S h a r e
Choosing an EV – when you live in a flat
The EV Team
For those living in an apartment or within a block of flats with shared parking, the thought of choosing an electric vehicle might seem an impossible prospect. The fact is, it’s a compromise, but by no means insurmountable.
In the latest Zap-Map survey of EV users, almost 85% of respondents used home charging, and that figure has never dropped below 80% in the four years the survey has been run. But equally, 98% of those questioned said they had access to private off-street parking. So many drivers without off-street parking of their own will rely on public points to charge their EV. But what are your options?
The simple answer is to recommend a hybrid – self-charging or plug-in – as these can rely on the engine to keep going, with the latter being charged when possible. Although keeping your car going requires a trip to the petrol station forecourt, they can’t match the efficiency or emissions output of a pure-electric car. For some, this compromise is a necessity, but many drivers will be able to go electric with only a small change in attitude and approach. The question is, where do you charge if you don’t have at-home facilities?
Accessing public chargers
One way to charge away from home, where available, is at work. The car is often left for hours on end without being required, so if you can plug-in there, you simply invert the common charging times – during the day rather than at night.
This is a good option for both pure-electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models, allowing EVs to run without a compromise in heading to public chargers, and PHEV drivers the chance to maximise efficiency by running on electric power as much as possible.
Because of the smaller battery – and therefore shorter charging times – of PHEVs, the back-up of having an engine as well could mean a hybrid makes perfect sense for drivers living in flats or apartments, particularly with a reliable workplace charge.
Not everyone has a work charging option though, and with no reliable access to a home EV wallbox, drivers will need to find out about their local public charging infrastructure.
The types of public charger
It should be noted that ultra-rapid charging, including the Tesla Supercharger and Ionity networks are usually only found along major routes such as at motorway services or close to major trunk roads, both in the UK and across Europe.
Many Tesla Supercharger points are also restricted to only drivers of Tesla vehicles, though the network is gradually being opened up to non-Tesla drivers. It is important to check whether a charging location is available to non-Tesla vehicles before relying on it.
Equally, Ionity chargers only have CCS connectors, so those EVs with a CHAdeMO socket will not be able to use them. The majority of electric cars capable of rapid charging use the European CCS standard, but drivers of the Nissan Leaf for example will not be able to use Ionity units.
The charging networks
There are a large, and seemingly ever growing, number of public charging providers, with both major nationwide networks such as Osprey, Gridserve, and Instavolt, as well as more locally focused providers like ubitricity, which puts charge points in street furniture such as lamp-posts.
All public charge points must allow ad-hoc access, which is usually offered by the use of an app from the network. Downloading it to their smartphone, the driver can then start and stop the charging process, and get billed for the charging session.
Rapid chargers are legislated to allow contactless payment card access, so drivers can tap their bank card like they would do at a supermarket, tapping again to end the session. This means drivers can turn up at a new-to-them network and access a point without any special app or RFID access card.
Charging hubs are springing up across the country, which see a large number of charging points in one location. It allows drivers to rely on being able to turn up and be able to plug-in straight away in most cases, with a dozen or more units available to use. There are hubs at locations like Gridserve’s Braintree “Electric Forecourt”, Instavolt’s Banbury location, and Osprey’s hub in Devon. Hubs tend to be sited close to main through routes, though Shell has replaced a conventional forecourt with a charging hub on the Shell Recharge network, in Fulham in west London, so this is not always the case.
Download a public charging point map such as Zap-Map and you will be able to find chargers from any network in the UK. You could search by switching between different networks’ apps, but by using the filters to keep to those networks you want to use, it’s simpler to find them using a third-party service, and then use the network to use the point where required.
Apps like Zap-Map, as well as WattsUp and Plugshare are all available on both iOS and Android platforms, and are commonly used by any EV driver, both those relying on public points for “home” charging, and those charging on public units occasionally.
What does it cost to use a public EV charger?
Costs can vary greatly depending on the network, and also whether there is a subscription available. All charge points are accessible at a set fee, but some car manufacturers provide a cross-network access card, with usage billed to one account monthly, and with discounted prices on the electricity used with a monthly subscription. If using a particular network regularly, as drivers from flats and apartments may need to do, significant savings could be made by subscribing.
There are some free charge points around, but these are few and far between. Instead, expect a price of around 35-50p per kW for “fast” public chargers, and between 60-80p per kW for rapid and ultra-rapid points. However, these prices can change quickly depending on the wholesale price of electricity.
If relying on public charging, it is worth investigating the closest and cheapest points, because a little extra walk from home could see a dramatic reduction in motoring costs.
Home chargepoint grants for flats
Where conditions are met, the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) currently offers a grant of up to £350 per point towards the cost of installing chargers at properties such as blocks of flats. There may be the possibility to have chargers installed where you live, which would make life dramatically simpler, so if there is designated parking for the building where you live, it’s worth asking the landlord about it.
Does it really work if you live in an apartment complex?
Well, yes it does, as two Fleet Alliance employees can tell you. Both Marc Murphy and Laura McKechnie live in apartments where there is no charging facility. Marc drives a Tesla Model 3, while Laura drives a VW e-Golf.
Find out what they do to keep their cars charged up.
- Drives a Tesla Model 3
- Lives in an apartment
- Uses on-street charging
Received opinion says that, in order to drive an EV, you need to have some form of off-street parking so that the car’s battery can be suitably replenished via a home charging unit.
Marc Murphy, though, decided that he was going against received opinion. And he is now gliding silently around in a Tesla Model 3 Performance.
Marc is head of marketing at Fleet Alliance and decided to swap fuel pump for battery charger, saying that a combination of new technology and the environmental benefits of running zero-emission were key to his decision, adding: “It just felt right to be moving in this direction.”
Living in a city apartment in central Glasgow meant Marc had no immediate access to an electric charger. However, the city location actually played into Marc’s hands. He explains:
“Where I live is in close proximity to a couple of on-street chargers but in addition, I’m also only a 10-minute drive to the nearest Tesla Supercharging network. Most of the time I’ve been able to access the on-street chargers without a problem.
“In fact charging my Tesla in Scotland to date has been a problem-free experience. I’ve genuinely had zero range anxiety.”
Marc says his usual routine is to get a 30 minute supercharge every couple of weeks from the Tesla charging station at a cost of between £11 to £14, with the occasional on-street top-up.
There have, however, been a couple of times when it’s not been quite so easy to charge up.
Marc explains: “When I visited Northern Ireland, the lack of charging infrastructure was noticeable, with only one in every three on-street chargers working. Having said that, I always managed to find a charger after a little searching.
“It was also the only place where the charging cable became locked into the charger. However, after a 30-minute call with customer services they were able to release it. Northern Ireland’s infrastructure definitely felt a little less advanced than it is here in Scotland.”
So what advice would Marc give to someone who wanted to go electric but also wanted to continue apartment living?
“I think it’s important to do a little research into the charging infrastructure in your area,” says Marc. “Choosing a Tesla and living close to a supercharging station is an added benefit, so just make sure you’re choosing an EV with the flexibility and battery range your driving requires. But if there are enough public charging options nearby, I’d highly recommend switching to electric.”
- Drives Volkswagen e-Golf
- Lives in a flat
- Uses local charge points
In the past, the only car Laura would look at was a sporty coupe. After all, her last two cars were both the Volkswagen Scirocco.
But now she’s at the wheel of a Golf. Not a sporting GTI model, but an electric e-Golf. Quite a change, then.
Not so, says Laura, who is a client relationship manager at Fleet Alliance.
“What I like most about the Golf is that it’s so quick off the mark. I’m a bit of a speed freak so I wouldn’t want to be driving a boring car, but I was so-so surprised by the e-Golf. It’s very quick but also really smooth. So I’m not losing anything in the driving experience from my old Scirocco. In fact, I prefer how the electric Golf drives.”
What’s more, Laura doesn’t have access to a home charger. She lives in a flat, and while there is an allocated parking space, so far the management company has been reluctant to allow Laura to install a charge point.
Nevertheless, while this has been a nuisance, it really hasn’t detracted from the ownership experience of the e-Golf. Laura has made charging up the car part of her personal fitness regime.
She says: “There are plenty of public chargers where I live and a rapid charger close by. I cover about 600-700 miles a month so I’m charging the car once every five days or so. It’s encouraged me to park at a fast-charging point and then go for a long hour and a half walk and get my steps up, so it works really well for my personal fitness. When I get back the car is fully charged. If I use the rapid charger that takes about half an hour, I’ll just sit in my car and go through my emails.”
What’s more, so far it has cost Laura not a penny to charge up. Currently, all Charge Scotland chargers in the Glasgow area are free to use.
Laura says that at first, she was a bit anxious about maintaining the car’s battery charge, but since then she has become more relaxed about it.
“People who don’t drive electric cars think they need to be charged up at every opportunity,” she says. “Once you become used to your routine you just relax about the whole thing. I usually run the battery down to about 30 miles range before topping up.”
So what advice would Laura give to someone who lives in a flat without direct access to a charger?
“I would say don’t rule it out. Having an EV doesn’t trouble me because of my driving profile and the availability of charging points. But I understand that might not be the same for everyone. So my advice would be to get on board with the technology – use Zap-Map which shows where chargers are located – and plan your journey. There are chargers all around – you just sometimes have to look for them.
“You’ll be pleased you did it. Whenever I start to complain about charging, I then think of the yearly £3000 saving I’m making in tax and fuel, as well as not having to go into a fuel filling station.
“I certainly wouldn’t go back to a petrol or diesel.
“There’s no valid reason not to go electric.”