Using public chargers
There are a huge number of different companies operating their own networks of public chargers in the UK. There is no standard method of payment, so currently each network use their own app or card. Think of it like using a different app when you go into a either Shell, BP, Esso or Tesco petrol station. In fact, most fuel companies now have their own apps too, so they are also going down the same route as EV charge networks. But of course they also accept bank cards and cash.
Some newer chargers are now accepting contactless cards and therefore you can use a credit or debit card to pay, rather than using a phone app. These newer chargers are often in petrol stations (typically Shell & BP).
You do need either an Android or Apple smart phone to use most public chargers. This is because most chargers use an app to identify who you are and to sort out the payment. Some chargers use RFID cards to activate them, so you will need to get one of these from the provider before you can use the charger. The use of RFID cards is getting less popular now as most now use apps instead.
If you don't own a smart phone, using public charging is going to be extremely difficult and you'll be limited to only a few chargers that use RFID cards or contactless payment cards. Even chargers that are free to use, they will normally require activating with an app on a phone to get your free charge. So owning a smart phone is a must if you intend to use public EV chargers.
It is advisable to install the apps and setup the accounts for each charger network at home while you have a good internet connection and plenty of time. Trying to do this at the charger, when you're in a hurry, standing in the rain or maybe struggling with signal isn't a good idea!
Even when chargers offer a free charge to customers, you still need to use the app on a phone to activate the charger. The exception is Ecotricity rapid chargers that can often be on free vend and you can simply just plug in and select the connector on the screen.
Must have apps
Zap Map is the go to app & website for locating all the UK's public chargers. It is also a great source for route planning, news and all sorts of EV related information. Using the website version of the map on your PC is great for route planning before you set off. Having the app on your mobile phone is a must for locating your nearest charger. Zap Map is always more up to date than in car sat navs.
The Electric Highway from Ecotricity
The Ecotricity chargers are the most common chargers on the major road network, with the 300 chargers primarily at most motorway service stations. Therefore, this will probably be your primary source for charging on the long trips. Charging is pay as you go (currently 30p per kWh), but you do need the app installed an an account setup to use the chargers.
Here is a video which shows you how to use the Ecotricity app and chargers.
If you buy your home energy (electricity and gas) from Ecotricity, charging on their public chargers is half price. More information.
The Electric Highway from Ecotricity was the first network in the UK and was financed by Nissan & Renault. Because of this is now the oldest and is suffering from lack of investment. So now reliability is now an issue and frequently you may now find some chargers not working for long periods of time. Also the lack of CCS connectors is a major issue at the motorway services, mostly due to the age of their chargers. On a positive note, their chargers do offer free vend if there are network issues at the time, which is great. Most other networks just put their chargers offline when this happens.
Other apps you may need
This isn't a list of all the public charging networks, but just the common ones you'll likely need outside of central London and Scotland. You should check the areas you are travelling in on ZapMap and identify the chargers you'll want to use to check who operates them.
Pod Point have around 1,700 chargers that are typically at supermarkets, shopping centres or car parks. They are often free too, but you still need the app to activate the charger. When you plug in the car, the charger starts working for 15 minutes. During this time, you must "claim the charge" via the app otherwise it will switch off after 15 minutes.
The Polar network consists of around 6,000 chargers. Polar offer two way to use their network:
If you are going to use Polar chargers frequently, then you'll probably benefit from joining Polar Plus. For those that want to pay as you go, you use Polar Instant. You have to initially credit your account with £20, but then you only pay as you charge, from the credit in your account.
Some chargers on the Polar network are only available to Polar Plus subscribers, so check the payment information on ZapMap for each location.
Charge Your Car
Charge Your Car (CYC) is a payment system for various chargers around the country. They operate a pay as you go system, so you'll find it useful to have the app installed on your phone, with an account setup. You can see the location of CYC chargers on their website, app or on ZapMap.
Newmotion charge points are more prevalent on the continent, with 80,000 chargers across Europe. However, the UK network is growing and having a Newmotion account is getting increasingly handy. For users that don't have home charging, you may find there's on-street 7kW chargers near you here.
You can apply for a free RFID card or keyring fobs on their website here. Then you can either setup and manage your account via their phone app or via the website. There's no subscription fee as this is pay as you go charging,
PlugShare is an alternative app to ZapMap and used for locating public chargers. The difference is that it has worldwide coverage, so great if you're driving across the continent. Many UK residents offer their home charger for public use and traditionally put them on PlugShare, although ZapMap now offer this facility too now.
Ecotricity medium (22kWh AC) free chargers
There are still sixteen of the free Ecotricity 22kW AC charging posts (called "medium chargers") around the country. The location of these are detailed here. To use these chargers, you need a Ecotricity RFID card, as these charging posts do not use the phone app. The card is free, so it might be handy to get one if you're likely to travel in the location of these chargers. Note that the 22kW free charger at Oxford M40 services has been broken since 2018 and is obviously not going to get fixed. There is now a 22kWh AC port on the new rapid charger at this site.
Information for Oxfordshire drivers
Oxford Westgate charging
There are 50 free chargers in the Oxford Westgate underground carpark. These are located in the first level directly in front of you as you drive in, to the left of the central stairs. Currently they use blue traffic cones to reserve spaces for EV drivers, so you have to move the cone to park.
These chargers were originally operated by GeniePoint but they are now unmanaged. To use the charger you need to tap any RFID card or contactless credit/debit card onto the charger unit to activate the charge. You will NOT be charged. You then need to use the same card to deactivate the charger and release your cable.