You might be surprised to hear that there are still quite a lot of free electric vehicle (EV) charging points around in the UK.
Out of more than 21,000 charging devices on Zap-Map, we found that – as of January 2021 – just over 4,900 were free to use. Put another way, that’s 23% of all EV charging points that won’t incur a cost. So where are they all?
Well, we’ve broken down some of the figures for you. Below you’ll see:
- The number of free EV charging devices displayed by geographic region
- Free devices split out by charge point speed
- The number of free devices by type of location
- Other interesting categories and statistics on free EV charging points
Where can I charge my electric car for free?
The chart below shows the number of free EV charging devices by geographic region, broken down into slow, fast and rapid chargers.
As you can see, some regions have far more free devices than others. The three regions with the highest number of free EV chargers are Scotland with 1,334, the South East with 642, and the North West with 445. This means that 60% of EV chargers in Scotland are free, 22% in the South East, and 31% in the North West.
Scotland’s high percentage is mostly accounted for by ChargePlace Scotland (backed by Transport for Scotland). Over 1,000 of the operator’s 1,400 chargers are still free to use.
At the other end of the scale, you can see the Channel Islands with eight free devices (18% free), the Isle of Man with nine (15%), and Wales with 158 (19%).
There are some other noteworthy points too. If you come across an EV charger in Northern Ireland, for instance, it’s highly likely it will be free to use. The 231 free chargers you might find there make up 72% of the total. This is because, although Northern Ireland doesn’t have great coverage per head (overall there has been little investment), national network ecarNI still provides free charging.
In contrast, Greater London’s 400 free chargers comprise only 6% of its total number of charging devices, reflecting the high concentration of paid-for on-street chargers and rapid devices in the capital.
Which types of EV chargers are free to use?
So you’ve found your free EV charging point – but how fast are the chargers? Well, the chart below displays free charging devices split out by highest connector speed.
As the chart makes quite clear, most free EV charging points are fast (destination) chargers. There are 4,045 of them, making up 82.1% of free chargers.
In contrast, most slow chargers are now on-street chargers, the vast majority of which incur a cost. This would explain why there are only 441 free slow chargers across the UK (8.9% of total free devices).
Interestingly, there are 442 rapid chargers around the country that are still free, representing 9% of the total number of free chargers. These are concentrated in Scotland, Yorkshire and Manchester. Here the local authorities are providing free charging as an incentive for drivers to switch to electric, supporting their broader clean air and environmental objectives. It is unlikely that this will continue indefinitely and these chargers most probably incur a cost in the near future. In Scotland, some cities and local authorities have already started to introduce a fee on the ChargePlace Scotland chargers.
Which locations have free electric car charging?
We’ve broken down the number of free devices by location type. So which sort of places can you expect to find free EV charging points?
As you can see, car parks – retail, public and workplace – have the most free EV devices, retail car parks holding the top spot with 1,295. You’ll also find 555 free devices at dealership forecourts, 415 at hotels and other accommodation around the UK, and 223 at various different attractions.
Categories of free EV charging points in the UK
In terms of absolute numbers, you’ll find the highest number of free devices at attractions, hotels and accommodation, dealership forecourts, and car parks (especially retail) across the country. Let’s look at three of these categories in a little more detail.
As you might imagine, many attractions offer free charging as a way of encouraging customers to visit. If you take a look through Zap-Map, and filter by location type for ‘Attraction’, you’ll find cafes, restaurants, pubs, museums, garden centres, theatres, zoos, National Trust properties and leisure centres that provide free charging.
2. Hotels and accommodation
Many hotels and B&Bs offer free charging to visitors, perhaps more than have registered. In any case, Charity ZeroNet provides charge points for the hospitality and leisure sector. Most of the network’s more than 450 charging points are free for customers.
3. Car parks
Around 40% of approximately 6,000 charge devices located in car parks (retail or otherwise) are free to use, often provided by local authorities or funded by the retailer. However, with 1,295 free EV charging points, retail car parks have the highest number of free devices. And, as with attractions and accommodation, many retailers – supermarkets, for example – use free charging as a way to attract loyal customers.
Is electric car charging free at supermarkets?
Yes, it’s free at some supermarkets. Tesco, for instance, has over 600 chargers across 300 locations, and provides free charging on its fast 7/22kW chargers, whilst customers need to pay on the rapid charge points.
Other supermarkets with free EV charging points include: Sainsbury’s (133 devices across 47 locations), Lidl (120 across 101) and Aldi (39 across 20). As with Tesco, Pod Point is the network provider and free charging is mostly on its fast 7/22kW chargers. Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda also have EV charging points, but they aren’t free to use on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Do free electric car chargers have access restrictions?
Yes, some of them do and this is something you’ll need to bear in mind when locating free chargers. Over 1,000 free charge points have some kind of access restriction (e.g. devices that are ‘customer only’, for example).
Another consideration is that you’ll need to ensure you have the appropriate RFID card or app to start a charge and, while the charging might be free, there may well be some parking charges to pay.
One last thought, before you head off to grab your free charge – make sure you check Zap-Map and, in particular, the user comments to get insights on all the details of a particular charge point.
You and Yours
Plus, if you’d like to know more, you can hear Zap-Map co-founder and COO Melanie Shufflebotham speaking to BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme about free EV charging points in the UK.
Third party use: this data can be used by third parties as long as the source is attributed to Zap-Map and, if online, a link is added back to https://www.zap-map.com.