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We’re going to take a look at the UK’s electric car charging points and infrastructure through two lenses here: those who need to top up their charge while they’re out and about, and those who will rely on the public charging network because they don’t have the off-road parking needed for home charging.

How many electric car charging points are in the UK?

According to Zap-Map, there are just under 32,000 charging points available in over 11,000 locations across the UK.

Public electric charging points are available at service stations, car parks and supermarkets. There are even charging points available at the side of the road.
Will the National Grid support more charging points?
There was some concern about whether rolling out electric car charging would cause the National Grid to collapse and blackouts around the country.

The National Grid themselves have said that “the power system could cope with an overnight boom in electric vehicles”. On top of that, the number of electric vehicles on the road is only steadily increasing, so the system will have plenty of time to grow in line with demand.

How long does it take to charge an electric car at a public charging point?

This depends on the type of charging point you use and the size of battery you have – with smaller batteries taking less time to charge.

Quick recap: there are three main types of charging points Slow (3kW – 6kW), Fast (7kW – 22kW), and Rapid (~50kW).
• Slow charging points will take eight to 12 hours on average to fully charge your car
• Fast charging points will also vary, 7kW could take seven to eight hours to fully charge your car, with higher kW taking less time
• Rapid charging points boost your car’s power up to 80% in less than an hour

How much do public charging points cost to use?

This also depends on the type of charging point you use, and which network provider is running the charging point.
There are some free charging points in UK, while others charge for use. The main thing to look for the is the cost per kilowatt hour (kWh). This can vary from a couple of quid, but rapid charging points costs £6 - £7 for 30 minutes of charging (around 100 miles of range).

Additional fees
A couple of network providers charge extra fees, which can include any of the following:
• One-off registration fee, which is normally £10 – £20
• Monthly fee, varies
• Connection fee, 50p to £3
• Cost per hour to charge – used to discourage people leaving the cars plugged in

UK charging point networks explained

There are thousands of charging points in the UK. These charging points are owned and run by several different companies, including Polar, Ecotricity and Pod Point.

Once you sign up to become a member of a charging point network (or, if needed, more than one) you get access to all their charging points.

It’s still early days in the development of these networks, so they vary in size, cost and the services they offer. Most offer slow, fast and rapid charging options though; so you get the choice of a quick top up whilst out on the road, or a full charge if you’re likely to be parked for some time.

Access to charging points is usually through an RFID card or a smartphone app, and you can normally choose a pay-as-you-go system or subscription scheme to suit your budget and charging habits. Some networks, like Zero Carbon World, are free to use.

Some local authorities also offer public charging points, with government grant schemes funding them around the country. You can check with your local council to find out where points are located near you.

If you’re picking a Tesla, you can use their dedicated Supercharger stations.

Think of charging point networks like phone networks: different providers offer access to the same thing (in this case, power to charge your car), for slightly different prices and packages. You just pick the one that gives you the best coverage in your area.

Can I take my car to any charging point?

Different charging points use different connectors, so you can’t take your car to any charging point yet. We cover the different types of connector in our guide to charging cars.

This is mostly unrelated to networks though. Networks provide different charging points, which offer multiple connector types.

One thing to consider with networks is that, if you’re using more than one, you’d have the inconvenience of managing multiple apps and subscriptions.

If you’re going to use public chargers a lot; it might be worth finding out which networks run the charging points near you, what type of connector they use, and go from there.

What if my battery runs out and I can’t reach a charging point?

If you’ve ignored every flashing light on the dashboard, every app prompt, every beep in the cabin telling you to charge your car and you do end up with a flat battery; you’ll have to wait on the roadside.

You’ll most likely need rescue services to give you enough power to get to a nearby service station or charging point. Most electric cars can’t be towed because it would damage their motors, so special tow trucks are required.

Many electric cars include sat nav, which will show you the nearest charging point.

Are public car charging points safe?

Regular maintenance is carried out on public charging points, but if you notice an issue – access is restricted or the charging point is broken, for example – you should report this to the operator.

If you’re leaving your car to charge, make sure it is locked. Consider investing in a lock to keep your charging cable secure.

Manufacturers have fixed it so that, if the car is locked and plugged in, the cable is locked in place and no-one will be able to unplug your car.

New electric cars and PHEVs contain circuitry that protects the onboard computer and electronics from overcharging, such as by slowing charge. Also, all EVs and PHEVS and charging points have waterproofed sockets and cables so don’t worry about leaving it plugged in while it’s raining.

Charging on long distance journeys

An electric car battery takes longer to refill than a convention fuel tank, even if you’re using rapid chargers, so longer journeys will require a bit more planning.

Before you set off, you should work out where the most convenient charging points are on your journey.

There are plenty of sites that will show you the location of charging points and plan a route that allows for charging along the way. Many service stations on motorways now feature multiple charging points, as do larger supermarkets.

You’ll also have to factor in the extra time needed to charge up. One way to cut this time down, albeit at a higher cost, is to use rapid chargers.

Rapid chargers explained

Rapid chargers can give you up 80% power in less than an hour. They do this throwing around 50kW of power at your car.

As such, not all cars support rapid charging. Always check whether your car support rapid charging before you try and plug it in, you risk damaging the car’s wiring and computer if you overwhelm it with power.

Even if it is supported, using rapid chargers too often can reduce the life of your battery. This is because rapid charging generates more heat, which affects the battery.

There aren’t as many rapid chargers in the UK as there are other types, so you may need to detour to reach them on occasion.

Final note: rocking up with 1% battery only to find all the chargers are in use is just asking for trouble. If you’re sensible with your battery, you’ll find it hard to wind up stranded.

Getting the most from your charge

If you’re in between charging points and getting a bit of range anxiety, there’s a few things you can do to extend your battery life and – with it – your car’s remaining mileage (range).

Top among tips is to drive more efficiently. Maintain a constant speed can help you get a few more miles out of your battery.

You can also engage eco-mode and save the battery just for driving by turning off the radio and aircon. Learn more about extending your car’s range and battery life.

If you’re staying overnight, or in one place for a long time, you might be able to charge your car using a regular socket. Just be aware this takes a long time, often longer than using ‘Slow’ chargers.

Consider taking a charging cable and extension cable (if your car isn’t going to parked close to the socket). If you’re using the mains, make sure the cable or extension lead you use is rated at 13amps and is properly insulated and unwound to reduce the risk of overheating.

If you’ve got a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), then your car should run on petrol or diesel once the electric runs out (assuming your tank isn’t empty). That said, you can save a lot of money on fuel when running on electric, so aim to charge when possible.

If you don’t have off-road parking

If you can’t charge at home or need to top up when you’re out and about, then you’ll have to use public charging points.

All of the above will apply and remain relevant, but you’ll have a couple of extra considerations. Chief among them is the time factor, as you won’t be able to pop to the petrol station for ten minutes.

That said, you may still have options – particularly if you have charging points available at work or public chargers have been made available on your street.

On-street residential chargers explained

If you’re considering an electric car but don’t have a driveway, contact your local authority to find out if there are plans to install on-street residential charging points.

There are a couple of different options available:
• Charging points could be installed into lamp posts
• Free-standing or pillar units could be added to the kerb
• Telescopic charging points, that retract into the pavement, could also be an option

There’s a UK Government grant available to councils, which covers most of costs involved in installing on-street residential charging points.

How long it takes to charge at these points will vary depending on the power available in the area. Most will be around 3kW (like a home charger), and require an overnight charge, whereas others may offer 5kW to 7kW.

If these are available in your local area, check whether you’ll need to bring your own cable (in most cases, you will).
Can I leave my car at a public charging point overnight?
No. Although it's safe to do so, it means the point is out of action for other users who will need to use it during those hours.

If you’re using a residential on-street charging point, speak to your local council or neighbours about charging point etiquette and charging rotas.

Charging at work

Increasing numbers of employers are fitting charging points on their premises for staff to use. This is often seen as a benefit to employees, as they get free or cheap recharges.

Business can take advantage of financial support from the government, in the form of the Workplace Charging Scheme. Through this scheme, businesses wanting to install charging stations can reduce the cost by up to £300 per socket, up to a maximum of 20 sockets.

In addition to this, there are also several regional grants and schemes around the country that business can apply for.

Workplace chargers available tend to be similar in power and charging time to those found in homes – so around 3kW.