Free Electric Car Charging Points UK: The Complete Guide
Eco-friendly drivers, did you know that there are quite a lot of free electric car charging points in the UK at the moment?
That’s right, one of the perks of owning an EV is that some locations let you juice up your ride without the added costs.
However, finding these locations can be kinda difficult if you have no clue where to begin.
Consider this a guide to EV charging as a whole, where we cover popular questions like:
Where can I find free electric car charging near me (UK)?
And, is electric car charging free at supermarkets like Tesco?
Another question we’ll cover is how much does it cost to charge an electric car at a charging station in the UK?
Free EV charging has its obvious benefits, but you’ll find paid charging a lot more reliable in most instances. Then again, it depends on where you live, as some free EV charging points do have rapid chargers for you to use.
It will all make sense soon enough.
Now, let’s get moving.
Free Electric Car Charging In the UK Explained
Let it be known that the UK’s entire car charging infrastructure has changed drastically in recent times.
An increase in the number of electric vehicles occupying British roads has changed how certain services operate — this includes public charging.
According to popular EV app, Zap-Map, there are around 4,900 free electric charging stations in the UK (as of January 2021), a number that is sure to increase in the coming months/years ahead of the government’s 2030 plans.
For reference, that’s 23% of all EV charging stations in the UK, as there were around 21,000 charging devices dotted around the country at the beginning of the year.
Some areas are more popular than others for free EV charging. Scotland, for example, leads the charge in terms of the number of free devices out in the open at the moment.
By using Zap-Map, we can see that there are around 1,334 free EV chargers in Scotland alone, which bodes well for those of you living in the highlands looking for complimentary electric car charging.
In fact, around 60% of chargers found in Scotland are completely free to use, thanks to ChargePlace Scotland and other dedicated operators.
EV charging isn’t as free as you might expect in parts of London compared to up north.
There are only 400 free chargers in Greater London, accounting for 6% of total chargers in the capital.
This is disappointing but should come as no surprise.
It’s not all bad. EV owners don’t pay a congestion charge in London at the moment — a rule that will soon change, so you might want to take advantage of that while you can.
Where Can I Find Free EV Charging Stations Near Me?
That’s easy; you download Zap-Map or do your own research via Google.
Finding free EV charging stations near your current location is made simple, thanks to dedicated EV apps or websites.
There’s seriously an app for everything these days.
You could also find a popular operator, head to their site, and search for free EV charging stations. Companies tend to be quite open about what stations offer what, and the price involved to use certain chargers at these locations.
Some council websites display this information for you too. Simply head over to your local council site and search for free electric car charging, and you should find what you’re looking for.
Seriously though, if you want to find free car charging stations fast/efficiently as a UK resident, just download Zap-Map.
It’s a life-saver, sent to us by the EV gods.
US readers, PlugShare is a fantastic alternative to Zap-Map.
In terms of where you’ll find EV charging points in the UK generally, all you need do is look outside your front window; they’re everywhere, more or less.
Cafes, museums, garden centres, zoos, pubs, theatres; all dabble in free electric car charging (just remember to check ahead of time).
On the other hand, hotels and car parks have a higher chance of having free EV charging available for reference.
You might need to be staying at the hotel in question for complimentary EV charging, but still.
Know that retail car parks are your best bet for finding free devices — the only downside is these spaces fill quickly as there isn’t a lot of them.
Types Of EV Chargers You’ll Find At Stations
How long does it take to charge an electric car at a free charging point if you’re in the UK?
The answer to this question depends entirely on the charger you’re using (and you’re vehicle).
There are three main types of EV charging in the UK — each varies in terms of power output, which in turn decreases the time it takes to fill your vehicle up with energy.
Most tend to believe that there is one charger to rule them all, one you can simply plug into any power outlet without worry.
This is the case with slow chargers, but as their name suggests, they aren’t very reliable if you’re in a jam and want to drive away quickly with a full battery.
Slow EV Chargers
Slow chargers are at the bottom end of the pecking order when it comes to power.
Most slow chargers draw around 3 kW max, which means it can take up to eight hours to charge smaller model cars; larger vehicles even longer.
For example, the Jaguar I-Pace can take up to 24 hours to charge fully. That’s right, it can take a full day almost to charge your vehicle.
Remember, the larger the battery, the steeper the charge time when using a slow charger.
There are benefits to using slow chargers in that you can simply plug your car in overnight at home through any standard three-pin socket — you don’t need to fork out any money to have it installed.
Our advice: carry a slow charger around with you to serve as a plan b if you ever find yourself in a pinch.
Consider it a last resort if you can’t get your EV parked at a public charging point in the UK (free or otherwise).
Most electric vehicles come with a slow charger upon purchase. If yours doesn’t, you can easily find one across sites on the web.
Fast EV Chargers
The majority of free charging points dotted around the UK are fast chargers.
Fast chargers operate at up to 7kW and 32 amps, otherwise known as the maximum speed of the wallbox chargers you can install at home.
How long does it take to charge an electric car via a fast charger?
Again, it depends on your current ride. On average, it takes between three to four hours across all vehicle types.
Unlike slow chargers, you will need to buy a fast charger, either from the brand directly or from an outside source.
Another difference between the two is the fact that fast chargers run on Type 2 connectors. These connectors have seen pinholes and are near impossible to plug in upside down due to its flat top.
Newer electric vehicles do come with Type 2 sockets as standard, but this isn’t a one size fits all sort of deal as some come with a different connector.
This does limit your charging options a bit.
Rapid EV Chargers
And now we get to the top of the electric car charging mountain.
You’ll only find rapid EV chargers in public locations at the moment.
Why is that?
Because these units are glorified powerhouses (120kW) and need to draw an absurd amount of energy to run.
We’re getting a migraine just thinking about how large your energy bill would be if you had one of these bad boys installed at home.
Rapid chargers can top up a Model S battery up to 80% in half an hour, just to give you an idea of how helpful these units are compared to all the rest.
Unfortunately, this does mean you need to pay more to use these electric charging points.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car at a rapid charging station in the UK?
The price will vary from station to station, but most typically cost around £6.50 for every 30 minutes. It’s cheaper than paying for petrol/diesel, although it is more expensive than, say, using a fast charger in public.
Not every EV can handle the power of rapid charging — that’s how all-powerful it is.
Some plug-in hybrids can’t.
Can I Charge My Electric Car For Free At A Supermarket?
Want to find guaranteed (mostly) free electric car charging points in the UK?
Just drive to your local supermarket; there’s free charging to be had at select locations.
UK supermarkets in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, LIDL and Aldi are very friendly to EV owners; very friendly indeed.
We say that because all offer free electric car charging in the UK. Tesco, for example, has over 600 chargers available across multiple locations for you to use. Drivers can use its fast chargers (7/22kW chargers) while they do their shopping.
An option is also there to use rapid charging, but you will need to pay for it, unfortunately.
As of this writing, supermarkets ASDA, Morrisons and Waitrose all offer electric vehicle charging, only it’s not free.
Could this influence where you do your shopping in future?
The answer to this question probably depends on the driver and whether or not they charge their vehicle on the go often.
Tesco is our UK supermarket of choice, which is great for us as so many locations offer free EV charging.
Which is your favourite?
Don’t say you’re an ASDA type…
Read This Before Visiting A Free EV Charging Point In The UK
Unfortunately, there are limitations to using free EV charging in the UK.
Some units, for example, are ‘customer only’ types which can be incredibly frustrating if you’ve driven all that way only to be locked out.
Ensure you have the app tied to the free EV charging point downloaded before you get there. You can identify the network provider by using Zap-Map.
Speaking of Zap-Map, make sure you read the comments on each particular charging station; it will give you a rough idea of how helpful/unhelpful that particular unit was.
It goes without saying, but free or not, if the charger is getting a bad rep, then you might want to drive elsewhere for some juice.
As mentioned, most free charging stations are limited in terms of power. Meaning the majority of free devices fall into the fast charging category.
Rapid charging is easily the most convenient form of charging, which isn’t to say there aren’t any free public charging stations in the UK that aren’t giving drivers access to rapid charging.
Remember, there are three main types of EV chargers in the UK. Each vary in terms of power (the better the power, the faster your car charges):
- Slow Chargers
- Fast Chargers
- Rapid Chargers
Places like Scotland, Manchester and Yorkshire have free rapid chargers for you to use.
Is this a mistake or purposeful?
It’s clearly the latter, in a bid to get more people transitioning to electric vehicles sooner rather than later. In other words, don’t expect these free charging points to last long once the country begins to adopt EVs in mass.
How Much Does It Cost To Charge An Electric Car Normally?
The answer to how much it costs to charge an electric car is difficult to answer as it depends entirely on the charging station you’re at — or rather, the operator in charge of that particular unit.
Of course, the type of EV charger you use also causes the price to fluctuate, so there’s that to consider too.
Typically, it costs around £1.50 an hour to charge your vehicle using a slow/fast charger (again, it depends on who’s running the station).
You guessed it; rapid chargers are slightly more expensive to use. Ecotricity chargers, for example, charge 30p on for every kWh of electricity used, and then there’s an additional charge to consider.
You see, the provider adds a £3 fee just for hooking your vehicle up for 45 minutes.
This seems to be the hallmark of Ecotricity at the moment, as other EV charging stations will almost always charge by the energy used.
Drivers do have multiple payment options to choose from. Pay as you go is a viable option if you’re planning on visiting the same network/station constantly.
It’s like we said, finding free electric car charging points in the UK is pretty easy, but spaces tend to be limited, so you can’t always rely on available spaces.
Tesla recently announced plans to open its Supercharger network to other drivers; we can only imagine how expensive this will be.
Still, the American automaker could surprise us and offer the cheapest electric car charging possible; you never know.
Charged Up: Free Electric Car Charging Points UK: The Complete Guide
There you have it; we told you there were free electric car charging points scattered across the UK.
Did you believe us?
It’s alright if you didn’t. We thought it sounded too good to be true when we first heard about complimentary charging too.
Want our advice? Head to Tesco for the weekly shop as often as you can for a free charge.
Still, if you’re looking for the most consistent/convenient way to charge your electric car, then you should be looking at installing a unit at home.
Check out our guide on the best home charging units for 2021 to ensure you’re keeping your electric car topped at times that suit you.
Remember, there’s only so many of these free charging stations to go around. So don’t go making them your primary source for power; they were only ever meant for a quick top-up.