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EV charging explained

Date: 08 August 2014


Around 90% of charging may be carried out at home or the office, so you will need to cover the other 10%. But while there are around 5000 charge points across the UK, this number is not a comparable with traditional filling stations, of which there are 8613. Furthermore, the 5000 figure is actually only the number of EV 'pumps'.

Also, unlike refuelling a conventional car, you cannot just pull up to any charging point you find, plug-in, pay, fill up and drive on. You need to register with the network that owns the charge point before you can use it.

There are several networks in the UK including Charge Your Car, Ecotricity, Source London, and Polar, which is owned by Chargemaster.

Once registered (usually online, although sometimes it can be done by phone or app) drivers receive a swipe card that allows them to charge their cars at that specific network.

Many, although not all, have mobile phone apps that will tell you the location of the nearest charge point. However, there is not a website or app that will give you information about all the networks. Instead, you will need to search a few of the networks if you want to be sure of finding all your nearby charge points. Some networks also show if the charging point is already in use.

Commenting on the number of networks it is possible to sign up to in order to be able to use all of the UK's charge points, British Gas's Atkins says: "The market is embryonic. There is slight fragmentation at the moment and there is a need to bring all this together."

He also says he expects the payment method for charging networks to develop so that pricing is clearer: "That's the way it will go and possibly as soon as this year. Closed networks will go and they'll have to open up."


Plug-in vehicles are promoted on the basis that they have very low running costs. However, this depends on two factors: how much you pay for the electricity that powers the car, and how efficient the car is.
Typical home supply will cost from around 12p per kWh, although some nighttime tariffs can be lower.

Currently, the 10 fully electric cars on sale today range from between 3.4 miles per kWh to 5.3 miles per kWh (see table above). This means that if your electricity costs 12p per kWh and your car achieves 4 miles per kWh, then your fuel-only cost will be 3p. For comparison, a modern, efficient diesel car doing 60mpg and paying £1.36 a litre will cost 10p a mile in fuel.

However, public charging points are not always free. Some have annual fees followed by no further payments, others have set fees per charge, and some offer a mix of annual payments and per-charge payments.

It's these fees that fleets and drivers need to be aware of, because unlike petrol or diesel, which is paid for by the amount, some networks charge for the amount of time plugged in, irrespective of the amount of electricity used. For example, if you use a rapid charge that costs £7.50 for a set time of 30 minutes, which would take a Nissan Leaf to 80% topped up from empty, and that charge then allows you to drive 60 miles, then you're paying 12.5p a mile.

It's also worth remembering that few people arrive at charge points with an empty battery, so this
per-mile figure could be higher.

Use an even less-efficient electric vehicle, or a plug-in hybrid with a smaller batter capacity, and this could be even worse. For instance, a Vauxhall Ampera has a real-world range of 40 miles, and if the £7.50 charge was spread over this distance, then the per-mile cost is nearly 19p. At this point, plug-in hybrid drivers would be better off financially resorting to liquid fuel, as BusinessCar's long-term Vauxhall Ampera proved 45mpg is a realistic petrol-only figure.

Commenting on the nebulous nature of EV costs, Cap Consulting's operational development manager Mark Norman says there is verylittle out-and-about use of rapid chargers, with most charging being done at home or the office. But fleets should look at the cost of EVs on a per mile basis.

"No one seems to be publishing cost figures for plug-in-hybrids. They don't publish an EV cost, just the mpg. This is a little on the dishonest side of things. Nonetheless, the electric costs
need to be taken into account."