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Cars & travel.

Updated: 16 Jun 2022

How to use electric car charging points

Everything you need to know about using charging points, including pitfalls to look out for
Adrian Porter

The electric car charging infrastructure is growing quickly in the UK, and it's going to need to continue at a prolific rate in order to stay ahead of the seismic shift in the run-up to the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars.

The number of electric cars on UK roads is expected to rise from 300,000 in August 2021 to around 12 million by 2030, according to figures from electric car charging point mapping site Zap-map and predictions from the Climate Change Committee's Sixth carbon budget.

Whether you drive an electric car today or not, a lot of us will soon be reliant on the ever-growing charging infrastructure. Here's what you need to know about the electric car public charging network.

Ready to go electric? Here are the best electric cars we've tested.

What you need to know about electric car public charging networks

There are more than 60 different charging networks across the UK. Ubitricity (now owned by Shell), BP Pulse and Pod Point are among the biggest.

Having such a large number of separate networks creates perhaps the biggest drawback to electric car charging: 

  • In the majority of cases, you can’t just park up and charge 
  • Only a minority of charging points in the UK allow you to pay directly by credit or debit card. No companies accept cash
  • Depending on the network, you'll either need to download an app, go to a website or have a pre-registered RFID card

To get a charge going, you'll typically need to download a network specific app and follow the instructions to initiate and pay for the charge. 

Alternatively, you may need (or can choose) to go to the network's website to put in your details and start the charge. 

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Some networks also allow you to register an RFID card (Radio Frequency Identify Card) which will allow you to start a charge by tapping the card against a card reader (not a bank card reader) - but you'll still need to manage an account online in connection with your RFID card.

In most cases you'll need a different app, website or RFID card for each different network. 

Millions of drivers will soon be dependent on the UK's charging infrastructure. We think that to make it work, a form of universal access needs to be established across all networks.

See what else we're calling for in our investigation: 5 problems with the electric car charging network, and how to fix them.

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Essential terms - know your kW from your kWh

Before you charge your car, you'll want to understand a few basic terms. Such as the difference between kW and kWh, AC and DC and why that matters when charging electric cars.

kW (kilowatts) and kWh (kilowatt hours) are arguably the most common terms, and you'll come across them every time you charge.

  • The power of an electric car charger is given in kW (kilowatts)
  • Your electric car's battery will have a capacity given in kWh. Think of this as like the capacity of a fuel tank.

So if you had a 21kWh capacity battery it should - in theory - take three hours to charge when connected to a 7kW charger.

In reality, this won't actually be the case as a battery always require more power to charge than it can actually hold, but this provides a general idea of the concepts involved.

Slow, fast or rapid? Electric car public charging points explained

Before you visit a public charger, you need to know two things about your electric car: 

  1. Its maximum charge rate (there will be one for AC and one for DC) 
  2. What type of AC and DC plugs you can connect it to

Electric car charge points offer different power outputs - in a nutshell, the higher the power output, the quicker your car charges (provided the power output is within your car's maximum charge rate). 

You'll see terms like 'slow chargers' and 'rapid chargers' used a lot - here's what they relate to:

  • Slow chargers: up to 3kW (AC)
  • Fast chargers: have power outputs between 7kW-22kW (AC)
  • Rapid chargers: between 25kW and 99kW (typically 50kW and DC)
  • Ultra rapid chargers: 100kW and more (DC). 
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Slow to fast chargers (AC charging)

The most common public electric car chargers are slow to fast chargers  - they account for around 80% of all UK chargers, according to Zap-Map. 

Slow to fast chargers use one of two plugs to connect to your car:

  • Type 1 plug - which is today largely outdated. You'll find it on a few remaining plug-in hybrid cars, such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
  • Type 2 plug - also called a Mennekes plug, is far more common. The EU decreed in 2014 that all new plug-in cars should have a Type 2 socket, making it the preferred standard.

All slow to fast chargers supply AC from the electricity grid to your car. The battery in your electric car, like any battery, cannot use AC to charge. So when you connect an AC (3-22kW) charger to your car, the current goes to the vehicle's onboard charger - this converts it from AC to DC.

Rapid and ultra-rapid chargers (DC charging)

Rapid and ultra-rapid chargers directly provide DC to your car - the special DC connection bypasses your car's onboard charger to supply current directly to the car's battery. It's a much faster way to charge your car, but can be very costly. 

Unless you drive a Tesla, your electric car will have one of two entirely different rapid charging DC plugs, both of which require their own socket:

  • CCS (Combined Charging System) socket is the most common. The 'combined' bit in the name means that the shape of the plug will incorporate the shape of the Type 1 or, more commonly, the Type 2 AC plug. So your car may look like it only has one socket, but it connects with two plugs. If you see a 'Combo 2' plug - that's a CCS plug that fits over a Type 2 plug. 
  • Chademo is the second and now much rarer type. Most cars in Europe don't have this, the outliers being both generations of the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.
  • Teslas have a modified Type 2 plug that can deliver DC current. This is unique to the company's own-brand 'Supercharger' network.

There used to be two AC sockets, too, but in 2014 the EU decreed that all new plug-in cars should come equipped with a Type 2 AC socket. However, no such announcement has been made for DC sockets.

We think that streamlining the types of DC sockets available on cars will help make living with an electric car that little bit simpler in the long run.

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

Before we answer this question, you need to know that electric cars actually have two charging rates:

  1. A maximum AC charging rate (applies to slow and fast chargers, and includes home charging)
  2. A maximum DC charging rate (applies to rapid and ultra rapid charge points).

While fast (AC) charging points go up to a maximum 22kW, most electric cars on the market are limited to a 7.2-11kW maximum AC charge rate.

One of the few exceptions is the Renault Zoe, which can make full use of a 22kW charger. This makes a big difference to its charge times - as you can see in our table, below. 

Charge point powerTime to charge from 0-80%Time to charge from 0-100%
7.4kW (AC)
6hrs 54mins8hrs 33mins
11kW (AC)4hrs 30mins5hrs 48mins
22kW (AC)
2hrs 15mins
2hrs 54mins
50kW (DC - Rapid charging)1hr 5mins1hr 29mins

Ultra-rapid chargers, which typically have a charge rate of between 100kW and 350kW DC, will charge even faster, potentially taking less than an hour for a full charge from zero – provided your vehicle is compatible.

If you tried to charge the same battery from a three-pin plug at home, it would take around 30 hours to charge the battery by 80%. Which is why you'll want a wallbox if you can charge at home - see our guide on electric car charging at home to find out more.

While most cars are limited to an 11kW AC charge rate or less, you can still connect it to a 22kW charger to your car - it’s not going to blow up. The car and onboard charger will simply manage the rate of charge and take what it can.

The real problem is that if you don’t know the maximum AC rate of charge your electric car can take, you might end up choosing a charger with a higher rate of power when it’s of no use to you.

That could take it away unfairly from another electric car driver that can use it and it could cost you more. 

Electric car charging networks

There are too many networks to list them all here. So we're highlighting the key UK networks you need to know about.

BP Pulse

BP Pulse has arguably the widest charge point coverage across the UK. It’s gone one step beyond the government advice to add direct payment by bank card to all rapid chargers from Spring 2020, but is also updating existing chargers as well – which is excellent.

Unfortunately, BP Pulse is a network that charges people more for not registering with their network, essentially charging more for guest users who pay using a bank card (tap and pay). If you use one of its rapid chargers and pay directly by bank card, for example, you’ll be charged more per kWh than if you'd used the same charge point having logged in under their free membership and then initiated the charge via the company's website or app.

We see this as charging more for using a bank card. BP sees it as a discount for those who don’t. BP told us: ‘Those who choose to sign up for a free membership benefit from a discount on their charging costs based on the value derived by the business from their membership.’

There is also a subscription option aimed at frequent users who get lower rates per kWh in return for paying a monthly subscription.

Connected Kerb

An on-street specialist that's expanding quickly. Its chargers range from 7-22kW and all have RFID readers, opening up the possibility of more universal access.

This ambitious company is all about a smart approach - installing clusters of chargers across an area, which then communicate to balance load and stress on the UK grid. Its chargers allow users to benefit from lower cost electricity at low demand times overnight - helping those without off-street take advantage of lower electricity rates.


One of the largest networks in the UK, GeniePoint has a mix of rapid and non-rapid charge points.

This network is relatively unusual as it allows RFID cards from other networks to also be used with its own chargers. As the card is just an identifier, it can use existing RFID cards, such as an employer's staff card or public transport card. All you need to do is set up an account and link it to your card at a GeniePoint charger.

A spokesperson told Which? that ‘in theory, other networks could make the same decision and allow customers to use any suitable RFID cards... a customer would then be able to use one card to manage charging events on all networks.’

Previously, those using GeniePoint chargers have to top up their account with a minimum of £10 before charging, but this was removed as of 30 September 2021. The company now uses a pay-as-you-go system, so you’ll only be charged for what you use.

Those who have existing credit on their account will automatically use it up on subsequent charging sessions until the credit is depleted, before going to pay as you go.

The network also previously charged connection fees, where people were charged a small nominal fee every time they connected a charger, but this was abolished in early 2021.

GeniePoint charger

Gridserve and Electric Highway 

Gridserve opened the first electric-car only forecourt in the UK, in December 2020. It can be found in Braintree, Essex, but it plans to open 100 electric car only forecourts across the UK between 2020 and 2025.

The forecourt in Braintree is supported by its hybrid solar farm and its rate for DC charging (rapid/ultra rapid) is currently impressively low. 

In March 2021 it announced it was forming a partnership with the energy company Ecotricity, which has its own car charging network called the 'Electric Highway'. In June 2021, Gridserve announced it had purchased the Electric Highway and will swap out all existing charger with newer technology.

It aims to put six to 12 high-power 350kW devices at all motorway service stations. When electric cars can receive a charge, in theory these ultra-rapid chargers could add 100 miles of charge in five minutes.


One of the largest rapid-charger networks in the UK and it stands out example of convenience and good practice. InstaVolt shun things like membership fees, RFID cards and connection fees in favour of bank card only payments at its chargers. It has won a string of awards, including coming top in Zap Map's recent 2022 survey of charge point networks.

InstaVolt does have an app you can use to get VAT payments, as card-only payments means there's no printer to dispense VAT receipts. If you don’t use the app, you have to email InstaVolt with the time, locations and cost of your charge and it will email you back with your receipt. You can also access the same service online.


You can use a bank card to pay for your charge at any Osprey charging point, like InstaVolt. Unlike InstaVolt, Osprey offers fast AC charging in addition to rapid DC charging.

The brand is also one of the few networks to allow you to pay using other companies' payment systems - this includes car manufacturer electric car charging schemes, such as the VW We Charge Plan and myHyundai, among others. These schemes allow their customers access to a number of networks via a single app or payment/RFID card, and can offer discounted charging rates with certain networks (but you typically have to pay for a monthly subscription to get the cheaper rates, so you need to work out if it's worth it).

Osprey was also a launch partner for other roaming options, including Zap Pay (see below) and the Octopus Electric Juice Network. The latter allows access to a number of networks without the need for separate apps and RFID cards. As a bonus for Octopus Energy customers, the cost of charging your car will be added to your home's energy bills.

Direct payments by card will always be convenient and Osprey should be commended for being accessible by so many roaming schemes.

Pod Point 

One of the largest networks in the UK, Pod Point has done away with RFID cards. Users must have its app to hand or be able to access the company's website. Most of Pod Point's chargers are free to use (yes, really). 

Find out more about free charge points - go to how much does it cost to charge an electric car.


Shell bought Ubitricity, the on-street charging specialist, in February 2021. Ubitricity cleverly converts lampposts and bollards into charging points but the drawback is no card payments, not even RFID cards. Access is 100% via an app or its website. The Ubitricity network is limited to 5.5kW charging.

In September 2021, Shell announced it was going to expand the number of Ubitricity chargers from 3,600 in September 2021 to 50,000 by 2025. The UK Committee for Climate Change has stated that the UK needs 150,000 public charge points operating across the UK by 2025, so this move would supply a third of the UK's projected needs.

Source London 

Source London is one of the largest charging networks across the UK despite only covering the Greater London area. It has some of the highest charges per kWh, but those prices include your parking as well as your charging.

Source London offers a number of different rates. In early 2022, those living in London and paying £4 a month membership could be charged as little as 27p per kWh or 51p per kWh if charging in Central London (defined as Camden, K&C and Westminster).

Those accessing Source London chargers via PAYG (pay as you go) access, which does not require signing up or paying a membership fee or similar, will be charged 69p per kWh or 80p per kWh if in Central London.

Source London also charges idling fees. As your car's batteries fill up, the car will draw less power and then stop. If Source London detects your car is drawing less than 1.2kW for ten minutes, it will charge an idling fee that starts at 4p per minute, or 5p per minute for those using PAYG access. Registered Source London members will avoid this fee between midnight and 7am.


Tesla has two of its own networks: the Tesla supercharger network and its destination charger network.  Tesla superchargers are ultra-rapid chargers with power levels ranging from 120kW to 250kW (DC). 

The Tesla networks came out on top in a 2021 satisfaction survey by Zap-Map, and Tesla's supercharger network received particularly high praise.

Tesla’s superchargers, which have a CCS in addition to its unique DC-delivering Type 2 connector, were previously closed to all other other brands of car. In May 2022, Tesla made 15 of its 98 UK charging sites available for use by all electric vehicles, as part of a Europe-wide pilot. More information on these sites (including locations of all Superchargers worldwide) can be found on Tesla's interactive Supercharger map.

Tesla's separate destination network is comprised of type 2 AC chargers with rated power outputs from 3kW to 22kW. Destination chargers can be unique to Tesla, or open to all with a Type 2 plug. 

Tesla says that ‘wherever two chargers are installed, we encourage one to be universal and one to be Tesla only’. A Tesla spokesperson told us the destination chargers have ‘the same hardware, just a switch inside that makes it universal or Tesla only’.

Interested in Tesla? See our independent Tesla car reviews.

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Zap Pay

Not just used to find chargers, Zap-Map has launched a trio of options via its app and website - Zap Pay, Zap Home and Zap Work. 

Zap Pay grants users (registered or as a guest) to use multiple different networks without having to create separate accounts for either network. Launched with Osprey and ESB Energy, five more networks have since joined the platform: GeniePoint, char.gy, Motor Fuel Group (MFG), Revive and Mer.

Zap Home is slightly different and allows those with off street parking and a home charge point to list their personal charge point publicly, set rates and allow other people to use them between certain times. Zap Work is the same concept, but to be used by companies to list their company charge points.

Zap Map can now be accessed via AndroidAuto and Apple CarPay to those paying a subscription. Those who have signed up and have either AndroidAuto or Apple CarPlay in their vehicle can use an in-car version of Zap Map to locate charge points, view a charge point's status (where this information is available) and access route plans you may have set up previously.

If an electric car isn't right for you just yet, take a look at our expert pick of the best hybrid cars.