How to charge an electric car: everything you need to know

15 December 2020 | Celia Topping

How to charge an electric car

Remember when the only electric vehicle you ever saw on the street was the milkman, buzzing gently along in his funny little milk van?! Well, we’ve come a heck of a long way since then. Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) overtook diesel cars in September 2020, claiming 18.5% of the market. And that number is rising rapidly all the time. 

Having stated that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2030 (as well as hybrids after 2035), the government have just announced a £1.3 billion investment in EV infrastructure, including nationwide charging stations.

Not only that, but there are various grants, discounts and incentives to get you involved in the electric revolution. Is now the time for you to go green with an electric car?

The major difference, of course, between traditional cars and electric ones is how they’re powered. It still feels rather strange and unfamiliar to plug in a car – but it will soon be the norm to see rows of cars charging in a car park, a Tesla charging kerbside, or a motorway service station with more EV charge points than petrol pumps.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to understanding exactly how you charge an EV. 

The EV charging infrastructure

Go electric, and gone will be the days of queueing for a pump at the garage. Charge points have rapidly overtaken petrol stations in number. The ever-handy Zap-map keeps an up-to-date tally on how many public charging points we have in the UK.

At last count (on November 30th 2020), there were 35, 546 connectors in 12,932 locations, with 508 added in the previous 30 days. Slowly, ‘range anxiety’ – worrying about how far your car can take you before running out of charge – is becoming a thing of the past. 

There are 3 main ways you can charge your car – at home, at work or in public places. The latter includes motorway service stations, although technically these aren’t ‘public’. Destination charging (such as at a cinema or leisure centre) is also part of the public charging infrastructure. 

Charging an electric car at home

how to charge an electric car at home

The most convenient way to charge your car is from home – so long as you have a driveway or garage. This way, you can charge up overnight when electricity is cheapest, so  your EV’s ready to roll in the morning. 

It’s possible to charge with a domestic 3-pin plug – but it’s not very efficient, and it could take up to 24 hours to fully charge. Plus, domestic plugs don’t have the safety requirements of dedicated chargers, so it’s not considered best practice. Instead, you could get your very own home charger: 

  • A home charger has built-in safety features to protect you, your home and the car
  • Smart chargers have internet connectivity, and offer cool features like energy monitoring, delayed charging and software updates
  • Most chargers come with a cable already attached, for instant charging
  • You may also receive a universal ‘Type 2’ socket and cable, which can be used at home, at work, or in public 
  • Home charging gives you decent charging speeds of 10 to 30 miles of range per hour your car is plugged in
  • Read our informative guide about Vehicle-to-grid technology to find out how your EV and home charger could make you money! 

Learn more about EV charging and the different types of EV chargers available.

How long does it take to charge an electric car at home?

As with all chargers, home charging is measured in kilowatts (kW). Dedicated chargers offer speeds of 3.7kW or 7kW, which give you 15-30 miles of range per hour. A 3-pin plug only charges at 2.3kW, which explains why it’s so slow. Be aware that even if your car only has a 3.6kW charger, it can’t be harmed by using a 7kW charger.

For a typical 60kWh EV car with a 7kW charger, it takes around 8 hours to go from empty to full. The more powerful Tesla S has a 100kWh battery, so increase that by around 3 hours. But for a smaller 30kWh car, charging should only take around 6 hours. 

For more details on the time it takes to charge at home, take a look at our guide.

How much will it cost to charge my car at home?

This depends on two things – the size of your car battery, and your home energy plan. Cars with small batteries, like the Honda E or Nissan Leaf, charge up quickly and more cheaply, but need recharging more often.

On the other hand, the Tesla S needs a longer (and therefore more costly) charge – but it doesn't need charging so often. 

Cost also depends on your home energy plan. That’s because, like any other appliance, your car charges directly from your mains supply. So it’s important to find a tariff offering cheap off-peak rates. Our EV Everywhere plan is one option! It includes:

  • Low-cost overnight charging with Economy 7
  • 2 years of fixed energy prices to protect members from energy price hikes
  • Free Polar Plus1 network membership (including free charging at 80% of their 100% renewable energy charging stations)
  • 100% renewable electricity2 at home
  • A tree planted3 every year for every member

This plan means members can use 100% renewable electricity both at home and on the go (as Polar Plus uses 100% renewable electricity, too). It also means that simply by joining OVO, you can cut your carbon footprint at home by about one tonnea year. 

The consumer organisation Which? estimates that the average driver will use between £450 and £750 a year of extra electricity charging an electric car5. But remember, you’ll no longer need to buy any petrol!

Find out more about the running costs of electric cars in our blog. 

How to get an electric car charging point installed at home

how to get an ev charger installed at home

This definitely isn’t a DIY job. Your charging point must be installed by a professional. Their fee is included in the total cost of the charge point, which generally ranges between £300 to £1,000. 

Sounds like a lot of upfront costs, right? Don’t worry, because help is at hand:

  • If you use an Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV)-approved supplier, you could be eligible for a grant from the government worth up to £350 towards installation. 
  • Plus, we’ve just launched a £100 off smart car chargers offer for all OVO members. What are you waiting for? Join today! 
  • Besides all those tasty discounts, your installation costs could be paid off within a few weeks when you consider the savings you’ll make on petrol. 

The chargepoint must be wall-mounted near where you park your car – either on an exterior wall or in the garage – and connected safely to the mains supply. The install can take up to 3 hours, depending on:

  • The model of car (and size of battery)
  • The type of charging station
  • The location of the charging station (accessibility)
  • Who installs it

It’s best to be home during the installation process, as you’ll need to work out with the installer the safest and most convenient place for your charger. They’ll also be able to demonstrate how it works, and answer any questions. 

How often should you charge an electric car at home

It’s not necessary to charge your EV every night – it really depends how much you use it. But daily charging isn’t a bad habit to get into – just like charging your mobile phone – so it’s ready to go in the morning, or for that unexpected trip. 

Charging at home overnight means you probably won’t have to charge elsewhere during the day, at a higher cost. Remember, OVO members get the best off-peak rates at home with our EV Everywhere tariff. Meaning you could be driving for as little as 2p per mile. 

Always check that you set a top charging limit. 80% is a good rule of thumb, although some manufacturers recommend 90%. Your EV will then automatically stop charging, and there’s no need to unplug. 

How to charge an electric car at work

Workin’ 9 to 5 isn’t so bad if you can charge your car for free while you’re in the office, right? As it’s probably the place you spend most of your time – unless you’re working from home in these Covid times (sorry to remind you!). The office is a pretty convenient place to plug in, and many companies are now offering free charging stations to staff as an incentive, and as a perk to visitors.

Remember those universal ‘type 2’ cables we mentioned earlier, which can be used with your home charger? They can also be used at most workplaces, so don’t forget to pop it in your boot when you leave the house. 

Company car drivers can make significant savings by choosing electric – such as:

  • No more petrol expenses
  • No Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax)
  • No benefit-in-kind rates

To learn more about the benefits of going electric, read our comprehensive guide on the running costs of EVs

How to charge an electric car at a public power point

how to charge an electric car at a public station

Fully charging your EV at home and at work is great. But there’ll probably come a time when you may need to top up at a public charging point. It’s nothing to worry about. Read on to find out more. 

Nationwide, there are more charging stations than petrol stations – so you’re never going to be far from somewhere you can get that extra boost. 

Destination EV charge points

Many destinations, such as cinemas, retail parks, gyms and supermarkets offer charge points, sometimes for free. If you’re doing the weekly shop, why not top up for an hour while you wander the aisles? Or chill out with the latest blockbuster while your car charges outside?

As with home charging stations, destination charge points typically offer 7kWh charging, which gives you around 20-30 miles per hour charged. Again, those universal ‘Type 2’ cables could come in handy. Although at some charge points, it’s possible to just turn up and plug in.

It’s also becoming increasingly possible to use contactless payment for urban charging, so you can charge any time, without needing a subscription. 

Subscription services for EV drivers

There are literally dozens of UK public charging networks offering destination charge points, as well as kerbside charging stations. The major ones, like Polar, GeniePoint, Ecotricity, Shell Recharge and ChargeYourCar need a subscription, but some offer a PAYG service as well. Simply join online and they’ll do the rest.

Polar is the UK’s largest public charging network, with over 7,000 charge points, and counting. They charge £7.85 a month for membership, which includes some free charging stations, while others have a 12p/kWh tariff. As with the other providers, access to the network is usually with a smartphone app or a swipecard, which they’ll send to you. 

If you join OVO’s EV Everywhere tariff, you get Polar Plus network membership for free (including free charging at 80% of their 100% renewable energy charging stations)!

Tesla owners have their own network of chargers. There are over 500 ‘Supercharger’ stations nationwide, with new ones being added all the time. These points provide rapid charging, giving cars up to an 80% charge in just 30 minutes.

How do I find my nearest public charger?

Easy-peasy. Your super-modern car probably comes equipped with a sat-nav system which will direct you to your nearest charging point. Or, download Zap-map or one of the other public charging network maps, like:

Using one of these maps, you can easily locate the closest charge point to you, or ones along your route. They even tell you if the charge point is in use or not. If you have a subscription, you can also use a map to find your own network charging points, including the free ones.

How to use a public charging point

Most public charging points require you to have a subscriber's swipe card, or mobile phone app, to unlock the charging point. But networks are following recent government guidance, and so will likely also offer a PAYG contactless system.

Often, the charging point will include a cable lock to stop it from being disconnected (either maliciously or accidentally). You’ll usually need to use the swipecard or app to disconnect the electricity supply and unlock the cable.

Be aware that different providers may have different ways of operating their charging points, so it’s worth finding out how each company works. This will reduce the amount of time spent in the pouring rain trying to work out how on earth to work that particular charging point!

How long does an electric car take to charge?

This all depends on the model of your car, and where you’re charging it. Let’s take one of the smaller pure electric cars, a Nissan Leaf hatchback, as an example. Each example below relates to charging from a totally empty battery to 80%:

  • Charging from an ordinary plug socket in your home – 12-15 hours
  • Using a dedicated home charger – 4-8 hours
  • At a public rapid charging station – 30 minutes

As you can see, rapid charging stations make charging an electric car considerably quicker. But it’s not recommended to use these charging stations regularly, as rapid charging wears down your battery more quickly. 

Find out more about EV charging times in our blog.

Charging an electric car on long distance journeys or in emergencies

This is where rapid chargers come into play. They’re mainly found in motorway service stations, and handily, near main roads. Depending on the model of EV, it can take as little as 20 minutes to charge to that golden 80% mark.

As you’d expect, the convenience and speed of these chargers means they’re the most expensive option. Yet, for a typical EV with a 60kWh battery and a 200-mile range, it would only cost around £6.50 for a 30-minute charge – which would take you about 100 miles.

Find out more in our guide to planning a long journey in an EV.

Just to recap…

Charging your EV is as easy as plugging in your kettle. Except you can do it in far more locations! Here are some key points to remember:

  • Charging at home is the most convenient method. Get a smart charger installed for best results. 
  • Charging at work is often free for employees. Maybe you just need to suggest it?
  • Public charging points vary from slow to rapid. The faster the charge, the more you pay. Join EV Everywhere for free Polar Plus membership.
  • Supermarkets and leisure centres often offer charging for free.
  • Rapid-charging stations are often found at motorway service stations, but don’t use them too often or they’ll degrade your battery! 

OVO can help you charge your electric car everywhere, for less. Get a quote and switch today! 

Sources and references:

1Free membership for 2 years to the UK's biggest charging network worth £188: By signing up to the EV Everywhere bundle for 2 years, you will get free membership to Polar Plus from the Polar network (normal cost £188.40 for 2 years). This membership will give you access to 5,635 charge points in the UK - you will have free charging at 80% of those charge points, but you will need to pay a charging cost for the remaining 20%

2 The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work.

3 Each year, OVO plants 1 tree for every member in partnership with the Woodland Trust. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change.

4 By switching to OVO Energy you could reduce your carbon footprint by up to 1 tonne of carbon per year. This is based on the carbon emissions caused in the production and consumption of the 100% renewable electricity OVO provides as standard, compared to the emissions caused by the production and consumption of UK grid average electricity. Average UK household energy consumption figures were sourced from BEIS (2019). The carbon emissions factors were calculated by the Carbon Trust.


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