Theres no prizes for guessing it will cost more to use a public charger than a home charger. This can depend on a range of variables:

  • A higher current public charger will cost more per kWh than a lower current charger
  • As with fuel at petrol stations in motorway service stations, some locations will charge more than others
  • Some charging networks charge more than others

Home charging can cost as little as £0.045 per kWh whilst many public DC charging stations charge £0.50 per kWh – ten times that of a cheaper tariff home charger. This is more expensive per mile than diesel even at the peak of April 2022! This is why you should charge at home where possible.

There are some charging networks that offer completely free fast charging at certain times. This is a bit of a lottery and sometimes a case of allowing charging companies to have notifications on your phone so you know when you’ll get a freebie!

The UK Public Charging Network

According to Zap Map, as of 31st March 2022 there were 30,412 public charging units across 19,150 sites. Of these there were:

  • 7,958 slow chargers (3-6kW)
  • 16,957 fast chargers (7-22kW)
  • 4,053 rapid chargers (22-99kW)
  • 1,434 ultra-rapid chargers (100kW+)

Among these there are five major charging companies providing around 50% of the available chargers across the board:

  • Ubitricity – mostly slow chargers working with local authorities – 17% of the market (5,160 units)
  • Podpoint – slow and fast chargers mostly – 13% (3952 units)
  • BP Pulse – predominantly rapid chargers – 10.1% (3050 units)
  • ChargePlace Scotland – slow and fast – 6.3% (1,915 units)
  • Source London – slow and fast – 5.3% (1,601 units)

Let’s now take a look at the rapid and ultra-rapid charging network. Just four brands account for around 50%:

  • The Tesla Supercharger network accounts for 14.7% (812 units)
  • BP Pulse 14.4% (797 units)
  • Instavolt 13.2% (730)
  • Genie Point 9.7% (536 units)

These numbers are growing rapidly, though nowhere near as quickly as the relative speed of EV adoption in the UK.

Tesla’s network is currently only open to Tesla cars. It has been making announcements recently suggesting that it will open up its Supercharger network to all other EV users with CCS fast charging fitted to their cars. No date has been set as of the time of writing (May 2022).

Mapping

In planning your longer distance journey you will become used to knowing where the chargers are on a route. ZapMap has become the outright market leader in this concept, though Tesla and others have similar systems.

Using the app on your phone you will plan the optimum journey from A-B via public chargers on the route. The better apps tell you how much each cost and whether they are broken too, so on the day you can plan your route to your end destination while knowing exactly where the short and long stops will be for your car.

Using such mapping, you will know ahead of time where you might stop for a coffee and lunch over a day’s drive. In a coffee break you may want 15kW and over lunch, 30kW. This will keep your battery at the optimum 20-80% state of charge and if you end up in rural Dorset only to find a queue of other EVs waiting for the same charger, you have enough juice to get 20 miles to the next one!

Alternative charge point maps include US based Plugshare that is better used if you want to do a drive across Europe as it is better for motorways and main roads and Open Charge Map – a bit like Wikipedia, an open source system that relies on user inputs.

P2P Charging

Zap-Map’s Zap-Home and Zap-Work are two peer to peer (P2P) charge point sharing networks. They work with JustPark’s EV P2P charging network, which is the next best alternative to Zap-Map, and between them have 2,000 charge-pints available nationwide.

P2P charging is where someone can let a member of the public use their charger, sometimes for a fee and otherwise for free. These can be useful if you need a top-up or as a destination charger where none are otherwise available.

What Happens if You Can’t Charge at Home?

Over 17m homes in the UK don’t have a driveway or private parking for their car. The UK government and local authorities are looking into this matter. If you want to press your local authority into supporting developing a charging network in your area, send them over to this UK government web page. It details the various pots of money available to local authorities to help them install charge points, running into tens of millions of pounds.

Private companies like Shell-owned Ubitricity work with local authorities to install lamppost and on-street charging facilities. As we have discussed above, Ubitricity has been very successful with this offer and is now the largest public charging network in the UK.

Local authorities like Oxford City Council have supported innovation from small business. Oxford allows special gullies for EV charging cables to be installed on terraced streets. On those occasions you can park your car outside your house, you can have a standard home charger installed at your home and lay the cable between your home, across the pavement and to your car.

It is worth noting that in theory you don’t need a gully, but if someone trips over your cable you could be sued for their injuries. Having such a gully installed can cost a couple of hundred pounds – far less than a personal injury lawyer will have out of you!

Pros of using a Public Charger

If you cannot access a home charger then you will need to access a public charger. Those who charge at home will rarely need to use one except perhaps on a family holiday or to visit relatives who live a distance away. The rest of the time public charging infrastructure is used is by those on business – taxis, emergency services and company car drivers.

They can be very quick!

Public chargers can put a lot of miles into your vehicle in a short time. While a home charger is typically 7.5kW, giving around 30 miles of charge per hour, a 50kW can give 180 miles or more per hour.

Learn good battery management

EV drivers learn to drive their cars between 20% and 80% of charge on a distance drive, using the ‘middle’ 60% of their battery for most of the journey. This will often mean multiple, shorter stops as you map your journey between charging points – we will discuss this later.

Some networks can be used with a single app

A membership of Zap Pay or Octopus’s single app payment scheme can make using most – but not all – charging networks relatively simple. The flip side of this is if you are not a member you will need to have a number of different apps on your phone or a sheaf of cards to pay. This leads neatly onto the cons of public charging.

Most of the UK motorway network has them

Broadly speaking, you are never very far from a rapid charger these days. On a longer journey using the motorway network you will be able to use a fast charger without much of a wait or hassle.

Major urban centres are another area where the public charging network is very good. On a run between London and Manchester you should never be far from one.

Other places you can find them…

Another place you will be almost guaranteed to find a charger is at supermarkets. These may only offer 22kW (though some have quicker) but many people without home chargers use them. Many offer free charging too. Do be aware that these are sometimes covered by the same car park use-time policy as for other cars so getting a full charge can result in a hefty fine.

Many businesses offer free charging to their employees, even if they don’t travel as part of their work. This can be useful, especially if you don’t have access to home charging too.

One way that some city and town councils have sought to improve EV adoption in their areas has been through lamppost and bollard chargers for on-street parking. As with supermarkets these are rarely above 22kW and you can have time limits, but these have proven very useful for those popping into town on an errand or business.

Cons of using a Public Charger

The UK government has lately made promises to greatly improve the public EV charger network. Since public charging network’s inception, the government had largely let the market lead its development but a number of issues facing EV drivers have led it to indicate it will intervene.

There are not enough of them

Reports routinely suggest that public charger installation needs to increase dramatically to match the uptake of EVs in the UK. There are not enough of them, and this can mean queues for rapid chargers. This is the first major reason you should charge your EV at home if possible.

There is no unified payment method

With many different companies running commercial charging points, almost all of them require you to download an app and enter your payment details on your phone before using the charger. Octopus and ZapMap have their unified payment schemes – one app to cover most public chargers – but neither of these offer universal coverage.

In an extreme situation you could be without the right app or card and limp to a charger outside of your mobile phone’s signal coverage only to discover you need to download an app. With no mobile signal you’d be in a total mess.

The government issued guidance a while ago calling for all rapid chargers to have the option of paying by debit card. Since this wasn’t regulation, not all charging companies complied. In some cases you can use a debit or credit card but you will pay more than a subscription member would pay per kWh.

There is no standard pricing per unit

Despite the obvious idea of charging per kWh, not all charging networks do this. Possibly to hide the true cost of charging at their charge points, some charge a ‘connection fee’ that can be a significant portion of that you will be charged.

At the same time, many charging points do not have screens showing how much you are being charged as you would see on a petrol pump. Many drivers don’t know how much they have been charged for until they see their bank statements.

Rural charging deserts

Where a market is completely free to install a commercially run network, where it comes to EVs, charging companies will install chargers where they will make the most money. Currently this means that wealthy urban areas will see more chargers installed than poorer urban areas where there are fewer EVs per head of population.

A charging point in a village in Dorset will get far less use than in West London. Dorset, Devon and Northumberland among others are counties described in government reports as ‘rural charging deserts’ where it can be a long drive to get to a public charger. This in turn impacts EV adoption as people rightly worry they won’t be able to charge their vehicles as and when needed.

As we will discuss in the next section, you will learn to drive between charging points with enough capacity to make the next one, likely using a charger mapping system.

The government says it is looking into this – but other than a pilot in Devon, has yet to take any major steps.

Poorly maintained chargers

The EV community has favourite and not so favourite charging networks. This is because some networks have a reputation of breaking down a lot and their maintenance teams don’t fix them quickly enough. Nationally this can mean 5% or so are down at any one time. This isn’t evenly spread geographically and there are horror stories of cars limping between broken chargers with the driver having cold sweats! This is where a live charger mapping system can help.