Even though 80% of electric vehicle (EV) charging happens at home, there will always be occasions when you want to charge on-the-go using the growing network of public charging stations across the UK.
There are thousands of charge points being added across the UK and Europe every year, meaning the EV charging network map is always evolving and expanding.
The good news is that you can easily find locations to charge your electric car in a cost efficient way using a host of smartphone apps and websites. These will show you where your nearest EV charge point is, whether it’s being used, what it will cost you to charge your EV there, and even whether the charger is working or in need of repair.
- [How Many Electric Car Charging Stations Are There In The UK?(#how-many-electric-car-charging-stations-are-there-in-the-uk-)
- Can I Charge My Electric Car For Free?
- The Cost Of Charging An Electric Car At Home
- Where Can You Find A Free Electric Car Charger?
- How To Find EV Charge Stations
- Which Public Charging Networks Are Available?
How Many Electric Car Charging Stations Are There In The UK?
According to Zap-Map.com, there are now 17,483 locations across the UK that offer EV charging and you’ll find 27,749 separate chargers spread across those locations.
More and more rapid chargers are being installed across the UK to ensure drivers using EVs for longer journeys have the facilities they need. That’s why you tend to find rapid chargers within close range of major motorways and busier trunk roads.
Rapid chargers offer the fastest potential charging times but do tend to cost a little more. And as more and more suppliers begin to install these chargers, you may need to register or subscribe to the specific energy provider’s service before you can use the charger itself.
Can I Charge My Electric Car For Free?
Several public charging companies still offer free charging but not all public charge points are free these days. The majority of Pod Point units offer free charging and the Tesla Supercharger network provides free charge for users registered before 2018. Beyond this, your location is the biggest factor when it comes to free public EV charging access.
In Scotland, the Government has supported the ChargePlace Scotland network, which promises free charging at the vast majority of its locations. Fully 60% of EV chargers in Scotland are free-to-use, which translates to more than 1500 charge points which can be accessed after you sign up to an annual £20 access card. A free live map displays the status and cost of all the chargers on the network.
Following Scotland, the next best area of the UK for free charging is the South East, with 642 free sites, and then the North West, with 445 free sites.
Which Types Of EV Chargers Are Free To Use?
The vast majority of free chargers around the UK are classed as fast or rapid. Of the 4928 free devices, only 441 (or 8.9%) are slow 3kW chargers, with 4045 being classed as fast (typically between 7- and 22kW), and 442 being rapid (generally 50kW and more).
Where Can You Find A Free Electric Car Charger?
If in doubt, head for a car park. There are 1295 free chargers spread between retail, public and workplace car parks in the UK. You’ll also find 555 free devices at dealership forecourts, 415 at hotels and other accommodation around the UK, and 223 at various miscellaneous locations like zoos, National Trust properties and leisure centres.
Tesco currently provides more than 600 chargers across its 300 locations, but free fast charging is only available via its fast 7-/22kW chargers. If you want to use a rapid charger (50kW+) then you are going to have to pay.
Other supermarkets with free EV charging points include Sainsbury’s (133 devices across 47 locations), Lidl (120 across 101) and Aldi (39 across 20). Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda also have EV charging points, but they aren’t free to use on a pay-as-you-go basis. These chargers are usually for ‘customers only’, with some operators requiring the download of a free app to use the charge points.
How To Find EV Charge Stations
If you sign up to a specific charging supplier to make use of their nationwide network, they will almost definitely have a smartphone app which will tell you where to find EV charging stations, as well as allowing you to monitor pricing, pay for a charge and plan your driving routes.
Having membership of a preferred supplier – particularly on the rapid charging network – will pay off if you’re likely to make repeated use of quick chargers. Membership benefits often provide owners with reduced-rate charging, so it can pay to have quick and easy access on routes that you know you might be using.
If you want to be able to plan your route using the whole network, then you’ll need to visit one of the open network platforms that maps every UK chargepoint.
One of the most widely used and recognised of these options is Zap-Map.com. Through its interface – available as both a website and also a smartphone app – you can search the entire network for charge points, plan longer journeys, pay on certain networks that have partnered with Zap-Map, and share updates on the status of individual chargers with other EV drivers.
Because many public services require membership, apps like Zap-Map allow you to plan a route using only the suppliers you might be subscribed to.
Alternatives to Zap-Map include openchargemap.org, a not-for-profit organisation devoted to mapping charging networks across the globe.
Best Free Electric Car Charging Apps:
- Open Charge Map
- Plug Share
Find EV Charge Stations With Apple And Google Maps
If you’re used to planning your journeys directly via Apple or Google Maps, then the good news is both major tech players have built significant functionality for EV owners into their own navigation software.
Apple Maps can track your current vehicle charge, and factor in things like elevation and traffic conditions, to automatically add charging stops along the way. It knows which type of charger works for your car, making sure to route you to compatible stations. And it even accounts for charging time when calculating your ETA to your ultimate destination.
Google Maps can offer very similar help and, if your car comes with built-in Google software (like the new Polestar 2 does), then all of your route planning can take place from the comfort of the driver’s seat.
With Google EV route planning, you can find the most efficient route, calculate where you should stop along the way to recharge based on your battery range, and also work out how much time you'll have to spend at a charging station.
Like Apple Maps, it also considers what type of charger you'll use (slow, fast or rapid) and the immediate charger availability.
And with navigation from these 2 big players including vast amounts of complementary data, you can see nearby shops and food options for each charging stop.
Which Public Charging Networks Are Available?
More and more providers of EV charging are entering the market but here are some of the bigger players you will find right now, according to Zap-Map.com.
Formerly known as Polar, BP Pulse is one of the UK’s largest public charging networks, with more than 7000 charge points, ranging from 3-pin units to rapid chargers. Access is via contactless card, a smartphone app or an RFID (radio frequency identification) card, and there is both a pay-as-you-go or a subscription membership available. BP’s latest contactless system is really handy, and the charging rates improve if you sign up as a member and get better still if you subscribe.
Charge Your Car
Charge Your Car is one of the largest public charging networks in the UK, with more than 2000 devices available nationwide. These are either free to use or charged on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Ecotricity’s Electric Highway network has charge points at just about every motorway service station in the UK. The network requires users to register their account details via a smartphone app, which is then used to control the charging process. There is a simple pricing structure using a connection fee and then price-per-unit of electricity used.
ESB Energy offers a public network of rapid EV charge points in London and Coventry. All ESB Energy charge points offer membership, contactless and ESB app connection and payment options.
GeniePoint runs a national network, primarily operating rapid EV charge points, though with some fast units available at certain locations. Points are accessed with an app or RFID card, and are used on a pay-as-you-go basis.
InstaVolt operates a 50kW rapid charging network – with CCS and CHAdeMO connectors available – on a pay-as-you-go basis. There is no subscription, card, or app required. Instead, all of its rapid chargers accept contactless payment from a credit or debit card.
Formerly known as Engenie, Osprey is a UK-wide network of rapid chargers which supports all EVs available on the market and offers payment via contactless or the Osprey app. Signing up to the app means you will be able to access lower per-kilowatt rates for your electricity.
Pod Point aims to offer an EV charge point ‘everywhere you park’. With widespread coverage of fast chargers, Pod Point also provides rapid points for the likes of Tesco and Lidl. Units are accessed via the network’s smartphone or web app, and are often free to use.
Shell Recharge is a rapid-charging-only network, with points located at the company’s petrol station forecourts. No membership charges or smartcards are needed, with access via the Shell Recharge app for the rapid units, which offer CCS, CHAdeMO or Type 2 charging.
Tesla operates two nationwide networks – Supercharger (which is for Tesla owners only) and Destination (open to all EV owners). Supercharger points are typically on motorways and main roads, providing rapid and even ultra-rapid (100kW+) charger capability. Destination chargers are normally at ‘locations’ such as hotels, pub car parks and the like.
Non-Tesla drivers wishing to use ‘open-access’ Tesla Destination points can connect if the charge point comes with a tethered Type 2 7- or 22kW connector.
If you don’t have off-road parking then consider Ubitricity, which provides charge points often found lining streets, lampposts and in car parks. Available on a pay-as-you-go basis with credit or debit card payments, Ubitricity also offers access via its SmartCable, which allows you to use your own electricity tariff via its charge points.
Where To Next?
Want to know more? Take a look at our in-depth guide on everything you need to know about charging electric cars or find out just how much money you can save with an EV vs traditional ICE costs in our look at electric car charging costs.