Shell electric car charging station

What to expect at an electric-car charging station

What are electric charging stations and how do you charge your electric car battery at one? Our guide tells you everything you need to know.

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By Cazoo editorial team

Electric cars are increasingly popular, and the UK’s battery charging infrastructure is expanding rapidly to cater for them. Electric charging stations and electric charging hubs offer you quick, easy and accessible charging. Here’s everything you need to know about the electric equivalent of petrol stations.

What are electric-car charging stations?

Electric-car charging stations are dedicated spaces with a group of individual charging points, which will usually be marked as slow, fast or rapid, referring to the speed at which they can recharge your car’s battery. The charger will display the speed, but you can also find this information on charging apps like Zap-Map.

Such charging stations could include a couple of fast chargers in the corner of the local shopping centre’s car park or a row of rapid chargers at a motorway services – there’s no set definition. Usually charging stations offer fast or rapid charging, but some may offer slow charging too, and some offer a mix of options.

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How many electric charging stations are there and where can I find one??

There are thousands of electric charging stations all across the country, ranging in size, charging speed and price. Some of the largest are found at motorway service areas because lots of drivers need to stop and recharge on busy routes. The best way to find your nearest charging station is to download an app like Zap-Map, or use your car’s navigation system.

What is an electric charging hub and what can I expect?

Charging stations are a relatively common sight across the country, but larger electric charging hubs are a new concept. These are sites devoted solely to electric-car charging, with a larger number of charging stations. They’re designed to give you a frustration-free experience that replicates the familiarity of a petrol station.

There are two dedicated all-electric charging hubs, one in Essex and another in London, but there are plans for more around the UK.

Charging provider Gridserve calls its hub an Electric Forecourt and opened its first site in Braintree, Essex, in 2020. Shell’s first dedicated hub –called Shell Recharge, like its charging stations – opened in the Fulham area of London at the start of 2022. Both companies say they have plans for hundreds more sites across the UK.

Obviously, the most important part of a hub is the charging, with infrastructure designed to be inexpensive, fast and easy to use. Both Shell Recharge and Gridserve offer ultra-rapid charging, with speeds from 175kW to 350kW. While not all electric cars are compatible with these faster charging speeds, the chances are that the newer the car, the faster you’ll be able to fill up the battery. You can get a full charge in about 10 minutes, which is about the same time it takes to fill a petrol tank, queue at the kiosk, pay and return to your car.

If you want to relax and unwind while you wait for the battery to recharge, these hubs have lots of facilities that might appeal. Need to squeeze in a workout? Want to grab a book to read? Tired, ‘hangry’ and desperate for a hot meal? Gyms, bookshops and restaurants are just a few of the things that electric hubs can offer.

Shell Recharge, Fulham

How much does it cost to charge my battery at an electric charging station?

This depends on the type of charger you are using, the cost per kW of electricity, the supplier and the percentage of charge your battery needs. You might find free charging at supermarkets, car parks or public buildings like town halls, but you’ll probably need to pay to use public charging stations – these normally work on a ‘plug and pay’ basis.

Companies like BP Pulse, Ecotricity and Ionity offer memberships that work on a loyalty basis. If you sign up for a monthly plan then you benefit from a discounted charging rate, no matter how often you charge. In early 2022, Gridserve charged 39p/kWh while Shell Recharge fast charging cost 45p/kWh and Shell ultra-rapid cost 49p/kWh.

How do I pay?

You can normally pay with a contactless card or Apple Pay and Google Pay, by using an app or by scanning a QR code on your phone and paying online. Apps like Zap-Map will show you payment options so you can check before you get to the charger. A handful of suppliers require you to download an app to pay, but this is unusual.

How do I go about charging?

Our charging guide will help you get the answers to all things charging-related, from cables to connectors. As a general rule, charging stations work in much the same way as charging at home, or on the street – you pull up, plug in and recharge. Just like Apple and Android devices use different cables, so do electric cars. It can be confusing initially to know which cable to use, but our guide explains the differences.

A tethered electric-car charging station has a cable attached to it, while untethered charging points don’t. Typically, tethered chargers are found at public points, such as motorway services, while lamppost and home chargers are the most common untethered chargers. You have to use your own cable at an untethered charger, so make sure you always keep one in the boot.

Cables have a connector (a plug head) that slots into the car’s charging port. The most common is Type 2, which allows slow, fast and sometimes rapid charging, but some older electric cars might use Type 1, which only allows slow and fast charging. For rapid charging, CCS cables are the most common type. They’re compatible with Type 2 connectors and can plug into the same socket. Some rapid chargers use what’s known as CHAdeMO cables, but cars need to have an additional plug socket to use them. These chargers tend to be less common.

Is there a charging etiquette?

Brits like to pride themselves on their good manners and that should extend to electric-car charging. While there aren’t set rules, there are a few things that are commonly agreed among the electric-car community.

Firstly, keep an eye on your charging status and be ready to move your car once its battery is charged so the next person can quickly plug in. Secondly, it’s a definite no-no to unplug someone else’s car (some cars lock-in the charger anyway). If there's a fully charged car at the charger you want to use, it should usually just be a simple case of leaving a note or asking a member of staff (if there is one) to make an announcement that the car is ready to go.

Thirdly, fully electric cars should be given priority over plug-in hybrid cars because their need for charging is greater without petrol to fall back on. Be selfless and let the electric car go first. Finally, looking after the chargers is a collective responsibility, so stow the cable neatly, report any damage and help someone if you see they are having difficulty.

Tesla Superchargers

Electric carmaker Tesla has its own proprietary chargers, called Superchargers. They’re red and white, very distinctive, and there are lots of them around the country. They’re also a brand perk, because only Tesla drivers can use them – although that may change in the future.

Some Teslas have unlimited, free access to the Supercharger network. As a general rule, any Model S or Model X bought new before November 2020 was eligible, while cars sold after that got 400kW of free charging per year before their owners had to pay. However, not every free Supercharging deal is transferable to subsequent owners. It’s best to check what circumstances apply to the particular car you’re considering.

There are two types of Tesla Supercharger. The most common is the rapid V2 Supercharger, which delivers speeds up to 150kW, giving you 80% charge from empty in 30 minutes. There are also newer V3 Superchargers that are even faster at up to 250kW, which could halve the charging time. They were first introduced in 2019, but are still quite rare.

The V2 Superchargers use both Type 2 and CCS cables for rapid charging. Type 2 and CCS cables are very similar but CCS cables can handle more power for rapid charging (50kWh and above).

At present the Model 3 is the only car that can use the V3 Supercharger’s CCS cables. The Model S, Model X and Model Y use Type 2 charging cables, so you’ll need to purchase Tesla’s adapter to use the V3 Supercharger’s CCS cables.

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