Charging an electric car at an apartment or flat


Potential EV owners shouldn’t be put off because they don’t have a driveway. Here are the solutions

Charging an EV at home makes lots of sense, which is why around 85% of owners refill their car batteries this way. Not only is it cheaper thanks to lower domestic electricity, but it’s more convenient as you can charge when the car would otherwise be doing nothing, such as overnight when you’re asleep. Simple, no? Well, not quite.

You see, you really need a garage or off-street parking to make this work, which is fine until you consider that over 40% of households in the UK don’t have this facility. That rules out quite a lot of potential drivers looking to go green. Or does it? Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that driving an electric car and having to park on the road shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. In fact, read on and you’ll find that it could be easier to do than you think.

Can I run a cable across the pavement?

In theory, the easiest solution is simply to run a cable from your property, across the pavement and then plug into your car at the kerbside. Yet there are some hazards – literal tripping ones as well those of the legal kind – to be aware of if you’re considering this option.

On paper there’s nothing wrong with doing this, but there are some guidelines you should follow. First off you should make sure the cable is laid as flat as possible and when charging is complete the cable needs to be removed immediately. You should also only plug into a ground floor or basement power supply – hanging a cable from a first-floor window is very much frowned on.

If there’s no other choice, then you can consider a raised cable protector like those often used on pavements where roadworks are being undertaken. It’ll need to be made of tough non-slip plastic and be finished in contrasting colours, such as yellow and black, for maximum visibility. Bear in mind, however, that you’ll still need to take the protector and cable up every time you finish charging, which is a bit of a faff.

From the point of view of the charger itself, it’s also worth considering the length of the charging cable, especially if you’re using the three-pin domestic unit. Most won’t have cables that are long enough to stretch from the house to the car, and using an extension cord is forbidden by most EV manufacturers.

In terms of legislation, it’s not illegal to run the cable across the pavement, but you must ensure it doesn’t cause a danger or nuisance to pedestrians. Perhaps most importantly of all, if someone does trip and injures themselves, you will be held legally responsible. As a result, councils will caution against this practice, although only a few ban it outright.

There may be another solution on the horizon, though, with UK company Green Mole proposing purpose-built tunnels under the pavement. Essentially, a standard wallbox charger is mounted to the side of your house while a small trench is dug out of the pavement and covered with a non-slip metal cover. When you need to charge, simply unlock a panel in the metal cover at the kerbside and pull the charging cable out. It’s still in the early days of development, and with a proposed price of £3000 it’s not cheap, but it does solve many of the issues of roadside charging.

What about public charging?

Perhaps the most straightforward answer to the problem is to plug into a public charger. You don’t need to run cables across pavements or park inconsiderately to make the plug reach, simply roll up to a space and let the electricity flow. Obviously this will involve some research of your local area to find out where the most convenient sites are and you’ll pay more for the energy than you do at home, but it should be largely hassle-free, more so when you consider that the range of EV cars is improving all the time, meaning fewer requirements to top-up the battery.

So what are your other options?

For the quickest charging you’ll need to find a rapid-charging hub, where in many cases you can get a full charge in a compatible vehicle in under an hour. For most people doing lots of short hops, this should mean you won’t need to be back for a week or two. However, most of these sites tend to be out of town, meaning you’ll need to make a special trip just to plug in. It’s also worth considering the health of the battery, because frequent rapid charges will result in a quicker degradation in the cell’s efficiency. And of course this sort of charging costs more, with companies such as Ionity charging 69p per kWh – not far off the cost of traditional petrol and diesel.

The next option is on-street chargers, which look a little like high-tech parking meters. There are providers to choose from and finding them is straightforward thanks to smartphone apps such as Zap Map that not only highlight their location but also tell you whether they are working and available. On the whole, these tend to be 3kW slow chargers like the three-pin domestic type, meaning something like a Tesla Model 3 would take 24 hours to charge. And although there don’t tend to be any time restrictions on remaining plugged in, EV etiquette dictates a few hours at most – so you can’t leave your car charging overnight or while you’re at work in the day.

Further opportunities to charge are offered by lamp post chargers, which are as straightforward as they sound. Simply put, these feature a transformer with a socket and control unit that are bolted straight to the street lighting and take its electricity feed. Accessed by using an app, they usually offer 3kW slow charging and are relatively cheap and easy to install. Brighton and Hove council has recently installed 200 of these units on residential streets. However, unlike many they are not attached to dedicated EV parking bays, so you might find an ICE car parked in them. On the plus side, there will be less pressure to move on once hooked up to the mains.

In terms of cost, the prices vary depending on the provider, but around 26p per kWh is the usual charge. Some are pay as you go, allowing you to simply arrive, plug in and then use a contactless bank card to pay. Others require a monthly or annual subscription but with a lower price for every kWh used. Most now can be accessed using a smartphone app, but there are a small number that still require an RFID card. Also, be aware that most on-street chargers are untethered, so you’ll need to remember to keep your cable in the boot. However, this does mean most will accept any sort of charging plug.

Another option is to keep the cells topped up when you head off for your weekly shop or an evening out. Many supermarkets are now installing chargers in their car parks, and the good news is that they’re free to use. For instance, Tesco has partnered with Volkswagen to create the largest retailer-based charging infrastructure in the UK. Most sites will include 7kW chargers that are free to use, while some will have 50kW and 22kW rapid chargers, the former costing 28p per kWh and the latter being free.

What if there are no public chargers near my apartment?

While the roadside infrastructure is improving all the time, there are still many areas underserved by public charging points. Of course, if you’re desperate to run an EV you could move, but that’s a dramatic and expensive option. Alternatively you can contact your local council and request that chargers be installed in your area. The government has provided funds for the On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS), which local authorities can use to add chargers to its streets. If you contact your local council, they should be able to tell you whether they are planning to access the budget available and whether you’ll be able to have chargers in your area.

Obviously that could take a while, so in the meantime it might be worth considering a charger sharing scheme. There are around 250,000 home charging points in the UK and they’re not all being used at the same time. Smartphone apps such as Co-Charger and Plug-Share highlight locations with domestic wallbox chargers and off-road parking that are close by and are owned by fellow EV drivers who are willing to let others use them for a fee. Prices vary as hosts can set their minimum price per kWh, but it’s often cheaper than public charging and you can compare the pricing of different venues on the app.

Finally, if all else fails, you could consider mobile charging. Charge Fairy, for example, offers on-street charging using its fleet of specially fitted Nissan e-NV200s to come and top up your EV’s cells while parked outside your house. Each vehicle features a large battery storage system that allows quick transfer of electricity to your car.

It’s a smartphone app-based system that monitors your use and predicts when you’ll need more charge, meaning you should never run flat as its mobile team will swoop in and charge when it calculates you’ll be running low. You won’t even need to be on hand as they can access your EV’s charging flap without the key, while extra-long cables enable them to park three cars away and still charge your car. It costs £5.99 a week, which includes the first 10kWh of charge, after which you’ll pay 37p per kWh.

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