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24 May 2021

Thousands of new electric car charging points to be installed across Britain

Energy regulator Ofgem plans to invest 300 million in low carbon projects that will improve the UK's electric vehicle charging infrastructure
EV being charged

'To ensure electric vehicles are an option for all consumers, the public charging infrastructure must be overhauled to offer universal access to all networks, making it much simpler and easier to use than it is today.'

That was the verdict of a recent Which? investigation into the UK's electric vehicle (EV) public charging infrastructure. It found that the current network is fractured, and too confusing and complicated for consumers to use easily,

With the 2030 ban on the sale of the new petrol and diesel cars (including self-charging hybrids) now less than ten years away, Ofgem's investment is much needed for customers to feel able to buy an electric car with confidence.

Just want to know which electric car you should buy? Discover the best electric cars for 2021.

Ofgem boost to electric car charging network

Ofgem's £300 million investment in low carbon projects, to be delivered over the next two years, is part of a broader programme to promote cleaner, greener energy. EV charging projects across England, Scotland and Wales include support for:

  • 1,800 ultra-rapid charging points at motorway service areas - tripling the size of the current network
  • 1,750 new charge points in towns and cities.

Although electric car ownership is rising, Ofgem says that as many as 36% of households that don't plan to get an EV are putting off doing so due to lack of access to charging points.

Glasgow, Kirkwall, Warrington, Llandudno, York and Truro are among the cities due to get the cabling needed for extra ultra-rapid charge points. So too will train stations in North and Mid Wales.

'The payment will support the rapid take up of electric vehicles, which will be vital if Britain is to hit its climate change targets', Ofgem said.

Ofgem's investment will also cover other low carbon projects, including cleaner heating.

New charging points are already being installed daily. For context, 620 new charging points were set up in the UK within the last 30 days, according to EV car charging app Zap-Map. Nevertheless, navigating the EV charging system remains difficult.

In response to Ofgem's announcement, Lisa Barber, Which? Home Products and Services Editor, said:

'Millions of people in the UK are expected to switch to electric cars over the next decade. However, the public charging infrastructure is fragmented, difficult to access and can be a major barrier to ownership for those who don't have a private charger.

'Ofgem's investment to expand the public charging network is a positive step towards removing one of the biggest hurdles to electric vehicle ownership'.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car using the public network?

Based on a typical annual driving distance of 9,000 miles, we estimate it can cost between £590 and £1,000 a year to charge an EV using major public networks, depending on how efficient your electric car is.

And it's rarely a case of just plugging in at whichever charging point happens to be closest. Few charging points let you pay as you go by card, and none allow cash payments.

You'll almost always need to download the charge point operator's app, go to a website or have a card to show you've pre-registered. And, given there are more than 60 charging operators across the UK, that could take up a lot of space on your smartphone or in your glovebox.

If you can get an EV charging point fitted at home, charging your car will be more convenient and usually much cheaper.

EV being charged

Charging an electric car using the public network: what you need to know

Even if you have an at-home charging point, you may still need to top up when you're out and about, particularly during long car journeys.

If there's the slightest chance of you needing to 'fill up' when you're out and about, you should plan ahead for the best places to do so, as you won't just be able to rock up at any charging point.

Here are some things to consider:

  • While there are plenty of charging stations around the UK, they're run by more than 30 different networks, and your car may not be compatible with every charging point (only Tesla cars can be charged using the Tesla supercharger network, for example).
  • Before setting out, check which stations you can use - and whether you'll need to pre-register with the network. Zap-Map is a useful free website and app for locating charging points.
  • A few places will let you charge your electric vehicle free of charge. Some businesses (such as supermarkets) and attractions offer free EV charging for paying customers. Be aware that parking restrictions may still apply, and you might still need to go through the rigmarole of downloading an app.
  • The time needed to charge an EV can vary dramatically depending on your car and the speed of the charger. With an ultra-rapid charger, you could boost your battery from empty to 80% in less than an hour. With the slowest public chargers, you might be stuck for as long as seven hours - almost an entire working day - waiting for your car to charge to a similar level.
  • Not all cars have rapid charging capabilities, so check your car is compatible with the charging point before parking up.

For more on the different charging operators, how much EV charging costs, and how long it takes, visit our full guide on charging an electric car.