What is a wallbox charger?
What is a wallbox charger? What does it do? Do you really need one? Here, we answer the most common questions about these devices
One of the biggest differences, and sometimes the biggest disadvantage, with electric cars is how they’re refuelled – or recharged. While you can top up the tank of a petrol or diesel car in a matter of minutes at a fuel station, that isn’t an option for electric cars.
There are plenty of DC rapid chargers around the UK now, and Tesla’s supercharger network is one of the brand’s key selling points. But for most people, the best option will be to charge their car overnight, at home. According to the Government’s 'Go Ultra Low' campaign, up to 90% of all electric-vehicle charging takes place at home.
However, if you use a three-pin socket which produces 3kW at best, charging an electric car to full could take up to two days. So, many electric car drivers are investing in a home wallbox charger, but how do you pick the right one for you out of the dozen that are available?
Read on to understand how wallbox charging works – and how to pick the right one for your electric vehicle.
What is a home wall charging unit, or wallbox – and do I need one?
A home wallbox charger is an additional charging unit that provides power at a higher rate than a normal three-pin plug socket. Installing one on your driveway or in your garage can make charging an electric car easier. If you have or are thinking about buying an electric vehicle, it’s important to think about what type you're getting and how you'll use it. If you go for a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) with limited electric range and a small battery, charging overnight is usually possible from a normal domestic socket.
A home socket can supply a maximum of 3kW, but it’s worth noting that not all of them can do this. Manufacturers don’t recommend using them long-term, as this can damage to the socket due to the high amperage drawn over a sustained period of time. Most electric or plug-in hybrid car drivers use their three-pin cable as an emergency backup option only.
If you buy an electric car that requires regular charging at higher speeds, a home socket won’t do. This is where a wallbox comes in. The typical speed range for a home wallbox unit is between 3 and 7kW, with some capable of up to 22kW if you're lucky enough to have three-phase power in your home. This means an electric vehicle can be charged in only a few hours. For example, a 40kWh Nissan Leaf would take 13.3 hours to fully charge from a regular mains socket. With a 7kW home charger, this falls to 5.7 hours, or 1.8 hours with a 22kW system.
If you’re thinking about purchasing a wallbox, consider installing a smart meter in your home. This will help you get the cheapest electricity tariffs when the vehicle is plugged in. The current average cost of electricity is around 14p per kWh, but during off-peak hours this often reduces to around 10p per kWh. If you charge your electric car regularly during off-peak hours, you can make serious savings. At that cheaper overnight rate, topping up a standard Nissan Leaf would cost just £4, affording you 168 miles of driving range. That's just over 2p per mile.
How do I choose the right one?
All wall chargers come with either a Type 1 or Type 2 cable that can be plugged into your vehicle. It’s more likely that the cable will be a Type 2, though, as this is compatible with all electric and plug-in hybrid models sold in the UK. However, check your vehicle's user manual or brochure to confirm the cable connectors for your car. This way you can make sure they're a good fit with any potential charger you're thinking of buying.
It’s then time to choose the speed. Some wallboxes offer 3kW, others 7kW and some can even charge at 22kW if your home or premises has three-phase power. First decide how much charge you want; the higher the power, the more the unit will cost. Standard installation costs are usually included in the price, and a certified technician will do the job. One company says 90% of customers qualify for the free standard installation, with those falling outside the criteria needing to pay extra if further work is required.
Are there any government grants to help the process?
Thanks to the current Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV) grant towards home and public chargers, the Government will fund up to 75% of the potential cost of installing a charging station. However, on 1 April 2020, the maximum available grant was reduced from £500 to £350.
Potential owners have to meet several conditions to be eligible for the grant. For example, only owners of eligible vehicles are supported, with the charging point needing to come from a Government-approved company. The charging point also has to be installed no more than four months ahead of the date of delivery or start of use of your electric vehicle.
Can I use my home charging unit on another electric vehicle (e.g. if I was to change cars)?
If you end up selling your current electric car and swapping it for a new model, you'll still be able to use your home wallbox, as long as its connector suits the car. Given that almost all new electric and hybrid cars use the European-standard Type 2 connector, this shouldn’t be a problem.
I live in an apartment, what can I do?
If you live in an apartment but are considering buying an electric car, you can ask the landlord or building owner to consider installing a public charging station for use. You may end up covering some or all of the cost of this, but you may be able to split the cost with other residents who own electric cars or are considering buying one.
What is a 'smart' charger?
Since July 2019, the Government wallbox grant has only been available for 'smart' wallboxes. These are units that can connect to the internet, meaning that charging can be controlled remotely using a smartphone app. This means you can schedule charging sessions to suit your needs, either making use of the cheapest electricity overnight, or guaranteeing you have a certain amount of range when you next need your car.
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