How much does it cost to charge an electric vehicle?

Ultra-low row running costs are one of the best reasons to go electric: here's now much charging will cost...

One of the big selling points for electric cars is how much cheaper they are to refuel than conventional cars. With petrol and diesel prices rising in recent years, drivers looking to save on running costs are increasingly considering electric vehicles.

There are two main ways of charging an electric car, either at home or using a public charging station. The amount of money you’ll spend on charging your electric vehicle depends on four factors: at what time you are charging the vehicle; where you are charging the vehicle; how your car's battery is; and how much charge you require.

Read on to find out how much charging an electric car is likely to cost, as well as our top tips on how to save money.

Home charging

According to the UK Government’s Go Ultra Low campaign, up to 90 per cent of electric vehicles are charged at home. There are two different ways of charging your electric vehicle at home: using the existing, three-pin plug system you have in your house, or installing a faster,  wallbox charging point – typically capable of 7kW – outside your home.

The first option comes with no installation costs, given you will likely have a plug or two lying around that you can use to charge an electric vehicle. A basic connector is supplied with most electric vehicles as standard, allowing you to plug the vehicle into a standard three-pin plug.

At a typical maximum current draw of 3kW, most electric cars will take several hours to charge fully, so the process is best carried out overnight. However, not all plugs can draw this amount of current – and manufacturers recommend not using a socket as the sole charging outlet.

The average electricity cost in the UK is around 14p per kilowatt-hour. As an example, using a 3kW charger on a Nissan Leaf with a 40kWh battery would take 13.3 hours to fully charge the car. This would cost £5.76, and with Nissan’s quoted range of 168 miles, that amounts to just over three pence per mile.

As a rough comparison, a typical petrol vehicle costs 12p per mile to run, making an electric vehicle much cheaper.

However, because electricity is cheaper during off-peak times – such as during the night – with an average price of 10p/kWh, a more representative cost of charging the Leaf overnight would be £4.00.

Sometimes, a slow overnight charge won't be convenient, which is why many drivers choose to install a home wallbox charger in order to access faster charging rates.

A typical home charging unit can supply power between 3kW and 22kW, although most operate at 7kW. The costs range quite drastically between different brands but, as an example, a 7kW home charging unit from Pod Point will cost owners £859 to purchase and install. However, a grant from the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV) covers up to 75 per cent of the installation cost with a maximum contribution of £500: this means Pod Point's charger will only cost you £359.

There are several conditions that need to be met to qualify for the OLEV grant, including that the work has to be carried out by installers that have been authorised by the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles. You must also have your own off-street parking, and have a plug-in car either on order or already in use.

It’s worth shopping around, though, as other companies like Chargemaster supplying 7kW home charging units starting for less than £300.

A 7kW home charger significantly reduces the charging time, with little change in the cost of electricity. A full 168-mile charge on the 40kWh Nissan Leaf would take less than six hours, vastly improving convenience for those occasions when you need to top up in a hurry.

Over a year and 9,000 miles, the maths between an electric vehicle and a petrol equivalent show some significant savings. At an average economy of 45mpg, a petrol car will cost £1,209 to run in fuel alone. A 40kWh Leaf with a real-world range of 168 miles would cost £300 for the 12 months.

It’s also worth noting that you can save even more by investing in solar panels and a household battery to generate and store electricity.

Public station charging

The cost of charging at one of the UK’s thousands of public charging points depends on the one you visit. Various charging networks run different charging stations, each with their own individual pricing structure.

The largest network of public charging stations in the UK is the Polar Plus network (which is owned by BP Chargemaster), with over 7,000 charge points across the UK.

A subscription costs £7.85 a month, with new joiners getting the first three months free. Most of the charge points are free to use for members, with some stations incurring fees starting from 12p/kWh. Some of the faster chargers will cost more than this, however.

Meanwhile, Polar Instant offers a pay-as-you go service. The faster the charger, the more you pay for each kilowatt-hour: this is slightly more expensive, but works for occasional users who don't need access to public chargers on a regular basis.

Accessing the Polar Plus network is given via either the Polar Smartphone App, or an RFID card for Polar Plus members.

Motorway charging

If you are driving on the motorway, the likelihood of coming across a rapid charger capable of 350kW is increasing month by month. IONITY plans to have 40 such stations in operation in the UK by the end of 2020, giving ultra-fast turnaround times to electric cars with the biggest batteries.

At the moment, IONITY is charging customers a flat rate of £8 regardless of how much energy they consume. However, there are currently no cars on sale that can make full use of the maximum 350kW charging speed: most high-end electric cars are capable of around 100-150kW, which is still very fast indeed.

How to find out how much various public charging stations cost

To find out the charging rates of public charging stations near you, log onto www.zap-map.com and click on the map. After typing in your postcode, you can then click on the individual stations near you to find out their charging speeds, connector types and even if they are in use.

The service will also show if they need a subscription and how much you will be charged – with prices often described in either £ per kWh or £ per minute/hour of use.