Electric driving

Electric car charging: everything you need to know

October 25, 2022

Charging an electric car is a little more involved than filling up a fuel-engine car, but that doesn’t mean it’s complicated. After all, all you have to do is plug in a plug and start the charging process. Except that there are various types of plugs, charging is not the same everywhere, the cost of charging can vary widely, and there are many different charging card providers.

How does charging work?

Charging an electric car is done with the included charging cable. All you have to do is plug it into the car’s charging socket and the charging point. There are also charging stations that already have a charging cable attached. Then you don’t have to use your own charging cable.

Starting and ending a charging session is done using an app or a charging card in the name of a person or company. This is also required for automatic billing of power costs. When starting the charging session, the plug also locks on both sides so that it cannot be pulled out during charging.

Charging with AC or DC

Charging an electric car can be done with alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). Thereby, AC and DC refer to the English abbreviations of “alternating current” and “direct current.

The national grid works with AC, but a battery of an electric car works with DC. To charge the battery with power directly from the grid, AC must first be converted to DC. This is done using an inverter in the car. However, the inverter has a limiting effect on the battery charging rate.

Charging with AC applies to virtually all home, work, street, residential, parking garage charging points, etc. These are the simply designed charging stations where you have to use your own charging cable. The power provided by such an AC charging point ranges from 2.3 kW to 22 kW. The higher the power, the faster the battery can be charged. The vast majority of public AC charging points in the Netherlands provide a power of 11 kW.

DC charging bypasses the inverter in the car, allowing much higher charging speeds. That’s why this is called fast charging. Conversion from AC to DC takes place in the charging station itself. Fast chargers are found mainly along the highway and in parking lots of large shopping centers.

DC chargers deliver powers between 50 and 150 kW and sometimes as much as 350 kW at the latest charging stations being built in Europe. In most electric cars, the battery is charged to 80% in about 30 minutes via such a fast charger. Or ten times faster than via a typical AC charging point. With a fast charger, by the way, you do not need to use your own charging cable, as it is already attached to the charging station. Because of the much higher charging capacities, these charging cables are thicker, heavier and often water-cooled.

Which plug will fit my electric car?

The Type 2 plug – also known as the Mennekes plug – has been the universal standard in Europe for charging electric cars with alternating current (AC) since 2014. Since then, the Type 2 connection can be found at all AC charging stations and all electric cars (and plug-in hybrids) sold in Europe.

The Type 3 plug – also known as the Combined Charging System (CCS) plug – has been the European standard for fast DC charging since 2017. So since then, all new electric cars suitable for fast charging have been equipped with a CCS connection.

However, some pre-2017 electric cars, including the first and second generation of the Nissan LEAF, have a different connection for DC charging. Fast charging on these cars can only be done with the so-called Chademo plug, and thus not with the CCS plug.

Due to European regulations, almost all new fast-charging stations built or renewed since 2017 have only CCS charging cables. The Chademo plug is slowly being phased out and, relative to the total number of fast charging stations, can be found in relatively few places.

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

Battery charging time depends on several factors: the battery capacity (in kWh), at what maximum power the battery can be charged (in kW), the maximum power the AC or DC charging point can deliver (in kW) and the temperature of the battery.

It is important to note that the weakest link determines how fast the battery actually charges. And how long it ultimately takes to fully charge the battery depends on its capacity. The higher the number of kWh, the more energy the battery can store and the longer it will take to recharge.

At what maximum power the car battery can be charged with alternating current (AC) depends on inverter in the car. Many electric cars have an on-board charger ranging between 6 and 11 kW, although we do see that more and more new electric cars already have an 11 kW on-board charger by default or even higher.

Furthermore, battery performance depends on the outside temperature. At very low temperatures, a battery can store less energy and charge less quickly. If the battery gets too hot, for example during fast charging, the charging power is automatically reduced to prevent overheating.

If you want to know how long it theoretically takes to charge the battery, all you have to do is divide the battery capacity by the actual charging rate. For a 50 kWh battery charged at 11 kW, it takes at least 50 ÷ 11 = 4.5 hours to charge the battery from 0 to 100%.

How long does fast charging take?

A DC fast charger allows much higher charging capacities than an AC charging point. Again, the actual charging time is determined by the maximum charge the battery can take. It varies by make and model. With most electric cars, you can fast charge with a power around 100 kW. With that, it takes about 30 minutes to charge a 50 kWh battery to 80%.

What is a charge card and how does it work?

Unlike a gas station where you can pay directly with cash or your debit card, you can’t pay directly at the vast majority of charging stations. If you want to use a public charging station to charge an electric car, you need a charging pass.

A charge card is a card or key fob that is needed to start/end the charging of an electric car. You can request a charge card free of charge from one of the many providers. The charge card is in the name of a person or company and the costs for charging are automatically charged.

Want to know more about charging passes? Read everything you need to know here

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

The charging cost of an electric car is made up of several components. In addition to the electricity charged per kWh, you also pay for the use of the charging point (starting rate) and the use of the charging card you use to activate the charging session. It’s just that there are all kinds of different providers of charging stations and charging passes that all charge their own rates. Those rates, in turn, can vary by subscription type, by charging point and by city or province.

In addition, in the midst of an energy crisis, it is difficult to predict how charging costs will evolve in the near future. The cost per kWh has risen sharply recently and more price increases are expected to be on the horizon. The average kWh rate at a public AC charging point was still €0.33 in 2020. A large number of providers are already charging more than €0.60 per kWh.

Fast charging – the fastest way to charge, but also the most expensive – has also become increasingly pricey recently. The average price for fast charging was around €0.69 per kWh in 2020. Meanwhile, €0.83 per kWh is a common rate with many providers. That’s the standard price, by the way. Those who use fast chargers a lot should get a subscription. You may pay a monthly fee for that, but you will benefit from lower kWh rates. As a result, the overall charging costs may well wrap up lower.

Furthermore, of course, you can charge an electric car at home. Then you pay the kWh rate of your own energy supplier. How high that has now risen to depends on the contract with your energy company. But paying more €0.50 per kWh is very likely. And how the price cap on energy will play out from Nov. 1, 2023, remains to be seen.