EV Charging 101

Following Jonny’s electric vehicle charging article, here’s everything you need to know about charging an EV in Europe – from someone who’s driven one since 2019!

You’ve Bought Your First EV 🔌🔋⚡🚗

Fiat 500e Convertable
The convertible Fiat 500e

First of all, fantastic work, you’re awesome!

Thanks for making a great decision and welcome to the future!

So charging, that’s something you need to do now… no more dinosaur juice for you, you’re EV all the way!

🛢️🦕⛽💥

⬇️

☀️💨🔋⚡

But how do you charge?

Types of Charging

It’s really a lot simpler than you’d think there are just two types:

  1. AC – Slow and Fast charging
  2. DC – Rapid charging

AC Charging

Slow Chargers

A slow charger uses AC power. Alternating current (AC) is what comes out of your plug socket at home.

In fact, plugging your car into a Schuko/3-pin plug, is an example of slow charging.

The charging lead (often called a granny charger, because of how slowly it charges) plugs into your home socket at one end and your car at the other. Some chargers and cars enable you to select how many amps to pull. A Tesla can pull between 5 amps and 10 amps from a domestic socket. You might want to vary the amperage if your house has poor electrics, or if you’re trying to use what your solar is generating.

Hyundai Kona Electric Charging
Hyundai Kona Electric

So how much charge can a home plug socket provide?

10 amps x 230 volts = 2.3 kW (kilowatt)

The Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus has a 50 kWh battery pack, so on a 3-pin plug in the UK, you can charge half the battery (or 25 kWh) in 11 hours. That’s over 100 miles topped up on cheap, renewable electricity while you sleep.

Fast Chargers

Fast charging also uses AC power. If you get an EV chargepoint installed at home, it is likely to be a 7.4kW fast charger.

This would enable you to completely “fill” a Model 3 from empty to full in a little under 7 hours.

Fast charging speeds are limited by the cars onboard charger. This converts the AC power into DC power, to feed into the car’s battery.

Charging by AC and DC

Some BEVs (battery electric vehicles) have powerful onboard chargers, like the Renault Zoe, which can charge at up to 22kWh. The Model 3 has a 11kW onboard charger. Some cars are limited to slower speeds, like the VW e-Up! limited to 7.2kW AC charging.

Many supermarkets and retail parks have fast chargers onsite – which are often free! Spending 60 minutes in the supermarket can give you ~40 miles of charge.

DC Charging

Rapid and Ultra-Rapid Chargers

Rapid (and Ultra-Rapid) charging uses DC power. This means the power can be fed straight into the battery.

Rapid chargers can charge from speeds of 43kWh, to speeds upwards of 350kWh!

If you’re on a long road trip, you’d use a rapid charger to top-up the battery at super speed!

The Tesla Supercharger network is an example of an ultra-rapid charging network. Many Supercharger stalls now have 250kW chargers! In a Long Range Model 3 can charge at up to 250kWh, which is over 1,000 miles an hour!

Using the Supercharger network, you can top-up 200 miles of range in 15 minutes. That’s 3 hours of motorway driving in the time it takes you to visit the toilet and get a cupa tea.

Rapid chargers tend to be more expensive than Slow and Fast chargers, but they can deliver power and much faster speeds.

Rapid chargers are sometimes supported by battery storage, to ensure consistent supply and the cleanest possible energy. Here’s a video of the GridServe charging hub from the awesome team at Fully Charged.

Charging Plugs

European charging connectors are also really simple now.

European AC connectors for Slow and Fast charging are:

  1. Type 2 (AKA mennekes)
  2. Type 1

European DC connectors for Rapid charging are:

  1. CCS (AKA Combo 2)
  2. CHAdeMO

CCS and Type 2 use the same plug design – CCS is basically a Type 2 plug with an extra two pins.

A CCS plug (left) and a Type 2 plug (right)

Both have been the standard socket in Europe for some time now, with CHAdeMO and Type 1 slowly being phased out.

Some charging posts have more than one type of connector – using the right one for your car will ensure you get the best speed! For example, using a Type 2 charging lead will charge much slower than a CCS lead – if your car has both sockets.

Many charging units can charge more than one car at a time, but not all, so it’s worth checking beforehand.

Generally speaking, Slow and Fast chargers (away from home) don’t come with a charging cable – you plug your own in. Rapid chargers however always come with a cable – be that CCS or CHAdeMO.

Finding a Charger

The UK has more charging stations than petrol stations, so it’s not difficult to find a charger. To help you out (in the UK) Zap-Map have a fantastic live, interactive map! PlugShare is a similar map, which covers most of the world!

How many chargers are there within 10 miles of your home?

I bet it’s more than you thought!

Some Thoughts on Fast Charging for Electric Vehicles

Practical Questions

Living in 2 countries simultaneously (Italy and The Netherlands) means that I tend to travel long distances by car. This year I have driven between homes 4 times, and a couple of years ago it became apparent that soon I would need a better car.

This brought me to looking around and the possibility of energy choice, could I buy an electric car?

As I travel up and down Europe I have noticed that there are a lot of electric fast charging stations appearing. The majority service a corridor that runs from the South of the UK through the Netherlands and Germany and down to Switzerland. This is my route so (today) that certainly looks possible.

But how long would I have to stop in order to charge the car? Well not very long it appears.

I could charge the car with a 350 KW CCS system in a very short time, in 20 minutes I could have the car 80% charged and ready to go.

Just enough time for a coffee and sandwich.

What is on Offer?

I was pleased to discover that there is a new charging station round the corner from my house, so I went to investigate. The station is on a sider road in an industrial area, just off a major route. It is small, minimalist, but that should not lead to too many assumptions, as this little point offers a host of charging capabilities.

CCS: 50 KW

CCS: 175 Kw

CCS: 350 Kw

CCS: 350 Kw

Plus a 50 Kw CHA de MO system.

Well I was not sure what all of that meant, but I understand that it requires a lot of potential capacity: 970 Kw of potential.

In my house in Italy I have a 3 Kw contract, I cannot extract more from the grid without it throwing the switch. I could pay more and have access to a higher load, but it isn’t necessary. In the Netherlands I have a 3 Kw solar system that covers all of my needs.

So the little charging station down the road has the potential of about 323 of my average houses. So not only does it require serious infrastructure in its building, but it is also a source of power drainage and loss that should not be underestimated.

For example 5 to 7% of the original primary energy is lost during the delivery of electricity through the transmission and distribution system. The energy becomes waste heat released in the air due to line losses and conversion losses in transformers and other line equipment.  And this type of capacity is not available everywhere, even in the Netherlands, as this article about parts of Amsterdam explains (Amsterdam Power Grid at Maximum Capacity).

Geopolitical Questions

I imagine that most of the charging will take place during the day, this is a high energy use period however meaning the local system might already be running at high capacity. But that is also the time that solar energy is produced, so maybe the percentage of renewable energy might be higher.

Or maybe the move towards the exponential expansion of these facilities will require a rethinking of how energy is produced (better not to go down that road).

According to this study, the EU will require 1.3 million of these charging stations by 2025, and 1.8 billion Euros of investment. This may sound a lot but it is only about 3% of its annual transport infrastructure costs.

Or will these costs be borne by the electric companies, and their customers?

And who will pay for the expansion beyond the richer countries and what will the geopolitical effects be?

Charging the car from solar panels on the roof of your house in one thing, almost circular, but the mass development and deployment of this kind of infrastructure raises a host of socio-technical and political questions.

The Future of Electric Shipping

Electric cars are becoming common to see in Europe these days, but did you know that electric shipping is on the horizon? And like cars these will also move into the realms of autonomy. And this is much close than you think!

At the end of last year, shipbuilder VARD delivered Yara Birkeland, a zero-emissions container vessel, to Yara International, a Norwegian fertiliser company. Its maiden voyage was manned, but this 80m-long, 15m-wide container ship is expected to gradually shift from manned to fully autonomous operations by 2022.

The ship has a been specifically designed for a particular purpose. It will transport cargo between Yara’s fertiliser plant in Porsgrunn to the Brevik and Larvik ports in Norway, which is expected to take approximately 40,000 truck journeys off the road annually and reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) and carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions.

This is interesting because this is a short route, so rather than having to imagine designing a ship that could sail half way round the world, the builders have designed something that can make short trips by sea, similar to the short-range electric delivery vehicles that we see making home deliveries from supermarkets in Europe.

And this is reflected in its surprisingly small power-pack. This little beast has a 7MWH battery capacity (about 100 large electric cars) and promises to be entirely emission free, which is important if you know that shipping emits over 1 billion tonnes a year of CO2 and is growing — and already produces more than all but the top five individual country emitters.

Although the project is still very much a work in progress, its an exciting prospect as currently 90% of the world’s goods are moved by sea and with shipping generating between 2% and 3% of all global emisions this must be a welcome move.

Before you go, take a look at the other posts on this website about electric transport.