One of the first things you’ll have to learn as a new EV owner is how to charge the vehicle and where to find public chargers. Fortunately, using a public charger is straightforward, this guide will help you through those first steps.
How do you use a public EV charger?
Using a public Electric Vehicle (EV) charger in the UK typically involves the following steps:
- Find a charging station near you
Find a public EV charging station using resources like mobile apps, online maps, or your car’s navigation system. These platforms provide information about charging station locations, availability, and connector types. Zap-Map is the most popular UK charging station locator.
- Check the connectors are compatible
Make sure that the charging station has the appropriate connector type for your EV. Confirm that your vehicle’s charging port matches the connector type available at the charging station.
- Work out the best payment method
UK charging stations offer various access and payment methods. Some common options include:
Mobile Apps: Use dedicated smartphone apps associated with charging networks to locate, reserve, and initiate charging sessions. Many apps require account registration and payment setup before use.
RFID Cards: Some charging networks provide RFID cards to access their charging stations. Hold the RFID card near the reader on the charging station to authenticate your access.
Contactless Payment: Many public EV chargers in the UK support contactless payment with debit or credit cards. Tap your card on the designated card reader on the charging station to make a payment and initiate the charging session.
- Follow the instructions to start charging!
Once you have access to the charging station, follow the instructions provided on the station’s display, mobile app, or payment machine to start the charging session. This may involve selecting the desired charging rate (if applicable) or confirming the charging session on your smartphone app.
- Relax for a while – but don’t forget to monitor the progress
During the charging session, you can typically monitor the progress on the charging station’s display or through the associated mobile app. Information such as charging power, time elapsed, and energy delivered may be displayed.
- Finish the session
When you’re ready to stop charging, follow the instructions provided by the charging station or the app to end the session. This may involve selecting an option on the station’s screen or app, unplugging the cable, or tapping your card again at the payment machine.
- Place the charging equipment back where you found it
Once you have finished charging, disconnect the charging cable from your vehicle and ensure that it is properly stowed away. Leave the charging space clean and available for other EV users.
How do you pay at public EV charging stations?
When using public EV charging stations, the payment method may vary depending on the charging station availability and the specific charging network in use. Here’s an overview of the most common methods used to access and pay at public EV charging stations:
- Plug and Play
This method involves simply plugging in the charging cable to the vehicle, with no need for additional authentication or setup. Pros of this approach include instant access and no signup process. However, there are limitations as no control over access is available, and usage data cannot be collected or billed. This method is commonly found at some workplaces and public destinations.
- App Enabled
Using a smartphone app, users can access and initiate charging sessions. This method allows any user with a smartphone to access the charging station and provides the ability to manage usage and billing where necessary. However, it requires multiple apps for different charging networks and can be problematic in areas with poor signal strength. App-enabled access is prevalent at workplaces, public destination chargers, and rapid chargers.
- RFID Card
An RFID card, similar to an Oyster card, is used for access. This method allows users to manage usage and billing and is easy to use even in areas with poor signal strength. However, acquiring multiple cards for different charging networks can be cumbersome, and security concerns such as card cloning have been reported. RFID cards are commonly used at workplaces and public destination chargers.
- Contactless Payment Card
Users can pay for charging sessions by tapping their debit or credit cards on the secure card reader. This method provides quick access without the need for signup. However, charges incurred at each usage typically include a transaction fee, eliminating the possibility of free charging. Contactless payment cards are commonly used at rapid charging stations.
Where can you find public EV chargers?
Let’s look at where you can find public EV charging stations. Charge stations can be found in lots of public places, including supermarkets (certain supermarkets still offer free public charging), council car parks, leisure centres, and even on many public streets. They are mostly found on major roads and retail parks — all places that are easy to find and that people frequently visit.
Other charging stations can be found at petrol stations, including BP, Ecotricity, and Shell. Charging stations, also called charge points, are also included in a mapping service that you can contact if you want to find the station that’s closest to you. Called Zap-Map, this service enables you to find all of the EV charging stations in the U.K. that are open to the public, and it gives you their exact locations so they are easy for you to find. There are so many public charging options for EV owners that it is possible to use public charging entirely as an alternative to installing a home EV charger.
Are there different types of public EV chargers?
Public EV chargers come in several different types. They include two main types: destination chargers and on-the-road (rapid) chargers.
What are destination chargers?
Destination chargers are smaller than rapid chargers and accommodate people who wish to charge their vehicle while they shop, eat out, or do something else that takes some time to finish. The average destination charger usually has a charging output of between 7kW and 22kW. Because of this, they can add 30–50 miles of range per hour to your vehicle.
Destination chargers are more compact in size than rapid chargers and are used by people who have the time to wait for their cars to be recharged.
What are on-the-road (rapid) chargers?
The power output of a rapid charger is between 50kW and 350kW, so you get a powerful charge. Because of this power output, rapid chargers are a lot bigger than destination chargers and normally complete the charge in less than 30 minutes.
How much does it cost to charge an EV at a public charger?
The cost of charging an EV at a public charger can vary depending on several factors, including the charging network, location, time of use, and the specific tariff or pricing structure in place. Generally, the cost is determined by either a fixed fee or a per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) rate. Here are some key points to consider:
- Per-kWh rate
Charging networks charge based on the amount of energy consumed, electric car ranges are determined by their Miles per kWh (mi/kWh), so we typically measure the charge in kilowatt-hours (kWh). The price per kWh may vary depending on factors such as the time of day, location, or membership status with the charging network.
- Tariff structures
Charging networks will have different tariff structures, such as different rates for rapid charging and slower charging, discounted rates for members, or special rates during off-peak hours. It’s important to review the pricing details specific to the charging network or station you are using.
- Additional fees
Some charging networks may apply additional fees, such as connection fees or session fees. These fees are separate from the energy cost and cover operational expenses or network maintenance.
To work out the cost of charging at a public charger, double-check the specific charging network’s website or mobile app before you travel.
How fast are public EV chargers?
Public chargers are described as slow, fast or rapid:
Slow EV chargers
Slow chargers run at a power output between 3 – 7kW. The main disadvantage of this type of charger is that it’s very slow, usually, slow chargers are found in public locations where you intend to leave your car all day (mainly public car parks). If you plug it into this type of charger, it will likely take six to twelve hours to completely charge your vehicle.
Fast EV chargers
Fast chargers run between 7 – 22kW and can take between one to six hours to fully charge a vehicle. These faster chargers are found in locations where you may only need to leave your vehicle for a short amount of time, such as supermarkets or retail parks.
Rapid EV chargers
Rapid chargers, also called DC fast chargers, run at a power output of 50-99kW and can charge your battery to around 80% in roughly 30–45 minutes, so they are your smartest option when planning a longer journey.
Free public EV chargers
Believe it or not, there are numerous public charging stations that are free.
Businesses install free chargers as a way to entice shoppers, the catch being you are expected to spend money with the retailer. If you can add this to your usual shopping routine it’s a great way to save money on topping up the charge of your vehicle.
If you are a business owner looking to install a free public charger you should check out our guide to installing EV chargers in the workplace. Installing a charger in your business will benefit both customers and employees alike, and you could be eligible for an OZEV grant.
The final word on how to use a public EV charger
Learning how to use a public EV charger shouldn’t be a daunting process as every charging station will provide clear instructions for use, the process is simple and much like using a petrol station.
By following the outlined guidelines, you can confidently navigate the charging experience:
- Locate the charger using mobile apps, online maps, or navigation systems.
- Make sure that the charging station supports the connector type compatible with your EV.
- Access the charging station: Depending on the station, choose the appropriate access method, such as app-enabled, RFID card, contactless payment, or plug-and-play.
- Start the session: Follow the instructions provided by the station or app to start charging your EV.
- Monitor the session: Keep an eye on the station’s display or app for information regarding charging progress.
- Finish up and stow away the charger: When you’ve completed charging, follow the provided instructions to finish the session and pay the bill.
Double-check the charging network’s guidelines and pricing details and remember that most fees are divided into a pay-as-you-go plan and a subscription plan, the latter being less expensive.
With more EV charging stations popping up all the time, it shouldn’t be difficult to keep your electric vehicle charged up at all times. By understanding the steps in our guide we hope you can be confident in using public EV charging stations and enjoy a seamless charging experience while on the go.
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John is the Editor and Spokesperson for Electric Car Guide.
With over 20 years of writing experience, he has written for titles such as City AM, FE News and NerdWallet.com, covering various automotive and personal finance topics.
John’s market commentary has been covered by the likes of The Express, The Independent, Yahoo Finance and The Evening Standard.