Is it easy to charge an electric car? Do you need special equipment?

By Gavin Conway on July 26, 2011 4:44 PM

The issue of charging is one of the most contentious surrounding electric vehicles. In particular, it is the relative lack of a public charging infrastructure that is most often sited as an obstacle to broader takeup of EVs. But the fact is, charging an electric car is a doddle and can be done pretty much anywhere.

1. Charging at home

All electric cars come with a standard charging cable that plugs into the car and, via a domestic plug, into a normal wall socket. It's the same plug you'd find on your kettle, TV or phone charger, which means you can charge at home in your garage or on your driveway if you have an outdoor socket.

However, while a regular household socket is perfectly fine for charging up your EV, you will need to have a survey done by a qualified electrician first to ensure the wiring is good enough to handle the high electrical draw. Get the wiring upgraded if necessary and ask for a separate electricity circuit for your charging socket. You will also need to make sure the socket is nearby where you charge as the charging cables are often not very long and you must never use an extension cable.

Charging times will depend on which country you're in - for an EV with a range of 100 miles you're looking at around six to eight hours in the UK but 16 to 20 hours in the USA. To speed things up wherever you live, you can install a home charging unit at an additional cost - around £800-1,000 in the UK at the moment. These guarantee safety and can charge the car around two and a half times faster than even a standard UK socket, so they're highly recommended by us.

To make the process easier for new buyers in the UK, if you buy a Nissan or Renault electric car you'll be offered a British Gas unit while Peugeot and Citroen have teamed up with EDF Energy. However, other reputable companies such as Chargemaster, Pod Point and APT Technologies can also install a dedicated home or office charging point.

Surveys show that 80% of European motorists drive less than 63 miles in a day, and the average daily distance in the UK is 25 miles. With 100 miles range becoming the current industry standard for EVs, that would mean you'll almost always be charging at home.

2. Charging away from home

Let's be honest, if you don't have off-street parking at home it's going to be a bit difficult for you to own an electric car right now. Figures suggest around 60% of the population of the UK do have off-street parking at home, but what should you do if you're one of the other 40%?

One solution if you plan to use an EV for commuting is to charge at work - you can top up there during the day and head home with a full battery. The other option is to 'opportunity charge' using on-street public charging points - public infrastructure, while not as important as first thought, continues to be rolled out across the UK and could be the answer for you.

The UK government's Plugged-In Places programme offers match-funding to business and public sector partners in eight regions across the UK, while private charging point companies are also getting in on the act in a big way. Recently, Chargemaster announced the first privately financed public charging point scheme.

There are different schemes operating across the UK, but the long term strategy is that motorists will have access to all charge facilities regardless of which scheme they are signed up to, as well as interoperability between all charge points.

At the moment, many charge points are free to use, but the model that is likely to emerge would involve motorists paying an annual subscription fee and then a small charge for the electricity used – charge points would be accessed by RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags.

But as EV trials to date demonstrate, 85% of electric motorists charge up at home and/or at work. So in reality public charge points are more about reassurance and the occasional top-up rather than an essential part of our EV strategy.