Electric Car Chargers Explained

Choosing to switch to an electric vehicle comes with a lot of considerations. One of the biggest is how and where you're going to charge your electric car once you have it.

Charging electric cars requires two things: a charging point and a connecting charging cable. Once you start to do research you can discover that there are multiple charging options available and be unsure which is the one that you need due to the different names for charging stations

When you break it down and look at each type individually it becomes much easier to understand their differences and where you'll actually need to use each option.

AC and DC Charging

Looking at charging speeds or types of charging points you will see the abbreviations AC and DC where current is discussed. These are essentially the two types of "fuel" that electric cars can use.

AC, or alternating current, is what most charging stations will give but electric vehicles can only store power as DC, direct current, which means that it needs to be converted before electric cars can use it.

The difference between AC and DC is the location where the power is converted. The power from an AC charging point is converted through the onboard charger in the electric car whilst the power from a DC fast charging point is converted in the charging point itself before being stored in the electric car battery.

Types of Chargers

There are four main types of electric car chargers: ultra rapid charging, rapid charging, fast charging, and slow charging. These all have different capabilities, meaning that they all fill a different need for electric car charging.

Ultra Rapid Chargers

Ultra rapid chargers are what you can usually expect to find along main traveling routes at motorway services. These supply high power, to recharge electric cars as quickly as possible. These are typically 100 kW upwards, with some that are 350 kW now appearing in the UK for the first time from brands like Ionity.

These are the next step in electric car charging as they are able to keep charging times down and to a minimum despite the battery capacity increasing in newer electric cars. Not all electric vehicles will be able to accept 100 kW but if they are plugged in to one of these EV charging stations the power will be restricted to accommodate the vehicle.

Rapid Chargers

These are the most common type of public electric car charging point in the UK at the moment and provide power of 50 kW. They've been the standard for rapid charging for most of the last decade and use Combined Charging System or CHAdeMO connectors to charge up to 80% in 20 minutes for most EVs.

All rapid units have tethered cables, meaning the cable is permanently attached to the charging unit and all you need to do is choose the correct cable for your electric car.

Fast Chargers

Fast charging points are either 7 kW or 22kW and usually untethered, which means that they don't have a cable attached and you must use the one that comes with your electric car. Typically 7 kW will charge in 4-6 hours with 22 kW taking 1-2 hours. You can expect to find these at supermarkets, shopping centres, or places where you're generally going to be there for a longer period of time.

Fast chargers can also be installed at your home from a range of different providers, giving you an efficient and flexible option for your current and future electric car.

Slow Chargers

Slow chargers have a much lower output rate, usually between 2.3 kW and 6 kW and can take anywhere from 6 to 12 hours for a full charge. Some people choose this as their option for their home charger as they can set the car up for overnight charging and not have to worry about the time that it takes.

As well as home chargers, lamppost chargers also fall into the slow charger category. These currently seem to be highest in number in England

Tesla Superchargers

Tesla has it's own network of rapid chargers which has more than 30,000 charging points worldwide. In the UK, you can mostly find these at motorway services and are currently rated at up to 150 kW. Tesla owners can expect a charge of up to 172 miles in 15 minutes.

They are working on the V3 charging points which will be ultra rapid and compete with the Ionity points by delivering up to 250 kW and have also launched trials in selected countries for non-Tesla drivers to use their supercharger points. Currently the UK is not part of the trial.

Which One Can I Use?

The good news is that you an use all of these EV chargers when you need to. You'll never be faced with the choice of having to choose a slow charger because there aren't any free rapid chargers available. The charger that you use for your electric car at home will be different to the one that you use at a service station or when you're parked in a shopping centre.

Types of Connectors

There are several types of connectors which match up with the different types of car. Your car will come with a cable that has the correct plug for your car's socket type and then at the charging station all of the cables are generally compatible.

If it's a charging point with a tethered cable there will usually be options for the most common connectors, with you only having to choose the one that fits your car.

The charging cable that comes with your electric car will generally work with all home and public charging points (not including the Tesla superchargers which run specifically for Tesla models.) These have two different plugs at the ends of the cable, one specific to your car and then one that will fit the charging points.

Combined Charging System (CCS) is a five pin plug allows for charging up to 350 kW DC and has two different formats to make sure that you have the right combination to use at the charging station. It always has additional power contacts from a Type 1 or Type 2 socket which allows DC fast charging. This is used mostly by German and US manufacturers.

CHAdeMO is an alternative to a CCS connector plug. The main difference is that the CHAdeMO name was developed by the Tokyo Electric Power Company, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Fuji Heavy Industries and is favoured by Japanese and Korean manufacturers. However it only gives an output up to 50 kW DC.

Type 2 is the socket that the majority of electric cars have and can be used for up to 43 kW AC. These are 7 pin plugs and you will find that most untethered charging points for homes will use this, making connection easy when you move.

Type 1 is a socket type that is generally found on older electric vehicles, such as the original Nissan Leaf, and can only use up to 7 kW to charge. It's incredibly unlikely that you'll see this unless you purchase an older electric car.

You can also use a UK three-pin plug to charge your electric car which will provide up to 3 kW AC. This can take as long as 24 hours to charge an electric car, depending on your model, which can really slow you down and also restrict you when you travel away from home.

Summary

The number of different charger types and connecting cables can be overwhelming at first glance. However once you've chosen your car, you can use public chargers easily either with your own cable or the tethered one at the station.

As the charging infrastructure continues to expand and improve it's only going to be easier to charge an electric car. Many new housing developments are being built with home charging points as a standard meaning that you'll no longer have to have an electric car charger installed after you've moved in.

Electric car charging is much easier and much more widely available than a decade ago.

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