO for rapid charging. CHAdeMO connectors are relatively commonplace at public points.
How many charging points are there in the UK?
Roughly 22,000, of which around 6,000 are the rapid or ultra-rapid ones everyone is after.
Will it cost more to run an electric car if I can’t charge at home?
Yes: as set out in our section on pricing above, public chargers are more expensive than home electricity – though you may be able to find a free public charger.
How do I charge an electric car at home if I don’t have a driveway?
You will be reliant on public chargepoints. Many councils are installing chargers at the kerbside, but these are still public and there will be no guarantee you will be able to get access. Home wallbox installers won’t put a box on a house without off-street parking. And while people do do it, trailing an extension lead across the pavement or out of a window is dangerous, both because of the trip hazard it can present, and because EVs draw a high rate of current, placing more strain on the extension lead than most are designed to handle.
How do I charge my electric car quickly when I’m on a long journey?
Look out for a rapid or ultra-rapid charger, and don’t try to charge to 100%.