5.8.2016Beginners guide to EV charging
So you're looking at buying a plug-in car - excellent news. However, when buying electric cars you not only have to analyse the usual and varied considerations of price, body style, power, efficiency, specification, and whether it comes in that particular shade of blue that your other half really likes; there is also the question of how to fuel it. Next Green Car talks you through the best practices in this handy Charging Guide
Sorting out sockets
Initially getting your head around charging an EV might seem confusing. There are different cars, inlets and connectors to consider after all. However, it all boils down to a few simple rules and is easy to get sorted so there's no need to worry.
When buying your EV, make sure you specify that it comes with two cables - one that has a three-pin plug on the end to allow charging from the mains (this almost always comes as standard), and the other to be fitted with a Type 2 connector. Both clearly need to have the correct connector for your car at the other end of the cables, but if you sort this out at the buying stage, there won't be any other connector type offered. This means that you will then be able to charge from any standard three-pin plug socket with the first cable, and the public charging network with the Type 2 cable.
The reason behind the above snap-shot of advice is this. There are a number of different connectors around that may or may not be compatible with your car. Just like deciding between petrol or diesel it is important that you find out which system your car uses to allow you to focus on this type of connector. Before you worry where you might find this information, there is a simple way to see which connectors work with your car by using Zap-Map's Connector Selector tool. This will show you compatible connectors and charger speeds so you know what to look for in future.
Fortunately, things are kept simpler still by the fact that the majority of public charging points have a Type 2 socket - meaning one of your charging cables needs to have this type of plug on it. For example, the cable for BMW's i3 needs to be Type 2-to-Type 2 compatible, while the Nissan Leaf needs a Type 1-to-Type 2 (car-to-charger) cable. Some models have two sockets to allow for different types of charging. The Leaf is a good example of this as under the charging flap is a Type 1 socket and a CHAdeMO socket - the first for slow and fast chargers and the second for rapid chargers. This is opposed to the i3 which uses one socket in the shape of the CCS set-up - CCS is an extension of the Type 2 connector.
The good thing is that rapid chargers have tethered cables so you don't have to buy the right cable to use them. Therefore, make sure you keep in your boot a three-pin cable to slow charge from all normal plug sockets, and a Type 2 cable to fast charge from most public charge points - safe in the knowledge that rapid charger cables are attached to the charge point - and you'll be able to charge your car almost anywhere.
From left: CHAdeMO and Type 1 connector above a Nissan Leaf's charging sockets, and Type 2 & CCS connectors above a VW e-Golf's CCS socket
Home is where the EV is
It is likely that you will charge your EV at home most of the time. This top charging location could be swapped for the workplace by some, but having a good set-up at home is the best first step in setting up your charging needs.
Thankfully, along with help for those buying plug-in cars, the UK Government also provides support for home charge points, knocking up to £500 off the cost of buying and installing it. This is only really helpful for those with off-street parking, but it can make a big difference to EV ownership.
All EVs will come with a basic charging cable. On one end will be the plug that fits the car, and on the other will be a three-pin plug for use with the mains. The problem is that charging an EV on a three-pin plug is very slow - which is where home charge points come it. These are typically 3.7kW or 7kW in power, and can charge a wide variety of EVs in between 8-4 hours depending on power and car. Once you find the point you want, make sure that you order the right cable to connect to it, though this is normally one of the options that should be ticked when buying the car - usually a Type 2 plug. Then away you go. You can do your homework and find local EV charge point installers by using the Zap-Map tool.
Plug-in in public
Once you've sorted out your home charging requirements, it is often helpful to think about things further away. If you live rurally or use your EV a lot during the day, it might be worth finding charge points in the town(s) near you. Regular destinations like the shops, supermarket, friends' homes, or park and ride car parks could have charge points on site or nearby. If you are wandering about town for a few hours you might as well top up your car while it's not being driven after all.
There are a few maps that pull together all the different network information for you to see in one place - with the leading UK site being Zap-Map.com. Zap-Map shows more than 4,000 public charging point locations and offers filters, access information and network costs. Put your post code into Zap-Map to see all the charging points in your area. You can get Zap-Map on the move by downloading the app too. With this, you can see all the UK's public charge points wherever you are (signal permitting!) and filter by network, vehicle etc just as you can on the desktop.
Once you have found where the soon-to-be frequently used charge points are, the most important information to find out is what network they're on. There are a large number of charging networks, and unfortunately few offer cross-network compatible access and payment systems. Some networks send out RFID cards, others use smartphone apps - and some offer both - so it is important to find out the networks of points you will want to use.
You might find that one network has a number of charging points that are convenient for your driving plans, in which case everything is nice and simple. However, if there are a number of main networks that cover your area, it might be worth signing up to a few of them - particularly if they offer national coverage like Chargemaster, Charge Your Car, and Pod Point.
Long range EV-ing
EVs have relatively short ranges, but it doesn't mean you have to keep them within a 40 mile radius of home. Long distance trips are easily possible with the appropriate planning. If you want to undertake longer trips in your EV though, it becomes even more important than sorting out local charging to research the right networks and make sure you can access them.
The main network at play here in this scenario is Ecotricity's Electric Highway. With the vast majority of the UK motorway network covered, Ecotricity's rapid chargers are often the quickest way to get from A-B long distance in an EV. Download an app to access them at a cost of £6 per 30 minute rapid charge session. This will give you a charge of around 80 per cent or so, which should add 60-100 miles to your range, depending on vehicle and driving style.
Route planning to include EV charging points is particularly important too, since you wont have to go very far from home before you can't get back again without charging. Don't just look at a few charge points en route, as establishing backups along the way is essential.
Some charge points might be out of order when you arrive for example, and if on the motorway network, you could easily need to cover another 20 miles or so to get to the next point. Also, you might plan a trip with charge points every 70 miles, before finding out that most of the journey is uphill and your EV will only cover closer to 60 miles. It is important then to look at points both before and after your ideal stop-offs.
You've pulled up at your chosen charge point, plugged in and are busy relaxing with a coffee, catching up on your reading; or frantically trying to find the next charge point in range depending on circumstances. Either way, someone else will need to use the charge point after you, whether it is immediately afterwards or in a few days' time. Therefore, there is a little EV etiquette to be observed - but it boils down to simple consideration for others really.
Firstly, when at a point, don't forget to move your car when it has finished charging. It might only be to a spot a couple of parking spaces further along but it will allow other EV users to charge when needed. Should there be a queue, be 'British' about it and queue orderly. When using the charger, replace the cable properly, and make sure you have finished all the disconnection requests of the unit - these sometimes freeze otherwise and prevent others from charging.
Update Zap-Map using Zap-Chat via the app to show other users up-to-date information on the charging point. Finally, always be effusive in your praise of EVs when (and that is when) people come up and ask you about it.
Relax, it's a rEVolution
Ultimately, charging your EV will become second nature and part of the act of driving it. It's easy to charge at most locations around the country, and if you remember to have back-up ideas and allow a decent amount of time for journeys, there will rarely be any problems. Whether you are driving a Twizy or a Tesla, you can have plenty of fun with your EV and are at the beginning of a major shift in the automotive industry - which only means things are going to get easier. Networks are charging for use of the points primarily to cover costs and invest in expanding the network. Standardised payment systems will gradually come into place, along with fewer options when it comes to the type of connector used, making the whole situation simpler. Finally, charge points will get quicker at the same time as batteries become larger, so it is likely that your EV will take a shorter amount of time to charge in a few years. Shorter recharging times, more locations and increasingly reliable points are being worked on all the time, so you're in a great place to make the most of the biggest change to the industry since the car was invented.