RAC reports rising EC charging costs: here’s how to charge smarter at public points

·6-min read
You may be able to charge your car for free at supermarket car parks - if you have the patience  (Getty Images)
You may be able to charge your car for free at supermarket car parks - if you have the patience (Getty Images)

UK households are looking for any way to save on home electricity bills and charging an electric car at home will certainly add to your monthly bill.

Charging at public points are one way to save money, but prices there are also increasing. Recent analysis from the RAC revealed that the increased price of wholesale gas and electricity has increased the price to charge an average family-size car by 42 per cent.

This pushes the average cost to more than £32, £9.60 more than in May 2022 and £13.59 more than this time last year.

Where you charge can also affect the price of charging your electric cars, with public-charging networks broken down into three main categories: rapid networks, destination networks, and on-street/community networks.

Rapid networks are likely to be the most expensive. These are the ones you’re most likely to find at motorway service stations, where drivers need to charge their car quickly. To give you a flavour of these costs, the BP Pulse charging point in Hammersmith charges 57p per kWh for fast charging, 65p per kWh for rapid, and 69p per kWh for ultra-rapid.

For context, the UK energy price cap is 34p per kWh from October onwards, so you’ll be paying roughly double what you would pay at home to use one of these convenient mid-journey charge points.

If you join the BP Pulse network as a full member, you’ll save 20 per cent on these casual pay-as-you-go prices but it will cost you £7.85 per month. On the upside, that includes £9 of bundled monthly charging credit for the first five months.

By contrast, its main rival, Shell Recharge, does not ask you to pay a monthly fee and currently expects you to pay 59p per kWh for its rapid chargers or 65pkWh for the ultra-rapid ones.

Subsidised charging at destination networks

Destination networks are more likely to be free or low-cost. These are often located in places such as supermarkets, cinemas, or other venues that want your business, and so they are prepared to pay for, or at least subsidise, the cost of charging while you are watching a movie or buying clothes.

Prices vary, but the Plug-N-Go network at the East of England Co-Op supermarket in Colchester charges a 50p connection fee and then 36p per kWh. The Pod Point at Bowood Hotel Spa and Golf Resort in Chippenham charges 20p per kWh.

The brilliant Zap-map.com provides a map showing all these prices (click the ‘i’ icon when you select a charging point to view its prices). On-street or community networks are designed to bring charging points to local communities who might not have the off-street parking facilities that are required to fit their own charging points.

The chargers are normally fitted into ‘street furniture’ such as lampposts in residential areas. These tend to work on a subscription model. Char.gy, for example, has a membership fee of £38.99 per month, which includes 200kWh of charges per month. Additional charging costs a reasonable 19.5p per kWh.

But can you charge your car for free?

Why pay at home if you can recharge your car for free at thousands of public-charging points around the country? This sounds like a no-brainer, but there are caveats here. Free charging points tend to be ‘slow’ or ‘fast’ chargers, not the super-efficient ‘rapid’ or even ‘ultra-rapid’ chargers.

Pod Point, which provides charging at more than 600 Tesco supermarkets, offers 7kW slow chargers and 22kW fast chargers for free. However, you must pay what it calls the market rate for using its 50kW rapid chargers. Given that it can take more than eight hours to fully charge a Renault Zoe on a slow charger, and almost three hours to fully charge using a fast charger, you’re unlikely to get a full battery charge while you complete the weekly shop. Still, every little helps.

That’s not to say the free public-charging points are worthless, far from it, but unless you live right next to a supermarket, they are more useful for quick top-ups rather than full charges.

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Does Tesla have a free charging network?

Tesla owners get access to the company’s two different charging networks. There’s the Tesla Supercharger network, which you’ll find along the UK’s major motorways, and this allows you to quickly charge compatible Teslas using very high-powered 120kW or 150kW chargers.

Then, there’s the more widely available Destination network, which you’ll find at venues such as hotels, shopping centres, and airports, which uses the 22kW fast chargers.

People who bought Teslas prior to 2017 get free access to both networks. Those who bought after that date get 4,000 kWh of Supercharger credits every year but, after that, they typically face fees of 28p per kWh according to Zap-map.com. All Tesla owners can use Destination chargers for free. Note that Tesla charges “idle fees” at its Supercharger network, which are designed to deter drivers from hogging the charging points after their car is topped up.

Tesla might also automatically adjust your charge limit to 80 per cent, to reduce congestion at these high-powered points.

Tips for using public-charging points

Download an app

Most public-charging networks require you to download an app before you can access their chargers.

If you’re planning a journey with charging points en route, download the app(s) at home before you set off, where you can guarantee a solid internet connection and have more time to enter fiddly information, such as payment details. This is absolutely no fun in the rain.

Plan ahead to save money

There’s no need to cough up for ultra-rapid charging if you’re careful, advises Gurinder Dhillon, CEO of ottocar.co.uk, which operates the largest fleet of cars for Uber drivers in London.

“For professionals, time is money but commuters can save by being smart,” he says.

Don’t leave your charging cables at home

Many public points require you to bring your own cables. It might be worth having two sets – one for home use and one left permanently in the boot for public recharging.

Know your own car’s charging limits

Not all electric cars are compatible with rapid or ultra-rapid chargers. You won’t damage the car by using a charger that exceeds the capacity of your battery and you’ll still charge the car. But you might well pay more for a rapid charge that your car cannot actually take full advantage of.