This guide tells you what you need to know about public charging in the UK.
Most of the UK public charging infrastructure has been installed on the back of various grant or incentive schemes, and the history of these schemes heavily influences the networks we see today. A number of organizations were set up (or structured their commercial operations) specifically to take advantage of these grants: some have sought an opportunity to ‘land grab’ as much territory as possible, while others seemingly had no long-term plan and began to wither away once the grant money ran out. Grant money has come from several sources and at different times (and continues to do so), hence you can find examples in all the stages: new roll-outs, steady state maintenance, and in decay.
The combination of a desire for ‘land grab’ of potential customers by the network operators and a desire for auditability from sources of funding means that there has been a big focus on use of access cards and network branding – even though many of the chargepoints don’t actually charge any money and have no need of access control. So you will find yourself with a collection of smartcards in your glovebox and/or many apps on your phone.
The situation is complicated by the fact that most of the networks don’t actually own many (or any) charge points – they typically assisted the property owner with accessing grant funding to get the point installed but it then belongs to the property owner and the network just provides management services. Hence the same point sometimes appears on several networks. There are often ‘free’ and chargeable-use points in the same network, since the owner of the point (who typically pays for the electricity) generally sets the pricing. Some points are not available to the general public despite being nominally part of one of the networks. There is also a confusing set of ‘roaming’ agreements for one card to work on another network’s points.
Most points are online to some extent but also have lists of acceptable card numbers stored in the post. This means:
- Several networks now offer access via a mobile app as an alternative to getting a smartcard. This is good for obtaining instant access to a point on a network you haven’t used before but doesn’t work if the post is offline, either due to a fault or because that post is never online (maybe due to no mobile phone reception in that location). So it is safer to have the card available for points you count on using.
- The offline lists may not be updated very often. This means that a newly-issued card might not work at all points in the network immediately.
A good resource for locating charge points is zap-map.com – click on one of the charge point markers and select the ‘info’ tab to see which network a particular point belongs to (and hence which charge card you need to access it). Zap-map has recently added ‘live’ status information for Chargemaster locations (and hopes to add other networks in due course). In addition to the static info about the sites it is sometimes useful to read user feedback and activity reports to gauge whether a site is likely to be working and accessible. Two other sites are worth looking at: OpenChargeMap is fairly comprehensive, but slightly clunky to use. Plugshare is slicker but is entirely crowd-sourced and has less coverage of the UK at present. It is worth leaving reports on these sites if you find a point out of order or hard to locate. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of finding chargepoints in unfamiliar locations, especially at night or where traffic makes it hard to stop and look around: Homework in advance of a trip, looking at Google Streetview or photos on Plugshare etc., can make all the difference.
Unfortunately, although there are several ‘national’ networks, grant funding was typically allocated such that a cluster of points in a local area all went to the same operator. Hence none of the networks have truly national coverage, even if they have points in many parts of the country. You will often find that if the most convenient point is on a network you don’t like, then the next nearest one will be too!
- Ecotricity. Primarily an electricity/gas supplier who has decided to set up a national network of rapid charging points mainly at motorway service areas. Ran for a number of years with access controlled by a (free) card and no usage charges, but both the access method and price changed from July/August 2016. Access is now controlled exclusively by an iPhone/Android app – no smartphone, no access. Tariff is now based on 30 minute sessions, priced at £6/session, but with up to 52 sessions a year free for customers who buy their home gas/electricity from Ecotricity. The small number of 22kW AC standard chargpoints that are installed alongside the rapid chargers at a few locations are expected to remain card-operated (and no-cost) for the forseeable future. The new tariff now makes Ecotricity one of the more expensive networks (depending on the amount of charge your car is able to take on during a 30 minute session, and whether you actually need all 30 minutes for your typical journeys), but the convenient locations on motorways mean that Ecotricity is still the first choice for long-distance travel.
- Chargemaster / Polar. Very commercial. Has a tie-in with BMW. Has changed prices and terms several times since launch, but now offers two different products – PolarPlus with an access card and monthly subscription, and PolarInstant for ad-hoc usage controlled via phone app. Although many of the locations are in common, these two products do not give access to precisely the same set of charging points: PolarPlus includes a number of points not available using the PolarInstant app (notably many ex-PluggedInMidlands locations), while the PolarInstant map includes a number of locations at private homes which offer private parking spaces with parking that have to be booked via www.justpark.com. Both maps include sites which may not be available to the general public (eg. staff carparks or ‘customers only’ ). The BMW-branded ChargeNow originally had different terms, but now appears to be simply a branded version of PolarPlus with the same terms. Many locations are ‘free’ (ie. the site pays for the electricity). With PolarPlus, ‘free’ sites are included in the subscription, while all other sites are charged at 9p/kWh, billed to a monthly statement and collected by direct debit. With PolarInstant, you need to load £20 of credit to your account before you can access any charge points, even ‘free’ ones, and chargeable locations are charged based on time rather than kWh (working out much more expensive than PolarPlus for regular users). From 1st Dec 2015, PolarInstant has added an ‘administration charge’ of £1.20 per session at the ‘free’ locations. PolarPlus also has a loyalty scheme, collecting points for usage which can be exchanged for a week’s use of Tesla, BMW i8 etc. In September 2016, Chargemaster puchased the parent company of CYC; while initial press statements indicated that the two networks would continue to operate independently, a few days later Polar users were given access to most of the chargepoints on the CYC network in England (currently Scotland is excluded, and also some locations with technical issues). Polar users at many CYC locations continue to pay the standard Polar tariff, which sometimes results in different pricing at the same location depending on which card you use to start the charge. At the most expensive locations, Polar users pay the same site-specific price as CYC users.
- ChargeYourCar (CYC). Was originally a regional network but has now taken over some others (and is providing back-office service to still more) and so has become national. Card is £20 per year but can also access most (but not all) of their points via mobile app without paying for the card. Mobile app requires you to register a credit card but, unlike Chargemaster, nothing is billed to it if you just use ‘free’ points. Quite a range of different tariffs at their various locations (with a reasonable proportion ‘free’). Can get cards with access to their network cheaper via other networks that use CYC as back-office: see below. Also offers automated telephone service to access charge points but this has the same limitations as the app (needs credit card and doesn’t work with 100% of points). Now has a european roaming agreement with The New Motion (Netherlands based, coverage in BE, NL, DE, AT). As noted above, CYC has recently been bought by Chargemaster; the long term effects of this are unclear, especially in Scotland where CYC had just won a new contract from Transport Scotland to manage the public network there.
- Podpoint. Primarily a manufacturer of charge point equipment but also operates a network. The original network – operated with their own pod-point access card – contained many points on other networks where PodPoint were providing back-office functions, but did have a few PodPoint-unique locations. That network is now moribund, the access card is available but of limited value for new users. In 2014/15 PodPoint raised £1.4m ‘crowd funding’ for network expansion. Launched in autumn 2015, the new “PodPoint Open Charge” is a completely separate network with an innovative mode of working. No access cards are required for the new network, and up to 15 minutes of free charging is available simply by plugging in; to extend the charge beyond 15 minutes, payment needs to be provided via iPhone app or website. This has the great advantage of allowing you to move away from the carpark in search of better mobile signal, or to at least get some charge in an emergency if your phone and/or the chargepoint’s comms link are not working. Some of the locations on the old network are being converted to the new network, while others remain in limbo – only accessible with the old card, and often out-of-order due to lack of maintenance contracts. The main map shows both networks mixed together, with pricing info and the facility to start a charge at ‘new’ locations, and a link to request an access card for ‘old’ locations. There is also a separate map for the new network only (though this is less useful now that the main map has been improved).
- Charge Point Genie. Initially 11 locations in Hampshire (as at March ’15), but other areas being added – Cornwall/Devon and Hackney from Summer ’15, also Cumbria and some random locations not part of a regional scheme. Many locations have CHAdeMO and high-power AC but others have 22kW AC (requires dual chargers for Model S to take full advantage), or 7kW AC. . Appears to be a collaboration of electricity distributor SSE and charging equipment/back-office provider Charge Point Services. Exact details of charges vary by location (ie. site owner) but they are converging on a standard of 30p/kWh plus a connection charge (often £1.80 at CHAdeMO points, 60p at AC-only), and in some cases a penalty charge for over-staying, all inc VAT. Maximum time at locations with the overstay penalty is typically 1hr at CHAdeMO/CCS units, 4 hours on AC. Registration is free; an access card then costs £20, but there is also a facility via the website to register an existing access card from another network into your CPG account. Old Ecotricity cards are particularly convenient for this as they have the card number printed on them. Access is also available from any internet device via their website (with the site customised for mobile use). There was previously an iPhone app, but this has been phased out in favour of the ‘web app’ (ie. accessing the website on the phone browser). Need to load credit before you can charge, but apparently now minimum of £1 (was £10).
- Elektromotive. Not a network as such, but a chargepoint equipment operator who also provide back-office support for the equipment they supply, on behalf of other networks. This can be a source of difficulty as it puts an extra party in the middle between reporting faults to the network and getting them fixed. Now acquired by Chargemaster, along with CYC.
- ZeroCarbonWorld/Zeronet. Unique in many ways: a charity that donates charging equipment and then provides marketing. Their chargepoints don’t require any cards or other mechanism to access – just plug in and go. This means that ZCW don’t actually ‘operate’ a network as such: they simply facilitate installation of charging at various destinations (mainly hotels, restaurants etc.), with the points then being maintained by the locations. Generally free-of-charge for customers of the places where they are installed. ZCW encourage you to report faults etc. to the location and also on OpenChargeMap which they monitor.
- Teslowjuice.com. Mutual-assistance scheme for Tesla drivers to offer their home or business charging facilities for other owners to use when away from home. Free of charge and run by Tesla owners. Also offers portable charging equipment rental on a non-profit basis.
- Nissan Dealers. Many Nissan dealers have CHAdeMO chargers installed for the benefit of their Nissan Leaf customers; these would in theory be useful to Tesla drivers with the CHAdeMO adapter. Reports vary as to their willingness to charge non-customer vehicles – some are happy to do so, some can be persuaded and others flat out refuse, so best to call first. Note that most locations are only available during business hours.
- Franklin Energy. New network launched in March 2016, initially with 22kW AC chargepoints in Q-park carparks., subsequently expanded to include Britannia carparks. Offering the customary arrangement of website based activation for pay-as-you-go and RFID card for regular users, though proposing to provide free WiFi at chargepoints to resolve the issue of mobile phone access inside multi-storey carparks. Standard price of £0.30/kWh at AC chargepoints; planning to introduce rapid (CHAdeMO/CCS) units priced at £2 per 10 minutes (which will typically give a similar cost per kWh when charging below 100% full). Also appears to offer premium-rate SMS activation, but it is not clear how this works or is tariffed. Appears to share back-office with Nordic operator Charge & Drive and so provides roaming both in C&D’s home territory and with UK-network EVDriver. Information is not obvious on main website – access via my.franklinenergy.co.uk.
- EVDriver. Off-shoot of established Solar/green energy installer East Green Energy. Launched in late 2016 with a small number of locations in Suffolk. RFID card available for £5 one-off fee, otherwise activation via website. Prices vary per point (set by host), but currently all appear free. As with Franklin, appears to use back-office from Charge & Drive and so provides mutual roaming.
- Rolec EV Charge Online. Well-known charging equipment manufacturer Rolec announced in September 2016 that they were launching a network. Supposedly novel features of a PAYG tariff and access to the network via phone app rather than access cards are actually much the same as many other networks. Currently they are still recruiting site owners and have not yet announced any locations other than one at their own HQ. An offer to support non-Rolec hardware suggests that they are trying to pick up sites from the remaining regional networks that have run out of funding. The recent launch of a new hardware product – incorporating a chargepoint into a standard streetlamp – suggests that they are trying to recruit local authorities onto the network for on-street charging.
- Source London. Originally an organ of Transport for London, in September ’14 it was taken over by IER (Bolloré group, with experience of similar schemes in France). Originally offering free charging (pay only to receive the RFID card), the network had fallen into disrepair with many points not working or with access lists not updated to accept all cards. Construction work has been in progress to replace existing on-street chargepoints with new ones to a unique IER design with 7kW Type2 socket and Type1 tethered cable (the latter not usable with Tesla Model S). A side-effect of these new arrangements is that some chargepoints are now orphaned – no longer listed on the SL map and unmaintained, but sometimes working with cards from other networks. New tariff was launched in October 2016: £4/month and 3.6p/minute (min 20 minutes, capped at £8.64 for an overnight session 8pm-7am). The per-minute charges are understood to apply only at locations directly managed by Source London and using the new IER hardware – other locations will continue to accept the Source London card. Rapid chargers are also due to be available through partnership with Chargepoint Genie – priced at £1.80/session plus £0.30/kWh. It is not clear whether this will also mean that Source London slow chargepoints can be accessed with a CPG card for ad-hoc use without the £4/month Source London fee. Terms and conditions assert an unreasonable £20 charge (plus unlimited session fees!) if you trip over a bug in their chargpoint software that allows you to unplug without properly ending the session.
- Source East. Card is notionally £10, although ‘temporary’ problems have prevented new users obtaining them for many months now. Such points as actually work are free to use as there’s no billing mechanism; a number of points appear to be private-use or otherwise restricted. This is a dying network – there has been no expansion, many points are unmaintained and existing locations are slowly being picked off by other network operators. Back office previously provided by some combination of PodPoint and Elektromotive, but apparently undergoing change. Claims to provide roaming onto Source London and Plugged In Midlands, but this appears to have been terminated with the change of ownership of those two networks. Some locations with Elektromotive hardware do not appear to have their access lists updated to work with recently-issued Source East cards, but some users report success using CYC cards instead! Other locations with Chargemaster hardware can be accessed with Polar cards as well as SourceEast.
- Plugged in Midlands. Now simply a brand owned by Chargemaster and no longer qualifies as a regional network. Was originally an independent network with its own access card. During 2014, transitioned many sites to ChargeYourCar management but kept the PiM card for others. In Autumn 2015, the whole network was sold to Chargemaster and absorbed into the PolarPlus network (including most of the sites that had been managed by CYC).
- GMEV Greater Manchester. Many free charge points in Greater Manchester. Operations have now been fully subsumed by CYC (they do not issue their own cards, just encourage you to join CYC), but branding remains. Application form for card linked in the middle of this page. This takes you to the CYC site and formerly offered you the GMEV-branded CYC card for a subsidised £10 one-time fee rather than CYC’s usual £20 per year. However, the GMEV subsidy became restricted to residents of the Greater Manchester area and may now have been withdrawn altogether.
- Source West Covering Bristol/Bath/Gloucester. Operated entirely by CYC. Offers free CYC card to local residents of those cities (plus North Somerset/North-east Somerset/South Gloucestershire council areas) via sign-up form.
- Energise. Appears to have got recent (2014) grant money to install a bunch of triple-standard (AC/CHAdeMO/CCS) fast chargers in the South East (being defined as Kent/Surrey/Sussex) and, despite the consolidation going on among the other regional networks, has decided to launch a new regional network! However, back-office is by CYC (and card gives access to all CYC points) so this is effectively another way of getting a CYC card. Early subscribers received the Energise card for a reduced price; current pricing unclear, but probably the same as CYC. Energise has an agreement with Southern Railway for access for chargepoints in station carparks; some of these are managed by operators other than CYC (eg. Brighton, managed by PodPoint) and don’t appear on the CYC map yet can apparently be used with all CYC cards, not just the Energise ones.
- Ecar Northern Ireland. Network of charge points across Northern Ireland. All of their points are 22kW or better – most are 22kW AC but there are also some dual AC/CHAdeMO. Requires their own card – issued free via sign-up form. Their card also gives access to points in the Republic of Ireland operated by ESB E-car, again currently free but due to become chargeable. It has now been announced that control of EcarNI has been handed over to ESB, though it is not clear whether the separate branding will remain or if the networks will be combined into a single all-Ireland network. Meanwhile ESB has announced details of pricing for their existing network: from Jan 2016, new customers have to pay a €16.95 monthly fee but initially no per-usage charge; from April, existing users will also start paying the monthly fee and all users will additionally pay €0.30 per minute fee at fast (ie. CHAdeMO) locations.
- Engenie. Not to be confused with ChargePointGenie! Claims to be a national network, but currently just 3 points in Cheshire. Entirely pay-as-you-go tariffs (no up-front fee or need to pre-load credit – charged directly to your credit card each time). Original announcement included the facility to use credit cards directly with readers on the chargepoints, but this now appears to have been replaced by mobile app/website access, similar to CPG and others. All points planned to be AC/CHAdeMO/CCS units, which can charge one car on AC and another on CHAdeMO/CCS at the same time. Tariff (including VAT) is 36p per kWh plus 36p transaction charge to cover credit card fees. Maximum permitted stay 90 minutes. Temporarily, charging is free pending resolution of problems with the payment mechanisms.
European networks for touring
This section is intended to identify charging options useful for UK-based drivers traveling abroad and tips for accessing networks as a foreigner. Full listings of the networks in each country will be the subject of separate articles.
- KiWhi Pass France-only network of mostly fast (AC/CHAdeMO) charge points accessed with the ‘KiWhi pass’ card. Sign-up form for the card assumes you are a french resident, but several people report success via signing up online with the company’s own HQ as the address and then contacting them to get the card sent out. More detail here. Most points are free to use at present but it is all set up as a pay-per-hour system. Map of locations available on the website and there is also an iPhone app (which you can use for the map function without needing to register).
- Sodetrel Mobilité and the Corri-door network. New network of chargepoints primarily at service areas on the French Autoroute network. Requires a monthly subscription to obtain the card (though lowest tier is only EUR3/month with EUR10 sign-up fee but no minimum term). Most points then priced in 5-minute units with price depending on the subscription tier.
- MobiSDECLocal network in northern France (centered on Caen)
- VirtaEV Covers Loire valley in France, also parts of Switzerland and Finland. Dense population of points in their coverage areas rather than any attempt at national coverage.
- AutoLib. Paris area only. Predominantly a ‘Car club’-style short-term hire operator of EVs, you can also use their charging infrastructure to charge your own car. Beware that you need a type3 charging cable to use these points to best advantage, although some (?) points also provide a standard domestic-style socket that can be used for a slower charge if you have a Tesla UMC or similar. Detailed instructions on how to sign up and use the chargepoints here.
- The New Motion Netherlands-based operator with points in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria. Variety of different charge point types/powers, mostly with many fairly low power AC. Variable pricing; some points charged per kWh and others by time. Most easily accessed using a UK-issued CyC card (see UK section above), but several UK drivers have succeeded in obtaining a card directly from The New Motion. Having a native TNM account also gives access to their roaming partners in other countries (while CYC card does not).
- ESB E-car Republic of Ireland. Can obtain card directly or use ECarNI card from Northern Ireland.
- Hera Italy. Some users report success in obtaining a card from outside Italy via email@example.com.
- DUE Energia Italy. Some users report success in obtaining a card from outside Italy via firstname.lastname@example.org. Discussion here.
- Smartics Austria. Network usable with cards from TheNewMotion. UK-issued CYC cards do not work however.
- PlugSurfing.com German network aggregator, with roaming to various networks elsewhere in Europe (eg. TheNewMotion). Has their own app, and issues a ‘keyhanger’ in place of a card. Good English-language website.
- IBIL Spanish network with reasonable CHAdeMO coverage. Access card apparently available to buy from Repsol petrol stations. Some reports of incompatibility with Tesla adapter.
- Eon (denmark) EoN will activate chargepoints over the phone (customer service +45 70 27 05 77) for flat rate DKK9 (approx £10)
- France. Older charging points use the (French-designed) ‘Type3’ connector, rather than the ‘Type2’ used in most other parts of Europe. In theory the Type3 is being phased out but some points are likely to remain for many years. It is possible to obtain a Type3c to Type2 cable (essentially the same as the Type2->Type2 cable you already have but with a Type3c plug at the wall end) but they are expensive and it’s bulky to carry, especially given that you still need carry your Type2 cable for more modern points. Note also that the reason used to justify the existence of the type3 is that it has shutters over the pins – hence the plugs and sockets look similar and it may appear at first glance that they won’t mate. Chargemap.com (or their mobile app) recommended for locating public charging points in France (it’s a crowd-sourced database comparable to Plugshare, but French). Renault’s Bornes-ZE map may also be useful.
- Germany. e-tankstellen-finder.com recommended for locating chargepoints. Many do not require access cards/memberships.
- Norway: Useful info here – http://www.tocn.no/tourist-in-norway-in-an-electric-car/
KiWhi Pass France
Instructions for applying from outside France, as supplied by KiWhi support:
Step 1 : Click here : https://moncompte.kiwhipass.fr/enroll/infosadmin
Step 2 : Fill in your personal informations as follow
– PRENOM / NOM – Your NAME / LAST NAME
– DATE DE NAISSANCE – Your birth date
– DEPARTEMENT DE NAISSANCE – Please enter exactly this information : 53
– ADRESSE – Your address
– COMPLEMENT – Your country
– CODE POSTAL – Please enter exactly this information : 99999
– VILLE : Etranger
– TELEPHONE & E-MAIL – Your phone number and your e-mail address
– MOT DE PASSE – Enter your password
And validate all your registered information
Step 3 : Receive your card at your personal address!
We invite you to send us on email@example.com your personal address and your country of residence, in order to deliver you the KiWhi card ordered at home.0176544119
Subsequent advice from KiWhi, applicable to renewing an existing card, is to use 0176544119 as the phone number if your number is rejected by the online form.