Ask the Experts: Are there enough charging points in the UK, and what is ‘Plugged in Places’? (updated)

There are more than 1,500 public charging points in the UK, and the number is growing rapidly

By Albert Sibthorpe on November 16, 2011 9:17 AM

We take your questions and put them to the experts…

At TheChargingPoint.com we often receive questions from new electric owners and prospective buyers regarding where you can charge up. Alice Carter asks:

“I am close to buying a Mitsubishi i-MiEV but am confused about recharging. I have heard about the Plugged in Places scheme but don’t seem able to understand how it works. What is the current situation, and what can I expect in the future?”


The simple answer is that, with an average UK journey of only 8.6 miles and the i-MiEV’s range of around 90 miles, charging at home overnight is the most convenient and likely method of keeping the car juiced up for everyday short-haul trips.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, longer journeys in an i-MiEV are possible but aren’t that practical. If your trip is more than 60 miles or so (for a good, clear guide to the true range of the i-MiEV on different types of roads, take a look at Michael Boxwell’s findings), you’ll need to do some planning ahead. Knowing where the public charging points are, and how they work, is essential.

To fully answer Alice’s question we contacted all the major charging point suppliers and operators for answers. Here is what we found…

Today

The good news is, the number of public charging points is growing rapidly, in line with the number of electric cars hitting the roads.

At present there are more than 1,500 charging points in the UK and numerous schemes in place to promote and encourage the installation of charging points at various locations across the country.

Over the next few years, the number of charging points in the UK will be in the thousands, and there is no indication at present that the rate of new installations will slow.

What is ‘Plugged In Places’?

‘Plugged in Places’ is a Government scheme designed to provide funding for specific regions in the UK to install networks of charging points.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport told us, “the aim of the scheme is specifically to kick-start the installation of charging points in the UK.”

The scheme was initially rolled out in London, Milton Keynes and the North East, and has recently been given the green light in the East of England, Midlands, Greater Manchester, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each region will operate differently in order to test a number of possible charging point set-ups.

If you live in one of these areas you will be able to charge your car and receive other benefits such as free parking for a small annual fee. Members will be given a swipe card, known as an ‘RFID’ card (see below), to access the charging points  – just park, swipe your card and plug in.




Are the charging points compatible with each other?

The youth of the scheme means that the various Plugged in Places are not yet as interoperable as they will become, and it is best at the moment to contact your local operator directly to find out about gaining access to charging points in other areas.

Alexandra Prescott, who runs ChargeYourCar.org.uk in the North East of England, told us, “There is already some compatibility between regions, and region operators are willing to make special arrangements for members travelling to other Plugged in Places should you want to do that.”

A spokesperson for the scheme in the East of England confirmed that all Plugged in Places will eventually be compatible with one another.

However, at present there is no single map detailing all UK charging points, and no single membership that gives total UK access, although the Office for Low Emission Vehicles recently appointed chargepoint manufacturer Pod Point for just that task and so a single point of reference is just round the corner.

Tell me more about the RFID card

An RFID card is a bit like London’s Oyster Card – put simply, an electronic swipe card that can fit in your wallet and unlocks public charging points.

Operators of Plugged in Places regions supplies an RFID card to each member. It comes in two types: MIFARE Classic and MIFARE DESfire. While these cards are similar, some charging points only accept a single type. At present, many public charging points that accept both are already installed around the UK, and these will become the standard for future installations.

Tell me more about the public charging points


Confusingly, there are various manufacturers that supply charging points in the UK and some Plugged in Places use multiple suppliers within a single region.

The most immediate difference between points is cosmetic, so don’t be put off by looks alone. However there are other ways in which charging points can vary:

1. RFID Card compatibility


Some charging points are limited to use just one type of RFID Card. Charging points that accept both types of card will become the standard over time.

2. Power

Charging points can vary in the rate at which they supply power to your electric vehicle, meaning that some charge faster than others. All manufacturers are looking to increase the number of ‘rapid charge’ devices available, which can charge your car in as little as 20 minutes.

3. Electric vehicles per charging point


Some charging points can charge multiple vehicles at the same time.

The Future

The future is very bright. The people we spoke with from all the current Plugged in Places have placed interoperability as a key goal in their future plans, and the number of charging points is also set to increase dramatically.

As the networks grow, payment schemes may alter. Possibilities for the future include payment for a single membership covering the entire UK, or a Pay As You Go system.

More good news comes from the US, where Google has added charging point locations to its maps service. As the UK network grows this service will surely find its way onto Google’s map of the British Isles, too.