What is a smart charger for an electric car?

Smart chargers for electric cars

If you’ve recently purchased or leased an electric car, you may have heard about smart chargers. Smart chargers charge your electric car at home at a significantly faster rate than standard 3-pin sockets.

But what exactly do smart chargers do, and why should you consider installing one?

We explain everything you need to know below.

What is a Smart Charger?

A smart charger is an EV charging station that connects to the internet and allows for two-way communication between the charger, the vehicle, a CT clamp in some cases, and your smartphone and smart home. This connectivity offers several advantages over a standard, non-networked EV charger.

Smart chargers allow you to track and monitor charging sessions via an app. You can see how long it takes to charge your EV fully, how much energy is being used, and how much it costs. Some smart chargers even recommend when to charge based on energy usage and rates.

In addition, smart chargers can be controlled remotely through the app. Start and stop charging, set charging schedules to align with off-peak electricity rates, and lock or unlock the charger when needed.

Why Should I Get a Smart Charger?

There are several compelling reasons to invest in a smart charger over a standard charger:

  • Cost savings – By charging during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lower, smart chargers can help you save significantly on fuel costs over time. Some energy providers even offer unique EV charging plans.
  • Convenience – The ability to monitor and control charging remotely via an app provides added convenience. No more going outside in the rain or cold to unplug your EV!
  • Grid integration – Smart chargers allow for vehicle-to-grid (V2G) connectivity. This means your EV battery can send stored energy back to the grid during peak demand times to help stabilise the electrical grid.
  • Future-proofing – Smart charger capabilities will only expand as EV tech evolves. Investing in one now means your charger will remain compatible with new developments.

Key Features to Look for

When choosing a smart charger, here are some key features to consider:

  • Charging speed – Faster chargers reduce wait times but may require electrical upgrades to support higher amperages. Choose a charger that aligns with your daily charging needs.
  • Tethered or untethered – Tethered chargers have an EV cable attached permanently, while untethered units use a detachable cable.
  • App connectivity – The ability to monitor and control charging via smartphone is essential. Make sure the app is user-friendly.
  • Scheduled charging – Set schedules to start charging at lower-cost times. Not all smart chargers offer this.
  • Load balancing – If charging multiple EVs, load balancing helps allocate power efficiently without tripping breakers.
  • Access control – Password protection or set charging schedules for specific users – helpful for the workplace or public charging stations.
  • Energy tracking – See real-time and historical data on charging sessions, like energy usage and costs.
  • Power sharing – Some units allow you to use EV power to run your home during an outage.

Choosing the Right Smart Charger

The best smart chargers we’ve reviewed include the Ohme ePod, Hypervolt Home 3 Pro, Ohme Home Pro, and Zaptec Go.

When choosing an electric vehicle (EV) home charger, there are a few key factors to consider:

  • Cost – Expect to pay £800-£1,200 for a smart charger including installation. The government’s OZEV grant for homeowners ended in March 2022. Landlords can still get a £350 grant.
  • Charging Speed – For most homes, a 7-7.4kW single-phase charger offers the fastest charging speed, adding around 30 miles of range per hour. Faster 11kW three-phase chargers require an expensive electrical upgrade.
  • Tethered vs Untethered – Tethered chargers have a fixed cable, while untethered chargers require a separate cable. Tethered is more convenient, untethered looks tidier.
  • Smart Features – Smart chargers let you schedule charging via an app. Additional features like tariff integration can help track charging costs.
  • Solar Integration – Solar-ready chargers allow charging from solar panels. This requires solar panels and specific chargers with solar connections.
  • Warranty & Support – Look for at least a 12 month warranty. Check who provides ongoing support – the manufacturer or installer.
  • Reviews – Read reviews on sites like Trustpilot to gauge real-world performance and reliability.

The Charging Experience

For most EV owners, an occasional overnight charging session plus opportunistic top-ups is sufficient. A 7-7.4kW charger adds around 30 miles of range per hour, enabling a 100% charge overnight.

Faster 11kW three-phase chargers require an expensive electrical upgrade and are overkill for normal home charging needs.

Tethered chargers with fixed cables offer maximum convenience as you don’t need to connect a separate cable each time. But untethered options have cleaner, cable-free installations.

Smart chargers offer remote control and charging management via a smartphone app. Scheduling your charging session to coincide with cheap overnight electricity rates can save money.

Solar Integration

Adding solar panels and a solar-ready charger allows charging directly from sunlight. With a large enough solar system, an EV can be powered completely off-grid from renewable energy.

For most though, solar panels will supplement grid electricity and reduce overall charging costs. Special chargers like the Zappi and Hypervolt have solar integration built-in.

Choosing What’s Right for You

Consider your priorities. If cost is critical, seek chargers without superfluous features. Convenience-seekers may prefer tethered cables and generous cable lengths.

Those watching budgets will appreciate chargers with tariff integration. And solar panels appeal to green-focused drivers who can accommodate the high upfront cost.

Do some homework before purchase. Check warranties, after-sales support and read reviews from real-world users. A charger is a long-term investment that you will live with for years.

An EV charger adds convenience and makes ownership enjoyable. Select based on your needs and budget, and you’ll soon be charging smoothly at home.

James Lewis is our resident electrical head. He drives an MG ZS EV (2018, which he loves) and plans to get the new one soon. James is much more excited by the lower end of the EV market and is looking forward to the Ora Cat.