A guide to electric car tariffs
Learn everything you need to know to select the right electric car tariff for you.
When you switch to an electric car, you don’t have to worry about the cost of fuel anymore. By charging at home, you can avoid those petrol station stops when you’re running late or rushing to get the kids to school on time.
In fact, electric cars are cheaper to run than petrol or diesel cars over their lifetime. And that’s partly because electricity is cheaper than fuel. But with so many electric car tariffs to choose from, it’s important to do your homework to find the electric car tariff that’s best for you.
We’ve put together this guide to help you understand it all. We’ve covered some of the common questions you might have about the cost of charging an electric car at home. Explained the key features of electric car tariffs. And showed how to compare different deals to figure out which tariff offers you the best value.
We also look at whether it’s cheaper to charge at home or using a public charging point. And finally, we explain how an electric car tariff can save you money elsewhere in the home too.
Will having an electric car increase my electricity bills?
Charging an electric car at home will increase your electricity bill… But, if you’ve replaced a conventional petrol or diesel car with an electric model, it’ll cost you less to run. And, your electric car tariff could make big savings on your household electricity too.
Homes without an electric car use around 3,800 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity a year. If you bought an electric car and drove it the average distance of 7,600 miles each year, you could expect to use roughly another 2,000kWh. So, although your electricity bill will go up, this cost is offset by the reduction in petrol and diesel costs from replacing your old car for an electric car.
Did you know?
The rate at which an appliance uses electricity is measured in watts or kilowatts (1,000 watts).
To work out how much electricity is used by an appliance, multiply this rate by the time for which the appliance ran.
- a 10-watt light bulb uses just 0.24kWh of electricity if it runs constantly for 24 hours. Whereas, a 3kW kettle uses 72kWh, which is significantly more.
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How much will an electric car increase my electricity bill?
On a standard tariff, buying an extra 2,000kWh of electricity could mean you pay around £280 extra a year. If you currently pay the UK average of £58 per month for electricity, your bill could rise to £81.
But this £23 increase is already far less than you’d spend on fuel to cover the average 633 miles a month travelled in a conventional car. And if you shop around for an electric car electricity tariff and you could reduce it drastically. Some tariffs offering off-peak electricity for as little as 4.5p per kWh, so you could actually pay just over £10 extra a month.
It’s why shopping around definitely pays to find the right electric car tariff for you.
Why get an electric car tariff – instead of sticking with my existing tariff?
If you have an electric car and a home charging point, an electric car tariff will save you money. But the savings don’t just apply to your car – the discounted rate covers all the off-peak electricity you use. This means you could save even more if you have power-hungry equipment at home, like electric heating or water heating.
But cheaper electricity isn’t the only reason to get an electric car tariff. All of the currently available deals supply energy from renewable sources. This is a key consideration, as it means that your energy supplier is complying with the Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin scheme and may be providing an additional environmental benefit to off-set any carbon-emitting energy generating sources, like coal or gas.
Help balance the grid
There’s a further argument in favour of choosing an electric car tariff. Electric vehicle charging is expected to add to the demand on the UK’s electricity system. But the demand on National Grid tends to be lower overnight. So by charging during off-peak hours, electric car owners add less pressure on the grid than charging during peak time.
Be smart, earn money
In the future, electric car tariffs will get smarter too. For example, they might help the grid deal with the variable supply of renewable electricity (like wind) by offering cheaper charging on a windy day. Through vehicle to grid (V2G) technology, the batteries in your electric cars could even supply electricity back to your home during peak hours! So far, EDF only offers this as a tariff for businesses. But anything is possible in the future.
How to make sense of electric car tariffs
Standard vs off-peak rates
Most electric car tariffs offer electricity at two different rates – standard and off-peak – priced in pence per kilowatt-hour (p/kWh). These are known as dual or multi-rate, rather than single-rate tariffs.
The standard rate typically covers most of the day and has a higher price tag. The off-peak rate is a lower price but limited to certain times of the day (usually night time).
Off-peak rates are designed to encourage motorists to charge up their electric car during periods when there isn’t much demand for electricity. But it’s important to check the off-peak times offered by suppliers – and how long they apply. As it’s easy to be bamboozled by tantalising cheap off-peak rates.
There are a number of tariffs available to choose from on Zap-Map. However, some tariffs may limit the number of off-peak hours you can charge your electric vehicle. So you could end up finishing the charge at a higher rate. And the standard peak rate can be a lot higher than the off-peak rate.
A note on electricity meters
- An old or prepaid meter can’t support different rates, as these just record how much electricity you’ve used between readings.
- Some electric car tariffs will work with an Economy 7 meter – so check if you have one of these.
- A first-generation smart meter (SMETS1) supports different rates, but it stops being smart when you switch supplier. The good news is that newer SMETS2 smart meters will work even if you switch supplier. So check which version you have. Some suppliers may also offer you an upgrade as part of the tariff switch.
You’ll need a smart meter to use a dual-rate tariff, since smart meters understand and report on your electricity consumption throughout the day. But not every home can have a smart meter fitted – and not every customer wants one. In these cases, some suppliers, like EDF, can offer a competitive single-rate electric car tariff that you could opt for instead.
To add further complexity, some tariffs come as dual fuel. This means they don’t just cover the cost of your electricity use, but also gas too. So when you’re comparing deals, it's important to calculate your gas consumption and overall cost on a single fuel tariff vs. a dual fuel tariff. This will give you a fair comparison of the overall cost of your energy bills.
Comparing electric car tariffs
Don’t be dazzled by headline prices
Because most electric car tariffs are multi-rate, it can be tricky to compare them against one another. That’s because the headline figures for a dual-rate tariff include the peak and off-peak costs – as well as the number of hours’ off-peak you get each day.
So when choosing an electric car tariff, you need to consider how much and when you’ll need to charge your car. For example, consider these two electric car tariffs:
Example Tariff 1
- Peak rate 15p/kWh
- Off-peak rate 5p/kWh
- Five off-peak hours per day (35 per week)
Example Tariff 2
- Peak rate 17p/kWh
- Off-peak rate 7p/kWh
- Ten off-peak hours per day (70 hours per week)
Looking at just the headline rates, the first tariff seems cheaper. But it offers only five off-peak hours each day. So even with a 7kW home charger it takes seven and a half hours to fully recharge a 40kWh Nissan Leaf. Assuming your car requires an eight-hour charge, you’ll pay 70p on tariff one, but only 56p on tariff two.
If you regularly drive long distances, or prefer to recharge only when the battery is nearly empty, tariff two could work out cheaper for you. Even if you had a Tesla with the biggest, 100kWh battery, tariff two’s off-peak hours would allow you to charge up to 70% before the peak rate-charge applied compared to only 50% with tariff one.
A final thing to remember is that electricity tariffs include a standing rate. This small daily sum is a flat charge you pay to connect to the grid. It’s usually between 25p and 30p a day. The difference between tariffs might only amount to a couple of pounds a month, but always factor it in.
Incentives and special offers
Alongside headline rates and charging hours, some suppliers offer incentives or special deals to encourage new customers. In the case of electric car tariffs, these are usually either a bill credit (e.g. £100) or ‘free’ miles. And in each instance, it pays to explore what the incentive is really worth, especially if you’re deciding between two similar deals.
These are usually straightforward. They’re added to your account once you join, and might cover a month or two’s electricity.
With these offers, always look at the small print. This is because suppliers are in fact offering you free electricity – another form of bill credit! – but converting it to how many miles it’ll power an electric car. The problem is, that not everyone works it out the same way. Here’s why…
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How efficient are electric cars?
Just like conventional cars and miles-per-gallon, some electric cars go further on the same amount of charge, i.e. they’re more efficient. Manufacturers usually quote an efficiency figure in either watt-hours per mile (lower is better), or miles per kWh (higher is better).
The most efficient electric car on sale consumes 235Wh/mi. That’s equivalent to 4.3 miles per kilowatt hour (mi/kWh).
The least efficient consumes 375Wh/mi. That’s equivalent to 2.7mi/kWh.
So in practice, many energy suppliers use a middle ground as an average figure. For instance 3.5m/kWh. Remember too: other factors can affect how efficient your car is. Such as how far you drive it, your driving style and even the weather conditions.
How much ‘free’ electricity does this equate to?
Say, for example, a supplier is offering 5,000 free miles. To understand what this is worth, you need to know what efficiency figure they’ve used to convert electricity supplied into miles driven. For example, if they’ve used 3.5 miles per kWh, they’re offering about 1,430 kilowatt-hours of free electricity (5,000 miles / 3.5 miles).
If electricity is normally charged at 7p/kWh, you’re effectively being offered a bill credit of about £100:
(5,000 miles / 3.5 miles) x 0.07p = £100
But if the electricity is charged at 5p/kWh, you’re being offered a bill credit at the lower rate of £71:
(5,000 miles / 3.5 miles) x 0.05p = £71
To really understand the value of competing free-offers, always check the small print and convert the deals into their real value in pounds. Only then can you make a fair comparison between suppliers’ incentives.
How do you choose an electric car tariff?
Your electric car tariff doesn’t just cover the cost of charging your car. Because the tariff applies to your total electricity usage, you need to consider how and when you use electricity in the home too. As this will determine if a tariff is right for you.
Here are some of the key things to think about:
Heating and water
If your house has electric room or water heating, you may already be on a dual-rate tariff. If not you’ll be able to make very big savings when you switch to an electric car tariff. Simply because heating uses a lot of power – and you can schedule it to run at the cheaper time for using electricity.
For instance, it takes about 11kWh of electricity to heat a tank of water for a family home. And in cold weather, electric underfloor heating can consume about 30kWh each day.
To make the most of a cheaper off-peak rate, check that you can set electric water, storage or underfloor heating to run during off-peak hours. If old or basic controllers won’t support it, the potential savings may be enough to justify having newer ones fitted.
Laundry and dishwashing
Laundry appliances can be major power users. So you could save money by running appliances during off-peak hours.
- An A+++ rated dishwasher could use around 220kWh per year
- A tumble dryer 190kWh a year
- And a washing machine 160kWh a year
Home charging point
Home charging points for your electric care are typically rated at either 3kW or 7kW. These figures tell you how quickly they can supply power.
So over one hour, a 3kW charging point will provide just 3kWh of electricity. This means it could take more than a day to charge one of today’s high-end electric cars!
Charging and tariffs
How long does it take to charge an electric car?
To work out how long fully charging an electric car will take, divide its battery capacity in kWh by the charge rate in kW. For example, a 40kWh Nissan Leaf battery should take about seven hours to fully recharge on a 7kW charge point:
40kWh / 7kW = approx. 7 hours
In fact, a small amount of power is lost during charging, and the process is slower once the battery gets to 80%. So the real-time for a full recharge is usually slightly longer. It’s why Nissan gives an actual charge time for the Leaf of 7 hours 30 mins.
Why is the type of charger important?
Your charger type is particularly important if you’re considering a tariff with short off-peak periods. For instance, if you charge at 3kW an hour, a four-hour off-peak period only lets you recharge about 12kW:
3 kW x 4 hours = 12kWh
With a 7kW charger, you recharge about 28kWh:
7kW x 4 hours = 28kWh
Depending on your car, this equates to a charge covering 40-100 miles:
3kW charging point:
12 kWh x 3.5 miles = 42 miles
7kW charging point:
28kWh x 3.5 miles = 98 miles
So if you regularly cover more than 40-100 miles a day, you’ll need a tariff that gives you longer off-peak hours. Otherwise, you could find it costs you more than you expect to charge your electric car.
What’s cheaper, home or public charging points?
The cheapest way to charge is for free! And many public charging points offer free charging. But beware of the following:
- Some are attached to a business and may have conditions attached;
- Most free charge points are only 3kW or 7kW. So if you need a full charge, you could be waiting for hours!
If you want a faster charge, you’ll usually have to pay. There are several UK charging networks, which cost between 18-35p/kWh to charge, depending on location and charge speed. For instance, EDF’s recent acquisition of Pod Point, one of the UK’s biggest networks, offers fast charging (3.6kW-22kW), as well as a growing number of Velocity chargers (43kW-50kW) depending on location. There's no subscription fee or connection charge to use these charge points. Where there is a fee, you'll be charged per hour or per kWh of electricity you consume.
As we’ve already flagged up, the cost of home charging depends on your electric car tariff. But it can be as low as 5-8p per kWh. And even at peak times, some home tariffs cost only 12p/kWh.
Therefore, it’s best to view free public charging points as a bonus when you’re out and about. For everyday motoring, it’s usually the cheapest and most convenient to charge at home.
Getting the most out of your electric car tariff
When you move to an electric car tariff, it’s important to make the most of cheaper electricity when it’s available. This may mean changing your behaviour. For instance: instead of waiting until your car battery’s nearly empty, consider topping it up every night This will ensure you only charge your car during off-peak hours.
Electric car electricity tariffs also include your household consumption, so make the most of it during off-peak hours! For instance, if you have electric heating or water heating, time that to run off-peak. You could also use the delayed start feature to run washing machines and dishwashers during off-peak hours.
EDF’s GoElectric tariff helps with this by extending its off-peak rate to all weekend too.
So you get two full days a week to fully charge the car, run multiple washes, and keep warm using the cheapest possible electricity! In addition, it comes with ten off-peak hours overnight during the week, ensuring plenty of cheap electricity for your home and car.
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