Electric car charging in public

How to power up away from home

5-minute read

What you’ll discover:

  • The basics of charging electric cars
  • Where you can find public chargepoints
  • How to know whether your car is compatible
  • Charging times, costs and ways to pay

If you’re on the road and need to recharge your electric vehicle (EV), there’s a growing network of public chargers in the UK that you could use.

To help you plan for smoother journeys, here’s a guide with expert help from Energy Saving Trust.

What is public charging?

For decades, drivers haven’t had to think twice about how to fuel their car. Low on petrol or diesel? You can fill the tank with a stop at a nearby fuel station. But rising numbers of EVs on the road are changing this approach – and charging an EV can be a very different experience.

Some electric car drivers can charge their vehicle’s batteries at home or at work when they’re parked for several hours or more. But sometimes you’ll need to power up when you’re out and about or midway through a long journey using a public chargepoint. This is known as public, on-the-go or destination charging.

Why is public charging so important?

The government have announced plans to stop selling new petrol and diesel cars by 2035. With growing public awareness around the effects of climate change, EVs could be an attractive option to consider when shopping for a car. A key consideration for many drivers – especially for those buying for the first time – could be how they’ll be able to charge their car when travelling.

The goal is to see 300,000 chargepoints available across the country by 20301. The government wants to give drivers confidence that they’ll be able to find a public chargepoint in good working order wherever they go. This could help to reduce ‘range anxiety’ – a concern your EV will run out of battery while travelling.

How is public charging different from home or workplace charging?

A convenient way to charge an electric car is when it’s sitting unused for a long period of time – for example, overnight or during your working day. That's why lower speed chargepoints are usually installed outside houses and workplaces, including on the street, because on average it can take around eight hours to fully charge an electric car with a typical 7.4kW charger, although it’s recommended to keep your battery charged between 20-80%2.

By contrast, public charging gives drivers the chance to top up when they’re mid-journey or if they’re heading to popular destinations with car parks such as railway stations, shopping centres or supermarkets. If you’re on a long journey, topping up your charge en-route can also help you get regular breaks in. You can use ‘fast’ and ‘rapid’ chargepoints, which let you boost your battery quickly. They typically charge cars to 80% in around 30 minutes3. However, rapid chargepoints can be the most expensive to use and they can’t be installed at home, according to Energy Saving Trust.

Where can I find public chargepoints?

You can find chargepoints across the UK at petrol stations, motorway service stations, car parks and shopping centres, as well as on many residential streets.

There are many apps to help you find them. With these apps, you can look up chargepoints by location and charging speed so you can plan the time needed for a charging break when you stop for a rest.

You might also be able to see which network the chargepoint is on so you’ll know how to pay, whether it’s through an app or a radio frequency identification (RFID) card. For more information on how to pay, see the ‘How much does it cost to charge and how can I pay?’ section.

Can I charge my EV at all public chargepoints and how long might it take?

As long as your car’s socket and cable are compatible with the chargepoint you drive to, you can charge your battery at a range of charging locations4. Some apps let you filter for specific charging networks, charge speeds and sockets so you can find the right one for your EV. 

Usually, the time needed to charge your EV depends on the size of your car battery5. Not all EVs can charge using rapid chargers, so it’ll help to do research and compare charging capabilities with your driving needs.

Battery electric vehicle charging times

Average EV battery size 50kWh
Chargepoint power output  
7.4kW 7h 45m
22kW 3h
50kW 53m

*Figures are based on an EV that’s charged from 20%.

How much does it cost to charge and how can I pay?

Public chargepoint costs vary across the country but you can expect to pay more for a faster charge6. Whenever you use a public chargepoint, you’ll usually pay a standard connection fee, plus the charge for the amount of electricity your battery then consumes (shown as the price per kWh). Charging an EV at a public chargepoint for 10,000 miles per year could cost around £1,300.

There are more than 60 EV charging networks across the UK. In the past, many drivers had to download different smartphone apps or order RFID cards to pay for charges. To help make things easier, you can now sign up for one card or app to use across lots of different networks. For example, Octopus Electroverse gives you access to more than 650,000 public chargepoints across the UK and Europe. Whichever service you decide to use, make sure to do your own research and get in touch with the provider to get a full understanding of the benefits and savings.

All information is based on the most up-to-date research from Energy Saving Trust as of February 2024 and the UK government as of February 2024. This article isn’t advice and is for general guidance only. Always do your own research before taking any action. We’re not responsible for the content of the websites mentioned in this article.

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