On the road with the Stromer: charging an electric car – but where and how?

Electric cars are trendy and certainly fun to drive. But for many potential customers, the charging process is a closed book. How exactly does it work when the energy in the battery is running low and needs to be topped up? This is exactly what ntv.de explains in detail.

Buy an electric car, put it in and drive away? You can actually do that, but there are still hurdles. Because while classic combustion engines are simply satisfied with a refueling stop at the no less classic gas station and you can simply pay there in cash, with an EC card or credit card, charging is a veritable jungle. But with a few tips you can get through it nicely. Apart from the logistics (where do I charge how?), charging also entails financial pitfalls, but more on that later.

The Dutch company Fastned mainly builds charging infrastructure with a roof.

(Photo: Fastned)

Anyone who wants to travel throughout Germany or even Europe with an e-car in 2022 will no longer be able to do without a charging network. Charging networks offer apps or RFID cards that can be used to activate the now dense network of charging stations of the largest providers (such as Allego, EnBW, Ionity or Vattenfall) – so that the user can be sure that he is actually charging at the corresponding mentioned charging stations to be able to be stranded with an empty battery and not. Incidentally, the invoicing is also bundled via the association – very handy, isn’t it?

However, there is movement: from July 2023, new charging stations must be equipped with terminals that allow payment with EC and credit cards. Some charging stations already have these terminals, but in general the share is still small.

You can hardly get by without a charge card

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It is always nice when the electricity comes from photovoltaic cells.

As long as the range of most electric vehicles is still quite variable due to driving style and weather conditions, the user is dependent on a dense charging network whose individual stations actually work reliably. Fast chargers that are set up along the highway as well as in residential areas or in parking lots in built-up areas generally cause the least problems. They usually belong to large charging brands that take care of the maintenance of the systems. Regional AC charging stations are often neglected and then it is quite possible to cope with a faulty power source.

But which charging network to use? There are several models – some with a base fee, some without. Then it depends on electricity prices, which want to be compared if possible. Especially well-known providers with a high charging capacity, the so-called high-price operators, naturally charge significantly more money per kilowatt hour.

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EnBW is Germany’s largest charging brand.

(Photo: EnBW)

After all, the rates give you planning certainty. If you use a specific charge card, you can count on fixed rates. It is good to know that in general the following applies: charging with fast chargers is more expensive than with slower AC charging stations with type 2 plugs. In any case, the cost issue in the context of electromobility is complex.

Popular providers with authorization to activate the major pillars include ADAC, EnBW, Plugsurfing and Shell Recharge. Prices per kilowatt hour start at about 40 cents, with fast chargers you can also get almost a euro – of course, due to the volatility of the market, no exact price information can be given here.

DC charging stations can be found in many different places

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This is where lantern parkers get power: when charging lanterns from Ubitricity.

(Photo: Ubitricity)

Do you need to prepare for a long journey with an electric car? Not really. Practical tests have long shown that you can drive away carefree with a pass or app from one of the powerful charging networks. Nowadays, there is usually a fast charging station every 20 to 50 kilometers and the chargers are usually not overloaded. In Western Europe there are currently at least about 150,000 charging points – you can get by with that.

In Germany, Aldi, Allego, EnBW, Ewe Go, Lidl, Ionity, Pfalzwerke AG and Telekom are among the major charging brands with DC locations at motorway service stations, hardware stores, at various parking lots or simply everywhere in residential areas. DC is the English abbreviation for direct current and guarantees a minimum of 50 kilowatts of charging power, but sometimes up to 300 kilowatts and more. As a rule, the CCS connector is used here, some vehicle models use Chademo. However, Chademo is not nearly as widespread in Europe and therefore means limitations in availability.

All electrically powered vehicles, on the other hand, have a type 2 plug for charging alternating current (AC = Alternating Current). However, slow charging with alternating current (usually 11, less often 22 kilowatts) will become obsolete sooner or later. Because it is too cumbersome to first find a parking space with a power connection, which may not even be close to where you live. And then, after a few hours, the car has to be disconnected and parked again, because parking time is limited, especially in urban areas. An AC charging station, on the other hand, is not suitable for a short stopover in transit, because charging here takes several hours.

At this point it should also be pointed out that a DC column usually only consumes current up to 80 or 90 percent charge level – because after that the charging power slows down considerably. You should not stand here for more than 30 or 45 minutes so as not to block the switch longer than necessary – because other passing motorists depend on access to the “electricity charging station”.

The charging network is growing and growing

And another important point: how do I actually find a charger? For example with the navigation device. When the battery is low, simply start an area survey and let it lead you to a pillar in this way. Or use one of the many apps such as “Mobility +” or those of other charging providers. These also have nice filter functions with which you can filter on payload, among other things. In this way, unwanted columns can be directly excluded.

What will gain in relevance in the future are built-in charge planners as part of built-in navigation systems from various car manufacturers. Tesla has been offering this service since its market launch, but local premium brands are also following suit. You enter your destination into the navigation system, the computer simply throws out the necessary charging stops and even indicates with which charging level you will arrive at either the intermediate destinations or the main destination. Provided the driver adheres to the recommended speed.

Fast charging network is growing

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In the medium term, there should be electricity for electric cars at every second Aral station in Germany.

(Photo: Aral)

The fact is: With a charge card in your pocket, starting a long journey becomes child’s play. And the fast charging network is growing and growing. Efficient charging stations can even be found at more and more traditional filling stations. At the end of October 2022, Aral announced that it had already installed the thousandth charging station. This year it should even be 1500. In the medium term, Aral also wants to offer power for e-cars on every second pillar. Shell also offers its own charging station at its stations under the “Recharge” brand.

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Thanks to payment terminals directly at the column, it will be possible in the future to access a charging network without a charge card.

(Photo: Aral)

Of course, all this is not yet as dense as the conventional gas station network, but the current more than 10,000 charging points with more than 50 kilowatts of power should be considerably more in 2030. Whether Germany generally needs one million charging points, as stipulated in the coalition agreement, remains undecided. As charging continues to accelerate (an entirely new battery technology with solid-state batteries will hit the market in about five years’ time), we need to rethink how many columns are really needed. Above all: how many fast charging stations?

In the medium to long term, charging should become as easy as filling up. But until then you can still experience one or the other exciting situation at the charging station. Because the chance that one does not work is currently even greater than that you will be standing at a defective gas pump. And even that is by no means impossible.

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