With the uptake of electric cars on the rise in the UK, car owners are left with many questions regarding their new plug in electric vehicles. After the initial thrill of purchasing a carbon conscious car, thoughts often turn to: ‘how do you charge an electric car?’, ‘where are the free electric car charging stations?’ and ‘how long does it take to charge an electric car?’
The answers to these questions are varied, depending on which make and model of electric car you own, and what type of charging station you’re planning to use.
At the moment, around 90% of electric vehicle charging takes place at home via a dedicated home charging socket, which can be installed in homes with a garage or off-road parking capabilities. But, due to increased demand for charging stations over the past five years, there is now a nationwide network of public charging stations for plug in electric vehicles; with Ecotricity’s ‘Electric Highway’ providing free public charging stations throughout the UK.
There are currently four electric car charging options available: slow charging, fast charging, rapid AC charging and rapid DC charging (depending on whether your car requires an AC or DC connection).
Originally the most common in the UK, slow charging stations were introduced in the first wave of publicly accessible charging points, but are now being phased out in favour of fast and rapid charging points. However, many slow charging stations can still be found on the nation’s roads, and they are compatible with almost all electric vehicles. As indicated by the name, slow charging stations require the longest amount of time to fully charge a plug in electric vehicle.
Able to draw up to 3kW of power, slow charging stations typically take between six and eight hours to charge an electric car to full charge. This is why slow charging units are mostly used at home or work, and are utilised overnight, in order to take advantage of the off-peak electricity tariffs. Even though slow charging can be achieved through a standard single-phase 13 amp three pin domestic plug, it is recommended that a dedicated electric vehicle charging station is fitted by a qualified electrician, in order to achieve maximum amperage levels and a reduced charging time.
Over the past five years, fast charging stations have eclipsed slow charging stations in popularity and availability, due to the speed at which they can charge a plug in vehicle. Capable of providing a full charge in around three to four hours, fast charging points draw up to 7kW of electricity, and are compatible with most electric cars and vans. Fast charging points are more likely to be found at public charging stations up and down the country, including in city centres and long stay car parks, where members of the public can take advantage of so-called ‘destination charging’.
The quickest and most effective electric car charging points are rapid charging stations, which are available in both an AC and DC output. Drawing between 43 and 50kW of electricity, rapid charging stations can achieve an 80% charge in around 30 minutes.
Relatively new to the electric car charging market, rapid AC chargers are currently only available for a handful of electric cars in the UK, and many drivers prefer to use a rapid DC connection, which delivers a higher charge in a shorter time.
Much more common in the UK, rapid DC electric car charging stations have a typical charge of 50kW and are fitted with a choice of DC connectors: Japanese JEVS (CHAdeMO) and European Combined Charging (CCS).
CHAdeMo connectors are the most universally used, with car manufacturers such as Kia, Nissan and Mitsubishi supporting these types of connections. However, CSS connectors are setting a new standard for rapid DC charging, and are being widely promoted by European and American electric car manufacturers.
It is worth noting that some electric cars don’t support rapid charging options; the Mercedes Benz B Class doesn’t have rapid charging capabilities, and the BMW i3 offers rapid charging capabilities as an optional extra.