Charging your Electric Car
Obviously, if you’re using an electric vehicle your electricity usage will increase, so you’ll want to buy your electricity from a company that is as ethical as possible.
As we detailed in our guide to electricity suppliers, the effect of buying from a company that officially sells ‘100% renewable electricity’ is quite complicated and not as big as you might hope, as all of our electricity comes from the same grid, and the renewables on it were largely all built as a result of the same government incentives.
At the same time, there are a few companies such as Ecotricity and Good Energy that are doing something extra to help build renewables, and they are worth supporting.
Yet it is important not to get the impression that it doesn’t matter how much electricity you use just because it is ‘100% renewable’, (unless of course you are charging from your own renewably generated system). Using extra electricity can still result in more fossil fuels being burned, it will just be allocated to someone else’s account. Thus, no matter who your supplier is, always buy the smallest and most efficient car that will meet your needs.
It’s generally OK to charge from an ordinary three pin plug, although some attention needs to be paid to cables, and faster chargers can be installed too.
Not having off-street parking for home-charging isn’t the barrier it once was, as the availability of public charging points is increasing. There are also grants for councils and workplaces to install charging points, which could mean you never have to charge at home.
Using public charge points
When charging on a public network, you have less control over the supplier. There are six national charging networks, three of which use electricity from companies that help to build renewables: Ecotricity, Zero Carbon World (Good Energy), and Tesla. There is a fourth: Chargemaster, which officially uses electricity from renewables that were built by others as a result of government mandates. Chargemaster is about to be bought by BP.
The Charge Your Car network, which also provides infrastructure to regional schemes such as Energise, GMEV, Source West and ChargePlace Scotland, uses electricity supplied by Ovo, which also does not build its own renewables, but 33% of its electricity officially comes from renewables built as a result of government mandates.
Ethical Consumer contacted Pod Point and Tesla to find out about the official sources of their electricity. Although no response was received from Pod Point, Tesla got back to us, saying that, “In Europe, where Tesla controls the connection and meter, we only work with 100% renewable energy providers. There are, however, some sites in the network that are connected to the property’s existing power source, in which case our host controls the supply along with the rest of the premises.”
The company was unable to give specifics but said that Tesla “would support a renewable energy policy for hosts [if they didn’t already have one].”
Different networks have different payment schemes. Some are pay-as-you-go, possibly with set charges (connection fee, price per time, price per energy consumed, or a combination of all three). Others have ‘free’ charging as part of a (paid-for) membership scheme. Most networks do require you to have an account before you can use their charging points.
Finding a public charge point
If charging at home isn’t an option and/or you want to know if there’s a good network of charging points within your regular orbit, visit Zap Map. Developed by Next Green Car, it has the latest information on where to find your nearest charging point, including, crucially, whether it is available to use. At the time of writing, there were nearly 17,000 connectors at 5,900 locations around the country, with more connectors being added every day.
The provision isn’t spread evenly across the UK. Urban areas are, unsurprisingly, better served than rural ones: some London boroughs have charging points every 0.1 mile, while in Devon the average distance to a charging point is 45 miles. According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average driver in England is four miles from a charging point, in Scotland it is three miles and in Wales it is 12 miles.
If you’re planning a longer journey, fear not. Electric vehicle charging points were widely available at motorway stations long before they were made mandatory in 2017. You can look up whether the service stations on your route have EV charging points and, importantly, find out which company supplies the electricity using Motorway services online.
Charging points also have different speeds. While the slower chargers take many hours, rapid charging stations can now charge to 80% battery capacity in 30 minutes, which makes it plausible to do long journeys in electric vehicles. More information is on the zapmap.