Chief among the many things to consider when buying an electric car is probably how you’re going to charge its battery. Home charging provider BP Chargemaster says that four in five electric cars have their batteries replenished at home – but anyone who thinks electric cars simply charge from the regular mains wall socket is in for a shock (pun intended).
Charging from a three-pin plug isn’t dangerous, it just happens at a glacially slow rate. The answer is a home charging point, so you won’t have to subject yourself to the UK’s variable public charging network.
What are home charging points?
Typically, these are boxes that sit on an exterior wall of your property. You can buy them with cables that are plumbed in (you must obviously get the right connector to match your car, although they are becoming standardised), or simply with a socket that the cable that came with your car plugs into. The former is more convenient, the latter neater.
The power output of the most popular home chargers in the UK varies from 3.7 to 7kW (generally speaking, the higher this kW output figure the quicker your battery will be charged). This will give between 15 and up to 30 miles of range per hour of charging.
A domestic three-pin plug’s 2.3kW will yield just eight miles of range after an hour’s charging. Some households might even have a three-phase electrical supply. This means you could install a 22kW charger which will harvest 90 miles of range in an hour.
How easy are they to install?
Very easy. They must be installed by a professional and companies that fit them estimate the job takes about two hours, as long as the wiring of your house is suitable.
They mustn’t be fitted outside the boundary of your property. And it’s a no-no having a cable trailing from the charging point across any public right of way to your car.
Where do you buy a charging point from?
The Office for Low Emissions (OLEV) has a list of charging units that are approved for its grant. It also has a list of approved installers. However, both are bafflingly long. Your best bet is to ask the dealer you’re buying the car from for a recommendation (they might have a preferential rate with some installers), or simply do an internet search.
What about that government grant?
This comes from OLEV and is worth £350 of the installation cost. You’ll be eligible if you have dedicated off-street parking, your plug-in vehicle was bought after 1 October 2016, you haven’t already claimed the grant for that vehicle, and you don’t already have more than one OLEV-funded charging point.
You can also apply the grant to company cars or EVs bought on finance, providing you’re going to have them for more than six months.
How much will it cost?
Some manufacturers will supply a complimentary charger when you buy an electric car. If you must pay, how much depends on the type of charger you choose. There are multiple government-approved charging points available. If you don’t mind what it looks like – astonishingly, for what is essentially plug socket, funky design is a sales point – you can shop around for the cheapest.
As a ballpark figure, PodPoint’s 3.6kW charger (including OLEV grant) costs £449, its 7kW unit is £529 (inc. grant) and a 22kW charger is £1,169 (inc. grant). BP Chargermaster’s 7kW unit costs £549 including the grant.
However, independent outlets may sell the same products for less. The cheapest home charger we found was a 7.4kW outlet from £382 (inc. grant).
Things to look out for
Depending on the age of your house, you may need to upgrade your distribution board. The installer should tell you this. For other things to look out for, we asked home electric car charging supplier Pod Point.
James McKemey, its head of insights, said: “Check whether the charger has load balancing. Some providers (Pod Point included) offer this. It monitors your property’s electrical consumption and controls the car charger to ensure it never exceeds a safe level. This means 7kW units can be installed at almost every property.
“Think about charge point location. Where you’ll park your car and the location of its socket are factors, as is cable length. Five-metre cables are standard but you can buy longer. And the nearer the charge point to the electrical supply, typically the easier and, therefore, cheaper the installation will be.
“It’s a good idea to choose a charge point with connectivity, either via your home wifi or mobile network. This allows you to collect and view charging data via a smartphone app. You can also update functionality and receive remote support diagnostics.
“No fancy kit is required for solar panels on your roof to contribute towards charging your car. If the panels are generating and you’re plugged in, you’re charging on solar. But most people charge at night when solar yields are poor, so you’ll need a separate static battery. We think these are rarely economically wise.
“Finally, check the warranty on point and installation. At Pod Point we offer a three-year warranty as standard.”
Why charge at home?
Speed aside, charging at home is cheaper than at on-street charging points. It’s more convenient, too. Get home at the end of a journey, plug in your car and by the time you need to leave for the morning commute, the battery will be fully replenished.
Cold, draughty fuel station forecourts and payments the wrong side of £50 will be history. If your home charger has a mobile phone app, you can see your car’s state of charge instantly.
And you can also program many home chargers to take advantage of cheap electricity tariffs if they’re available.
How to work out charging cost
Electric car battery size is calculated in kilowatt hours (kWh). If you look at your electricity tariff, it will be in pence per kWh. To calculate the cost of charging a car’s battery from empty to full you multiply battery size by the pence per kWh you pay your energy supplier.
For example, if you have a new Nissan Leaf e+ with a 62kWh battery and your electricity tariff is 12p/kWh, the cost of a full charge will be £7.44.
Nissan claims that’s sufficient for 239 miles. In an internal combustion-engined car that does 45mpg, the petrol to cover about the same distance would cost about £25.
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