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  • Writer's pictureThe Climate Coach

EV Shorts: 2. Public charging

In this short series of posts, we'll cover the basics of running an electric vehicle (EV) instead of a petrol or diesel vehicle - an important step in the transition away from fossil fuels. In this post, we'll cover how to visit a "petrol station" for an EV - public charging.

The media created "range" anxiety because...well I'm not really too sure why but personally I don't think range anxiety is a thing - it's no different from an internal combustion engine car in that you have a limited number of miles left before you need to add more fuel. I do however think charging anxiety is a thing whilst the charging network is still being scaled up AND has a lot of new entrants with reliability issues. That said, when charging at home - you only really need to public charge if your journey exceeds your vehicles capable range. Unless of course, you can't charge at home...

Putting all that aside for one moment, public charging is actually relatively straightforward and often convenient so here's how it works...

Like your electricity at home, all public chargers in the UK charge per kWh used. So where at the moment, the price capped variable rate in the UK is around 34p per kWh - there will be a (usually higher) price per kWh for public chargers and it should be advertised either on the charger or one of the many apps available for public charging.

1. Fast charging (AC charging)

This is basically the same as what you do at home - but not at home. The chargers that can often be found in housing estates, on lamp posts and alongside street parking (designed for those with no access to a home charger) also fall into this category.

These chargers are between 3.5kW and 22kW (but usually 7kW). The idea of these chargers (aside from the ones mentioned just above) is that they are located near places where you are likely to spend a bit of time e.g. shopping centres, cinemas, town centres, hotels or even restaurants. You will need your own cable to use these types of chargers - don't worry though, it can't be removed without you unlocking the car. So you basically plug in when you get there and get a charge top up whilst you are at the destination and then get on your way. They aren't designed to bring you back to 100% charge quickly - just a little and often top up.

This is a fundamentally different thing about EV's - you don't "fill your tank" every time you visit a "petrol station" like you might have done in your petrol car. You generally just top up your EV as and when you need to - or get the opportunity to. If you have a home charger, don't forget you will always be leaving home with 100% charge if you need to anyway.

These chargers are usually slightly cheaper than quicker chargers (although not always so do check). Most can be paid for using contactless payment but some require an app or have a QR code to scan to initiate the charge - which can be annoying if you have poor phone signal in the area (e.g. in a multi-story car park!).

  • Charge speed: Usually 7kW (but up to 22kW)

  • Time taken to charge a 78kWh EV from 0-100%: c.11 hours (7kW)

  • Time taken to charge a 78kWh EV 20-80%: c. 7 hours (7kW)

  • Cost for a full charge (@50p p/kWh): £39

  • Cost per mile: 15.6p (assuming 250 miles from 78kWh)

Now onto the fun stuff....

2. Rapid charging (DC charging)

Rapid chargers are generally capable of charge speeds of 50kW. Note, I said "capable"! These types of chargers are designed for quicker charging when you aren't stopping for a long time - so perhaps motorway services, fast food restaurants or supermarkets. The idea is you can get a decent charge level in the time you are there because of the higher charge speeds. They probably aren't quite going to be enough to do a quick toilet stop on a long journey but if you are stopping for lunch for example, then they should be fine. You may also find smaller number of these types of chargers at the destinations listed earlier.

  • Charge speed: c. 50kW

  • Time taken to charge a 78kWh EV from 0-100%: 1.5 - 2 hours

  • Time taken to charge a 78kWh EV 20-80%: c.1 hour

  • Cost for a full charge (@65p p/kWh): £42.25

  • Cost per mile: 16.9p (assuming 250 miles from 78kWh)

As with the AC chargers - you can either pay contactless for these, or via an app or QR code depending on the provider. Many are also available for discounted rates via a subscription or membership. The charge times listed are estimates and will vary on a number of factors which I'll explain in EV Shorts 3.

3. Ultra-rapid charging (DC charging)

So you may have seen the claims by the manufacturer about a charging speed each car can achieve - for example 150kW or 250kW. These chargers are the only ones where you are going to get anywhere close to those speeds! They are the premium unleaded at the motorway service station of the EV world! These are the ones you want to use when you are on a long journey and want to charge up as quick as you can to get to your destination. In the right car with the right charger, you'll barely have time to nip to the loo. You definitely don't want to be charging to 100% on these chargers because they are usually the most expensive and slow down significantly once you get past 80%.

  • Charge speed: Up to 350kW

  • Time taken to charge a 78kWh EV from 0-100%: 1 - 1.5 hours

  • Time taken to charge a 78kWh EV 20-80%: 15-30 minutes

  • Cost for a full charge (@80p p/kWh): £62.40

  • Cost per mile: 25p (assuming 250 miles from 78kWh)

You'll notice the 0-100% figure for this type of charger isn't actually that much quicker than a 50kW charger - however the 20-80% time is significantly quicker. So this is exactly what you want to do on these chargers - arrive with a low state of charge (ideally less than 20%) and charge to 70-80% and then leave. This will just about give you time to stretch your legs, get a drink and nip to the toilet.

The one thing you'll see here though is the price has shot up versus home charging - over 10 times more expensive than our cheapest home charging scenario. So ideally, you only want to use these when you need to on a long journey. If you primarily do home charging, your average cost per mile will still be low. If you regularly need to use them, then it will be worth getting a subscription or membership which will provide discounted ultra-rapid charging on various different charging providers.

Anything else?

Unfortunately, some charging providers are having quite a few reliability issues and it's not uncommon to see chargers with faults such as payment cards not being accepted, unresponsive touchscreens, error messages or just no power at all to the charger. This is very frustrating but is definitely getting better - and the more people report broken charger and feed back, the quicker it will improve.

Tesla are really leading the way here - their chargers are pretty much always working, get fixed quickly when they do develop a fault (and Tesla usually know, you don't need to tell them), they don't require any steps to activate, you literally just plug in and it starts charging straight away and the charge speeds are always excellent. They are demonstrating what can be done and others are already trying to follow suit - with some manufacturers starting to offer "plug and charge" type solutions with selected providers. Although most Tesla superchargers are for Tesla customers only still - they are starting to open up to other brands at their quieter sites meaning everyone can take advantage of their charging infrastructure.

In the UK at least, charging infrastructure is rapidly being rolled out - and more intelligently. I think we will definitely see a further rapid rollout of fast, rapid and ultra rapid chargers across the country over the next few years making public charging quicker, easier and more convenient. Will it ever be as quick as 5 minutes at a petrol station to fill your tank - no. Will it matter - also no because you generally won't let your battery run to nearly empty and then fill to 100%, you'll top up at different points and always arrive back to your "petrol station" at home.

If you have any thoughts, feedback or ideas you wish to contribute on this or any other topic covered by The Climate Coach - please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

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