A necessary element of electromobility, electric car charging points are becoming increasingly common. They are found everywhere: in people’s homes of course, but also on the street, in parking lots and at highway rest areas. So which kind of charging point should you use on a daily basis, and how can you get the best out of it? We take a look at the different options.
Where can you charge your electric car and how? From domestic charging points and those available in service stations and highway rest areas, to those installed in supermarket parking lots, drivers now have access to multiple facilities for charging electric vehicles. As a matter of fact, in 2020, Europe counts more than 200,000 public charging stations, plus all the stations available in private locations such as the home, workplace etc. The number of publicly-available charging stations increases every year, with almost 25,000 in the United Kingdom, nearly 30,000 in France and around 33,000 in Germany. Among these, between 10-15% offer rapid charging. The different plans offered by operators each have their own advantages in terms of cost, speed and accessibility.
The best time to charge your electric car is obviously when you’re not using it! A lot of drivers therefore favor at-home overnight charging, so that they have a battery that’s good to go for the morning commute to work, for example. This way, before hitting the road in winter, you can even warm up the inside of the car automatically using a mobile app. The same goes for summer, where you can use air conditioning to pre-cool the car before you step inside. In both cases, the range is not affected since the vehicle gradually warms up or cools down while still plugged into the electricity supply.
In theory, a regular grounded power outlet is sufficient, but not having specialized hardware considerably reduces the power output supplied, making for a longer charging times: often close to 10 hours for a full charge. It is, however, possible to charge a car much faster at home using a power outlet adapted to the vehicle’s power output.
A review of the different at-home charging methods emphasizes the benefits of having a dedicated wall-mounted charging point, aka Wallbox. This domestic charging point has many advantages. It’s connected to the power grid via its own separate circuit. Whereas charging with a domestic power outlet is limited (to 10 amps in France, for example) the Wallbox can supply 32 amps or even more, depending on the model. This increased power makes charging 30% faster. In most cases, the Wallbox is hooked up to the car using a type 2 plug. The charging point has built-in components that can control the supply, for example by favoring off-peak hours, as part of a smart charging system. So, increasing the electricity output supplied to your home, and with it the fixed charges, is not necessarily unavoidable. The electronics in the Wallbox are designed to limit losses caused by the battery overheating while charging. Plus, it features mechanisms to protect against power surges to keep the home and family safe.
This type of charging point costs between 500 and 1,000 euros, plus possible installation costs that are sometimes covered by the manufacturer. Note that, in France, private individuals can get a 300-euro tax credit towards energy transition costs. There is help available in other countries too. These incentives help make the Wallbox a great solution for charging your Renault ZOE quickly at home or in any other private location.
With short trips and increasing restrictions on the use of polluting combustion engine vehicles, electric cars are the perfect compromise for getting around in urban areas. Large agglomerations mean lots of housing blocks, which is why the issue of electric vehicle charging in co-owned properties is being raised more and more.
For that purpose, the framework for a « right to a socket » was drawn up for co-owned properties in Europe via a 2018 directive called the EPBD (Energy Performance of Buildings Directive). In other words, it’s now possible to have a charging point installed in shared parking lots, apartment blocks or developments. The issue just needs to be raised and voted on at a co-owners’ association general meeting. Often this is just a formality. Such installations can even qualify for financial aid. For example, in France, a scheme to help individual or collective installations can cover up to 50% of the cost (amounts capped at 360 euros and 1,600 euros respectively). In the UK, the amount covered can reach 75% thanks to the implementation of a specific program led by the government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles. As for Norway, the country has built up a subsidy fund specially for energy and climate costs, subsidizing up to 20% of the costs incurred (subject to approval) up to a maximum of 5,000 krone (around 500 euros).
If you don’t have a charging point at home, you can sometimes use the facilities put at your disposal by your employer. More and more companies are equipping their parking lots with electric car charging points either for their company car fleet or for their employees’ personal vehicles. Subsidies in the form of tax incentives provide encouragement in most European countries, with sometimes quite significant amounts. This is good news for employees, who can enjoy free charging while they work!
The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive ratified by the European Parliament in June 2018 imposes a requirement for all new non-residential buildings with more than ten parking spaces to have at least one electric vehicle charging point.
In Europe, cities and local authorities are striving to support the upswing of electromobility as best they can by investing in public charging facilities. There is currently one charging point for every nine electric vehicles on the road, taking rechargeable hybrid cars into account – a figure close to the target set by the European Union.
These charging points usually accompany parking spaces reserved for electric vehicles. Since they are public, these charging points can be used by any road user and offer attractive charging rates. In some municipalities they are even free of charge. Though before hooking up, it is still wise to check the type of socket in use at the charging station.
Generally speaking, two-thirds of systems offer fast charging. That means that the charging points supply an output of between 14 and 22 kW. Using one of these, a full charge takes around two hours. There are also rapid charge charging points that supply output of between 24 and 130 kW. They currently account for around 10% of all charging points, but are increasingly common, which makes long road trips, on the highway for example, much easier.
There are a growing number of public charging networks, especially in large European cities as part of their “restricted traffic zones” reserved for the least polluting vehicles. But out in the suburbs the private sector is stepping in. Shopping malls have caught on to the benefits of offering charging points to their customers!
Megastores and specialist stores use charging points to attract and retain their electric car driving clientele, who can enjoy fast and free charging while shopping. The mechanism is so efficient that these charging stations sometimes become meeting points for electromobility enthusiasts. You generally have to pass by a reception desk to get a code or badge to activate the charging point. There are also subscription-based systems, so that drivers can use charging stations run by several different operators. It’s worth noting that there’s only a limited number of parking and charging spaces, which are often only open during store hours. Unfortunately, these days of free charging points could be numbered due to certain “electromobility freeloaders” abusing the system. For this reason, a major chain store recently decided to have users pay by the minute for its charging points. It turns out the rate is enough to dissuade misuse.
Parking lot operators also use the installation of charging points as a loss leader to promote their parking plans. Electric cars qualify for reserved spaces, along with charging services at preferential rates. At Zurich airport, for example, if you reserve your parking space in advance online you can charge your car at no additional cost using one of the Park & Charge zones’ 38 charging points.
In the event of an extended stop for a meal or for the night, you can also use charging points available at a growing number of hotels and restaurants.
For traveling between cities, electromobility users finally have access to charging points at rest areas and service stations along trunk roads and highways. These electric car charging points are most often managed by consortia of car manufacturers, municipalities and players from the energy sector.
These generally offer a high power output and therefore a fast charge for motorists who are in a hurry to pick up their journey where they left off. Charging may be billed by time spent, by power consumed or on a flat-rate basis. With rapid charge points, you should also consider the power output of the vehicle’s battery. For example, New ZOE comes with a Z.E. 50 battery that meets the technical requirements of a 50 kW charging point. When the car is hooked up to this kind of charging point, a full charge takes just one and hour and ten minutes. In 30 minutes, it regains enough energy for a 150 km* trip.
Some charging point networks operate nationwide, like Smatrics in Austria and EnBW in Germany. Others have more global ambitions. The E-VIA FLEX-E project, for example, aims to place high-output electric car charging points along the major road corridors of Southern Europe. Mobile apps like MY Renault simplify charging by letting you pay directly from your cellphone to use different charging networks without needing to have an access pass or specific subscription. When the need arises, there are lots of ways to find out where and how to find public charging points.
At home or on the move, in terms of speed, a battery on rapid charge reaches 80% of its charging capacity after only half the charging time. To finish charging completely, and top up the remaining 20%, you will have to wait for the same length of time again. But, in practice, many drivers find it’s usually enough to stop charging the electric vehicle battery at 80%, even more so on rapid charge points, where reaching this level of charge only takes 30 minutes for numerous electric cars.
* WLTP range, Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedures (standardized cycle: 57% urban driving, 25% suburban driving, 18% highway driving).
Copyrights: Anthony BERNIER, Christian Fournier, Frithjof OHM, iStock, Arnaud TAQUET, PRODIGIOUS Production