With the growing popularity of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and electric vehicles (EVs) ‘refuelling’ has taken on a different meaning and is rapidly changing in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. Whether you plan on putting the volts back in your car while it's parked on your driveway or halfway through a trip to the other end of the country, here we look at the basics of EV and PHEV charging, including public charging networks, charging your vehicle at home, charge point speeds and how charging a vehicle is likely to develop in the future.
Many readers will already have enjoyed decades of motoring with petrol or diesel vehicles. Refuelling follows a time-honoured pattern: pull in and fill up under that BP, Shell or Esso sign, or buy fuel at the supermarket with the weekly groceries.
However, with the proliferation of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, everything’s changing. Banks of charging points are set to take over where service stations were once the only place to put fuel in your car. But additionally, EV and PHEV charging is also taking place at home and the workplace.
Unlike normal conventional car fuelling, electronic charging can take place at all kinds of places: on your home driveway; at your work; or at a public charge point in the motorway services. Anywhere, in fact, that has a suitable charging point and a means to pay for refilling your car’s batteries with electricity. Just like charging a mobile phone, you simply connect your car to the charge point with a dedicated cable. Then the electricity miraculously flows into your vehicle’s batteries. Alternating current (AC) from your home electricity supply does this very slowly; direct current (DC), using a dedicated rapid charger, does it much faster. Ah, if only it was quite that simple…
We mentioned connectors above, but in reality ‘charging connector’ could mean one of several different vehicle charging leads. Who loves acronyms and abbreviations? At the time of writing, Type 1 and Type 2 connectors are the norm for AC charging (typically used for charging at home and work), with the latter becoming adopted as the standard for newer EVs. Relax! EV charging will get simpler and more standardised with time…
Anyway, back to charging as we know it mid-2021. For the faster DC charging (typically used for charging at public charging stations), it's CCS and CHADeMO connectors. CCS stands for Combined Charging System. And CHADeMO is a proprietary name, an abbreviation for ‘CHArge De MOve’ and a play on ‘O cha demo ikaga desuka’. Apparently, this means ‘let’s have a cup of tea while charging’ in Japanese. Who’d have known?
CCS is the default for most new EVs, while you’ll find CHADeMO connectors on a few Nissan, Lexus and Mitsubishi models. Are you still with us? This will all get easier as the market and its connectors sort themselves out over time.
If you find yourself without access to a fitted home wall box or a public charger, maybe Granny can help. The so-called ‘Granny’ charger (officially a type 2 charger) has a traditional UK three-pin plug at one end, an electronic control unit in the middle and a Type 2 connector at the vehicle end. Unfortunately, it’s slow; painfully slow in fact as Granny only delivers 2.3kW, which means it would take me around 48 hours to charge my EV (which has an range of 293 miles) from zero to 100%.
On the subject of connection leads, it seems that, after the boom in stealing catalytic convertors, the next big thing for criminals could be the theft of EV charging cables for resale or sale as scrap (because they contain copper). Most EVs and PHEVs have security systems that lock the charging connector into the vehicle once it starts charging, but not all of them are as secure as they should be. You’ve been warned…
Fast or slow, eventually you'll have a fully charged set of batteries. Then, after disconnecting your cable and storing it away you’re ready to hit the road again.
If you’re lucky enough to have a home charging wall box and aren’t away from base very much, you’ll be doing the vast majority of your battery charging there.
Depending on the wall box, expect 3.7kW or 7kW output. The speed of your connection and size of your car’s battery will also have a bearing on charging time. For a state-of-the-art EV and 7kW domestic AC supply, expect full charging to take up to eight hours. A good working guide is between 10 and 30 miles (16 and 48 km) of range per hour plugged in.
By the way, here’s a cautionary note for people charging at home without off-street parking. An emerging area of concern involves the running EV charging cables across pavements, but new charging innovations are coming to market (check out this lamppost and bollard EV charging plan recently announced by Shell and Ubitricity) and there are many affordable products available to make charging cables more noticeable and easier for pedestrians to step over.
Away from home, chargers are increasingly available at dedicated EV charging stations, motorway services and workplaces where enlightened employers offer plug-in charging, charging with RFID swipe cards or charging via smartphone.
With the UK government committed to reducing overall emissions from vehicles, watch out for a major change in ‘filling stations’ as we’ve known them so far. Petrol and diesel will surely continue to be available for decades while the existing parc of conventional cars remains. But we can expect the traditional filling station to change beyond recognition in future as electric charging becomes the norm and charging standards evolve.
A Type 2 EV And PHEV Charger
The challenges faced by some early-adopter EV users when seeking rapid charging away from home have been widely publicised. Fortunately, the UK’s rapid charging infrastructure expands daily as innovative operators such as bp pulse – at the time of writing, the UK’s biggest name in EV charging – grow their networks.
With ongoing exponential growth, universal compatibility at public chargepoints is becoming more common. However, owners of EVs with rapid charging capability may find their choices limited.
|Charging Connector||Typical Power Rating||Est. Range Per 60 Minutes Of Charging||Notes|
3.7 & 7 kW AC
Single Phase (Slow/Fast Charge)
|10 - 30 Miles||
Typically used for charging at home.
Becoming less common in modern EVs.
3.7, 7 & 22* kW AC
Single Phase / *Three Phase (Fast Charge)
|12.5 - 75 Miles||
Typically used for home and workplace charging.
Becoming the European standard EV charging connector.
50 & 100 kW DC
Three Phase (Rapid Charge)
|75 - 150 Miles||
The older type of DC charging cable connector for rapid charging at public chargepoints.
50, 150 & 350 kW DC
|75 - 525 Miles||
Supports ultra rapid charging.
Popular at public chargepoints.
Likely to become the most popular DC connector in the future.
And so to the little matter of paying for those EV charge ups. Again, as infrastructure evolves, payment is getting easier and smoother. If you charge at home, you’ll do it through your electricity bill. Just make sure you're on a competitively priced electricity tariff. If you charge up overnight you may find that it's even cheaper during off-peak hours. And when you’re on the road, it’s a matter of contactless payment, or payment with a smartphone app such as that offered by bp pulse. It usually comes with the added benefit of lower costs than using contactless cards.
EVs are the future. They’re here to stay and electric car registrations keep on rising. Just as the technical standards for video recording went through an evolutionary period (remember Betamax vs. VHS), so EV technology and charging infrastructure is going through similar growing pains.
Who knows what the charging landscape will look like in five, 10 or 25 years. The only certainty is that it’ll become easier to charge your electric or plug-in hybrid car at home, at work or out on the road.
Work is already underway to make it as easy as possible for EV drivers to charge up their vehicles at home and at public chargepoints regardless of their mobility, and as a part of their 'worry-free' motoring package Motability now offer a no-cost home charging solution to customers who order a 100% electric car.
The Motability car lease package - available to disabled people in the UK who receive an enhanced or higher rate Mobility Allowance - also includes comprehensive insurance for up to 3 drivers, servicing and maintenance, full RAC breakdown assistance, replacement tyres, replacement windscreens and a 60,000 mileage allowance over 3 years.