What sockets do electric cars use, and what do they mean?
Who knew plugging in could be so complex? TG breaks it down into manageable mouthfuls
Cat DowPublished: 24 Apr 2023External link to Top Gear Magazine Subscription – 5 issues for £5Skip 1 photos in the image carousel and continue reading
Electric vehicles should be the most straightforward things, on the basis that we spend half our lives plugging stuff in. Phones, vacuums, household appliances, we’re no strangers to sticking cables in devices or topping up batteries. Yet, the differences in electric vehicle charging sockets can be inexplicably mind-boggling.
The four types of providing power to your EV are the ubiquitous three-pin plug, Type 2, Chademo and CCS. Type 1 is more common in the US, but we’ll come onto that.
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Each one gives increased power delivery, meaning shorter charging times.
Power is delivered as either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). AC charge points are lower powered, slower charge points. On the other hand, DC charge points deliver rapid charging sessions.
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Can I not just use my three-pin socket as the charge point?
Yes, you absolutely can. The UK’s three-pin 13A, 230V socket gives 3kW power delivery. It’s a great source for power, providing you’re not charging zero to full. In that case, you’ll likely be on for a good few hours (cough, ahem, days).
A three-pin is great for topping up your electric car with say 20-30 miles (enough to get you to a proper charge point), but you will need to have bought the cable that enables you to connect to that socket.
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I need to buy a special cable?
Most likely. In a move akin to Apple’s lightning cable non-standards, the car makers have realised that they can offer cable differences as an optional extra, rather than provide one as standard. Make sure you purchase the one most suited to your needs.
What about the size of the cable?
The greater the power delivery, the chunkier the cable needs to be, that’s true. That’s why rapid charging points, like Ionity’s 350kW devices, are tethered by design. That means you don’t need to whip out your own cable from your car to use them (but they can be pretty unwieldy).
Typically, households can have Type 2 connectors installed. (Type 1 sockets are more commonly associated with US vehicles.) Type 2 connectors, previously known as Mennekes, are used widely in Europe, as they became single-phase EU standard in 2015.
What does ‘single-phase’ mean?
Single phase means one ‘live’ pin (the one you mustn’t touch) and one ‘neutral’ pin. This is the common supply to most UK properties. Equally, most cars sold in the UK have a single-phase on-board charger, so they can take only 7.4kW AC.
With three-phase, you have three live pins and one neutral, so you can get three lots of 7.4kW — a total 22kW. Commercial properties, such as garages and farms, plus public areas, can usually accommodate 22kW charging points.
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I feel like there’s a catch…
Spider senses are working then. The deal is, electric vehicles have on-board chargers. Some cars are only given the capacity to accept 7.4kW AC power. If you connect to a 22kW charge point, but you have this limitation, you’ll still only get 7.4kW power delivery.
Though the Type 2 connector can handle both, your car needs a three-phase on-board charger to take advantage. The Renault Megane we have in the TG Garage can do this — it charges in about three hours on the public 22kW charging point.
Type 1 supports 3kW-7kW charging, where Type 2 supports 3kW-22kW charging. Most home charge points and destination charging points in supermarkets, shopping centres and so on offer 3kW, 7kW or 22kW power delivery.
Since batteries don’t like to be perpetually charged fast (it knackers the chemistry in ‘em), topping up regularly at these slower AC chargers is a shrewd decision.
What’s a Chademo socket?
Started in 2010, the CHAdeMO (CHArge de Move) system was the first “fast-charging” system, initially supporting a 62.5kW power delivery. The second-gen, which is widely used in Japan, but less common in Europe or the States, supports 400kW.
The name’s backstory is another mildly amusing Japanese take on life, stemming from a phrase ‘how about a cup of tea?’ – the intended charging period. It uses direct current (DC), rather than AC.
Some Japanese electric cars in the UK can make use of the handful of ‘rapid’ Chademo chargers originally installed. The list includes the Lexus UX 300e, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Nissan Leaf, plus some non-Japanese models, like the Mk1 Citroen Berlingo Electric and Mk1 Kia Soul EV – worth being aware of if you’re shopping for an electric car on the used car market.
Now, the majority of car makers, including the Japanese ones, have adopted the European CCS rapid-charging standard.
What’s the European CCS rapid-charging standard?
CCS standards for ‘combined charging system’. The port itself is an amalgamation of a smaller Type 1 or Type 2 port, with a lozenge-shaped two pin, to make a super socket that can support much higher charging capabilities – we’re talking power deliver of up to 350kW+ these days.
That’s a long way from your ol’ home charging point of 3kW, right?
But rapid-charging isn’t just about turning up the power. Power generates heat, and ‘thermal management’ is a phrase that unsurprisingly goes far beyond you choosing to wear a onesie in a cost-of-living crisis.
Where do Tesla Supercharger sockets fit in to all of this?
Tesla’s sockets are unique to those models. However, in Europe, due to those (ultimately, not-so-very) pesky EU bureaucrats, the car maker has to comply with Type 2 standards. So Teslas are equipped to handle Type 2 and CCS charging in the UK.
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Do you need a special socket for an electric car?
To connect the car to a power source for recharging the battery, you can use a standard three-pin plug. It might take a good week or so to get any useful range though, so it’s worth considering installing a home charge point, or figuring out the nearest charge point locations to you. The Zap-Map app can be a helpful resource, as it comprehensively lists all charge points across the UK, gives you an idea of status i.e. whether they’re functioning and if they’re in use, and more recently, there’s a feature called Zap-Pay, which makes paying for the electricity a bit less of a faff.
Can you change a Type 1 charger to Type 2?
You can’t retrofit a different socket to the car, but you can get adapters that connect to the socket, or the plug to change your cable, rather than the motor.
Can you charge an electric car from a normal plug socket in the UK?
Most manufacturers will supply – either as standard, or as an optional extra – a cable with a three-pin plug so you can use a regular home socket to charge an EV. As we’ve said, using a 13amp socket is sloooooooooow. But it can be a life-saver in a bind. If you’ve not got a lot of mates with home EV charge points installed, it might be worth learning how to ‘hypermile’ now.
How much does it cost to install an electric car charging point at home in the UK?
The million-pound question… it’s not cheap, but given there’s new regulation for all new homes to have their own EV charging points installed by the developer, you’re likely increasing the value of your property. See home EV charge point installation as an investment and it’ll seem less expensive. Crudely, the charge point itself can be anything from £500 to £1,500, but the installation of it needs to be done by a specialist and that can bump the price up to £1,000-£1,200 as a ballpark baseline.
If you’re shrewd, you might be able to swing the home EV charge point in as part of the package when you buy a new EV (though we’re seeing less generosity from car makers now more people are switching to EVs).
How much does it cost to charge an electric car in the UK?
Costs to charge an electric car have shifted considerably since the escalation in energy prices. While home charging, especially for those on EV friendly tariffs, is still pretty competitive, public charge points have put charging an EV on par with lofty diesel prices – wiping the smug smiles from the faces of those early-adopters. Zap-Map data recently suggested EV drivers were seven times more likely to have solar panels fitted, so perhaps those charging at home and on free work chargers are getting a better deal after all.
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