The key things to know about electric vehicles

Jack Evans, PA Motoring Reporter
·6-min read

It’s likely that over the next few years electric vehicles will become an even more crucial part of how we get from A to B. As more emphasis is put upon drivers to make the switch from petrol and diesel to EV, motorists will need to get up to speed with an altogether different set of requirements.

But what are the key things you need to know about electric cars and what are the main areas you need to look out for?

Range

electric car charging
Electric car being charged

Range is a central part of an electric vehicle. How much range a car offers dictates how far it can go between charges. Most EVs on sale today offer well over 100 miles from a single charge, with many bringing more than 180 miles.Larger EVs like the Jaguar I-Pace and Audi e-tron offer in excess of 240 miles, with cars from the likes of Tesla nearing the 300-mile mark. But, as is the case with petrol and diesel MPG figures, always take these claimed figures with a pinch of salt.

Charging

Hyundai Kona Electric
The charging port is handily located at the front of the car

Second to range, charging is a key part of what it means to use an EV on a daily basis. After all, if you can’t charge, then you can’t go anywhere. Plugging in is how you add range to your car and, depending on how much range your car has, you’ll be doing it a fair bit. All EVs charge via a cable which is plugged into the car and then into a power source.But how do you add charge to your car? We’ll come to that shortly.

Battery

The battery of an EV is essentially its fuel tank. You’ll see it measured in kWh and the higher the number before it, the larger the size of the battery and the further the car will manage to drive.

A Mini Electric, for instance, uses a 32.6kWh battery which enables a claimed range of 145 miles. The Audi e-tron, in contrast, is available with a 95kWh battery pack which, in turns, allows for a range of 241 miles.

Charging speed

Whereas battery size is measured in kWh (kilowatt hours), charging speed is measured in kW (kilowatts). The higher the number preceding kW, the quicker the rate of charge. For instance, at home you might get 7.5kW from a wallbox, while some rapid chargers can deliver up to 150kW.

Charging types

Audi e-tron
(Audi)

There are a variety of ways to charge your electric car. The first and simplest method is via a three-pin plug at your home. However, this way is slow and cumbersome and won’t be able to deliver much of a charge.

One of the best methods for daily charging is via a home wallbox. This delivers a higher rate of charge than a three-pin socket, enabling you to add charge to your car more quickly. It’s also safer, too, with the wallbox being located on the side of your house. This does, of course, require you to have off-street parking or a garage to park your vehicle while it charges from your home.

Next up, we’ve got public chargers. These are the types you’ll encounter when you’re out and about, and there are a few different types.

Slow is, as it sounds, the slowest rate of public charger and can only match the rate of charge given by a home wallbox – or sometimes slower. These are best used at overnight stopovers or when leaving your car stationary for longer. These aren’t good options for quickly adding range.

Fast chargers are the next best thing. These usually deliver a 22kW charge, which is more than enough to add a decent slug of range to any electric car. These are becoming more widespread too.

Taycan charging point
Owners of the new Taycan will be able to restrict the amount of charge it accepts in order to preserve battery life

Rapid chargers are the quickest you’ll get in the UK. Most rapid chargers bring with them a 50kW charge speed, though some can deliver up to 150kW. The latter is exceptionally quick and would be able to add around 80 per cent of a vehicle’s range in about 45 minutes, depending on the car.

Charge rating

But those numbers rely heavily on the rate of charge that your car can accept. An on-board charger manages the rate of charge that an electric car can take on, ensuring that the flow is kept safe. However, this does restrict how much charge your car can take on.

Porsche’s Taycan, for instance, can accept a huge 270kW charge which means that when you plug it into a 150kW charger, it’ll be able to take the full 150. However, if you go to use one of Ionity’s latest ultra-rapid chargers – which deliver a 350kW charge – then it’ll only be able to take a maximum of 270kW.

How many electric chargers are there in the UK?

A common reason used against EV adoption is the lack of charging infrastructure. However, there are more than 35,000 connectors across the UK in over 12,000 locations, according to ZapMap.

These numbers are only increasing each day. Back in 2012, there were just 2,883 connectors across the UK, with the bulk of these being older, slow chargers.

But can the grid cope with all those cars charging?

Again, whether or not the grid can cope with the widespread adoption of electric cars and the resulting need for charging is seen by many as a major roadblock in the way of EVs. However, Graeme Cooper, National Grid’s project director-transport decarbonisation said: “The most demand for electricity we’ve had in recent years in the UK was for 62GW in 2002. Since then, due to improved energy efficiency such as the installation of solar panels, the nation’s peak demand has fallen by roughly 16 per cent.

“Even if the impossible happened and we all switched to EVs overnight, we think demand would only increase by around 10 per cent. So we’d still be using less power as a nation than we did in 2002 and this is well within the range of manageable load fluctuation.”