Public charging of electric vehicles with E.ON

A happy family at a public charging station

Our friend’s electric

The world of cars and personal travel is on the verge of a fundamental change as we enter a new golden age of electric vehicles (EVs). The days of smelly, loud and polluting fossil-fuelled cars remain, but they are numbered as quieter, cleaner EVs are replacing them – and fast. Our friend is indeed electric!

Consumers everywhere are taking a greener and more environmentally-sound approach to living today – and governments and energy companies all over the world are setting strategic goals when it comes to e-mobility.

Driving an electric vehicle will become the norm in the coming decades, not least because the UK government pledged in July that it would ban the sale of diesel and petrol powered cars by 2040 in a bid to reduce air pollution.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “We are determined to deliver a green revolution in transport. We want nearly every car and van on UK roads to be zero emission by 2050.” To that end, the government is investing £600m to boost the use of ultra-low emission vehicles by 2020.

Pollution levels in some cities like London frequently break EU air quality regulations, so it’s no surprise that concerns about health are growing and more people in the UK are voting with their feet and walking away from petrol and diesel, as EV sales show.

According to The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), in the six months to June 2017 total new car registrations fell in the UK by 1.3%. However, plug-in EVs (pure electric) shot up by +46%, while petrol-electric cars were up by +39% (see the chart sourced via SMMT).

EVs are increasing their share of the market

The share of EVs – whether plug-in or hybrid – is still small but is moving in the right direction. From 3.25% in June 2016 it had reached 4.4% in June 2017 and is expected to keep rising. The launch of the Plug-In Car Grant in January 2011 has been useful in helping drivers to go electric without any complicated paperwork to fill out.

Manufacturers are also embracing the consumers’ change of heart – and they are also driving that change with exciting new entries to the market. Pioneer car makers like Tesla have been hogging the headlines with their fancy electric sports models that can do 0-60 mph in astonishing under 5-second times. Its latest Model 3 – a car priced for the masses – saw large pre-orders in advance of its summer 2017 launch.

Meanwhile, BMW’s plug-in hybrid i8 high-performance sports car has also had heads turning around the UK thanks to its sleek and futuristic form and it has a Roadster model coming next year. The German company has established electrification as one of the central pillars of its strategy and has production plans for an all-electric Mini in 2019. By 2025, BMW Group expects EVs to account for between 15-25% of its sales.

Mainstream electric models have become abundant in the market – from plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) such as the seemingly ubiquitous Toyota Prius to full EV cars from Renault, Hyundai, Nissan and a host of others. There is more choice than ever in the EV market – and this choice will continue to grow.

Volvo has announced that, from 2019, every one of its new cars will have an electric motor – which sends a strong message to consumers. It plans to launch five fully-electric models between 2019 and 2021, plus a range of hybrid models. Watch out for more car makers’ announcements on new EV models!

EV public charging station practicalities

E.ON e mobility charging station

So what are the practicalities of owning an EV? The first question is probably: how and where can I charge my car when I’m out and about? The good news is that electric car charging points are more commonplace than one might imagine – and UK towns and cities have increasing numbers of them.

To see just how many – or find the nearest to you – check out this Zap-map link. The free downloadable app locates EV charging points across the UK and tells you which types of plugs it is compatible with (see the panel on Charging times and connector types for further information). The beta version has dynamic live data to show whether individual points are available to use in real time or already in use by someone else.

Another service that tracks EV charging stations in the UK is ChargeMap. In both cases the apps feed in user updates and information to refresh their map networks in order to be as current as possible.

These public charging networks (PCNs) are developing rapidly and are adding new charging points all the time. By now, you will probably have seen cars charging in supermarket or sports centre car parks, city-centre streets and at rail station parking areas.

There are a number of existing national PCNs from players such as Charge Your Car, Ecotricity, Genie Point, and Polar, as well as regional operators which run EV charging stations. Their expansion means that EV users have the flexibility to take longer trips – and peace-of-mind in the knowledge that the apps can tell you there are enough charging points along a specific journey you are planning to make. PCNs are also useful on those occasions when you forget to plug-in, or fully charge up, overnight at home.

From January 2017, the government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) also launched funding to Local Authorities for on-street EV charging points. The aim is to increase the availability of residential plug-in charging as more and more households forego fossil fuels for clean electric vehicles and need the convenience of nearby charging points.

Speeds at EV charging points

Currently, PCNs have a mix of charging options: Slow, Fast or Rapid which means that the time it takes to charge an EV at a charging station can vary from as little as 30 minutes up to 10-12 hours.

This wide range is due to a combination of the battery size in your car and the speed of the EV charging point. Other factors can also affect charging times such as the ambient temperature, the condition of the battery, and the maximum charging rate of the vehicle itself.

Not surprisingly, slow-charging points were an initial popular choice in the UK, but fast units are now more common. Most EVs can use slow-charging as the cars come with the relevant connectors and cables and, in many cases, they use a standard 3-pin socket. The downside is that it takes so long.

Fast charging is available at many accessible locations these days including car parks at supermarkets, leisure centres and rail stations. It has become the standard way of charging having overtaken its slower counterpart (7,000 vs 2,700 in July 2017: source Zap-map).

Rapid EV charging points, which can charge a car battery at up to 80% in 30 minutes, are often characterised by their petrol-pump style look with a tethered cable and connector as a safety feature due to the high power involved.

Clearly it is worth planning ahead if you know you will need to charge in a public location. The first rule is to charge overnight at home if possible and top-up as you need to when on the road.

Before you charge in a public place, use one of the apps to find out which EV charging points are free now, or are on your route, and check they are also compatible with your car connectors.

Depending on how long the charging may take, you can maximise the use of this time so it’s not ‘dead time’: a slow charge could mean plugging in at a rail station on your morning commute to work so the car is all set when you get back; a rapid unit gives you just enough time to nip off for a coffee and cake; and a fast charge unit would work well at the gym car park while you’re cross-training perhaps.

More charging point options than ever

However you decide to fill in the time, be aware that if you are a fossil fuel car driver today, the chances are you will become acquainted with the new cleaner and emission-free EV ‘lifestyle’ sooner rather than later. The 2040 ban on polluting diesel and petrol vehicles is going to get more people thinking about the benefits of EVs now.

The UK market is already moving from its early adopter phase to the wider population, and as EV sales rise so too will the infrastructure that goes with it. Pod Point, a manufacturer and installer of electric vehicle charging points provided 65,000kW to EVs in the UK in 2011. By the end of 2016, the network had provided over 3.2mkW, which is nearly 50 times as much as 2011. To put this development in perspective, the company provided the same amount of energy in the whole of 2011 as it did in just one week of 2016.

That trend is set to continue. Green solutions to car travel make solid sense on many grounds: the convenience of charging at home; low or zero emissions; better air quality; and a healthier society. Public Health England notes that “poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK”.

The wider adoption of EVs is an important way for individuals to make a difference by improving the environment and safeguarding future generations. In this context, our friend really is electric.

A young woman a an E.ON powered public charging station

Charging times and connector types

The power (in kW) of charging points currently ranges from:

slow-charging (up to 3kW)

essentially meaning a 6-8 hours all-day or all-night charge; 

fast-charging (7-22kW)

allowing a full recharge in 3-4 hours; 
 

rapid-charging (43-50kW)

the super-fast version offering 80% charge in around 30 minutes to an hour.

Rapid chargers use a JEVS (CHAdeMO) or a 9-pin CCS (Combo) connector but bear in mind that not all EVs have the correct inlet sockets. They are typically to be found at service stations on motorways where they are a necessary fast option on long-distance journeys.

A handy guide to connectors based on the specific make and model of an electric vehicle can be found here