What is a wallbox charger?
A key difference between electric and internal-combustion-engined cars is where they're 'refuelled' – or, in this case, recharged. While vehicles with a petrol or diesel engine have to visit a fuel station, the majority of electric vehicles are topped up at home.
According to the Government’s 'Go Ultra Low' campaign, up to 90% of all electric vehicles are charged at home. The only issue with home charging is that it can take a long time when using a standard three-pin socket, which draws a maximum current of just 3kW. In fact, recharging some electric cars this way can take as many as two whole days.
To speed up the process, many owners invest in a wall-mounted charging unit known as a wallbox, which increases the charging rate. With electric cars rising in popularity, so are the number and choice of wall chargers: right now, there are dozens to choose from. Read on to understand how wallbox charging works – and how to pick the right one for your electric vehicle.
What is a home wall charging unit, or wallbox, and do I need one?
A home wallbox charger is an additional charging unit that provides power at a higher rate than normal sockets. Installing one on your driveway can make charging an electric car easier. If you have or are thinking about buying an electric vehicle, it’s important to think about what type you're getting and how you'll use it. If you go for a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) with limited electric range and a small battery, charging overnight is usually possible from a normal domestic socket.
A home socket can supply a maximum of 3kW, but it’s worth noting that not all of them can do this. Manufacturers don’t recommend using them long-term, as this can cause damage to the socket due to a high amperage being drawn over a sustained period of time. Most electric or plug-in hybrid car drivers use their three-pin cable as an emergency backup option only.
If you get an electric car that requires regular charging at higher speeds, a home socket won’t do. This is where a wallbox comes in. The typical speed range for a home wall charging unit is between 3-7kW, with some capable of up to 22kW if you're lucky enough to have three-phase power in your home. This means an electric vehicle can be charged in only a few hours. For example, a 40kWh Nissan Leaf would take 13.3 hours to fully charge on mains power alone. With a 7kW home charger, this falls to 5.7 hours, or 1.8 hours with a 22kW system.
If you’re thinking about purchasing a wall charger, consider installing a smart meter in your home. This will help you get the cheapest electricity tariffs when the vehicle is plugged in. The current average cost of electricity is around 14p per kWh, but during off-peak hours this often reduces to around 10p per kWh. If you charge your electric vehicle regularly during off-peak hours, you can make serious savings. At that cheaper overnight rate, topping up a standard Nissan Leaf would cost just £4, affording you 168 miles of driving range. That's just over 2p per mile.
How do I choose the right one?
All wall chargers come with either Type 1 or Type 2 cable that can be plugged into your vehicle. It’s more likely that the cable will be a Type 2, though, which is accepted by all electric vehicles and PHEVs sold in the UK. However, check your vehicle's user manual or brochure to confirm the cable connectors in your car. This way you can make sure they're a good fit with any potential wall charger you are thinking of buying.
It’s then time to choose the speed. Some wallboxes offer 3kW, others 7kW and some can even charge at 22kW if your home or premises has three-phase power. First decide how much charge you want; the higher the power, the more the unit will cost. Standard installation costs are usually included in the price, and a certified technician will do the job. One company says 90% of customers qualify for the free standard installation, with those falling outside the criteria needing to pay extra if further work is required.
Are there any government grants to help the process?
Thanks to the current Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV) grant towards home and public chargers, the Government will fund up to 75% of the potential cost of installing a charging station. However, from 1 April 2020, the maximum available grant was reduced from £500 to £350.
Potential owners have to meet several conditions to be eligible for the grant. For example, only owners of eligible vehicles are supported, with the charging point needing to come from a Government-approved company. The charging point also has to be installed no more than four months ahead of the date of delivery or start of use.
Can I use my home charging unit on another electric vehicle (e.g. if I was to change cars)?
If you end up selling your current electric car and swapping it for a new model, you'll still be able to use your home charger as long as its connector suits the car. Given that most new electric cars and PHEVs come with European-standard Type 2 connectors, this shouldn’t be a problem.
I live in an apartment, what can I do?
If you live in an apartment but are considering buying an electric vehicle, you can ask the landlord or building owner to consider installing a public charging station for use. You may end up paying some or all of the costs, but the good news is that you may be able to split the cost with other residents who own electric vehicles or are considering buying one.
What is a 'smart' charger?
Since July 2019, the Government wallbox grant has only been available for 'smart' wallboxes. These are units that can connect to the internet, meaning that charging can be controlled remotely using a smartphone app. This means you can schedule charging sessions to suit your needs, either making use of the cheapest electricity overnight, or guaranteeing you have a certain amount of range ready for when you next need your vehicle.