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Call for joined-up thinking over electric car charging

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Written by: Emma Lunn
19/03/2021
Which? is calling for an overhaul of the UK’s electric vehicle public charging network.

The consumer champion analysed the UK’s electric car public charging network and found ‘serious issues’ within the infrastructure that could deter people from buying electric vehicles.

It found motorists cannot easily use charging networks operated by different providers as they use different apps and payment methods, and drivers can face unnecessarily expensive charges.

With about 12 million electric cars expected to be on UK roads by 2030, according to the Climate Change Committee, Which? says the public charging network is not fit for purpose.

How do you charge an electric car?

More than 30 providers make up the UK’s public charging network.

Almost all require motorists to download an app, or sign up for a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card to use their charge point. Some accept card payments, while some don’t.

Which? says this is a confusing system that would mean drivers planning long journeys would have to ensure they have the right app or RFID for chargers on their route.

EV charging networks

Tesla has one of the most affordable networks of ultra-rapid public chargers (120-250kW), but this can only be used by Tesla car owners.

Which? asked Tesla if it would open its supercharger network to other car brands in the future, but the company said it would not make ‘future-looking statements’.

Tesla also has a network of ‘destination chargers’ with a power output of 3-22 kW, some of which are only available to Tesla models, whereas others can be used by any car with a Type 2 plug.

However, these chargers could be opened up to all cars, as Tesla confirmed there is ‘just a switch inside that makes it [the charging point] universal or Tesla only’.

The UK government previously advised that all rapid chargers built from spring 2020 should allow payment by card – but as it is not legislation, not all firms have installed card payment machines.

According to Zap-Map, fewer than one in 10 (8%) of charge points offer rapid chargers (25-100kW) and allow card payments. Most other types of chargers don’t accept cards. Drivers who use chargers and want to pay by card can face additional costs, as some that do accept cards charge more.

BP Pulse, one of the biggest providers in the UK, accepts contactless payments – at a price. If you pay via its website or app the cost is 25p per kWh, but card payments are 30p per kWh.

Which? calculated that this 5p difference, using the Volkswagen id.3 as an example, could mean owners paying by card would be charged about £140 more each year.

While Which? believes it is charging customers more for using a bank card, BP Pulse told the consumer champion, ‘those who choose to sign up for a free membership receive a discount on their charging costs’.

Per minute charging

Motorists could also face higher charging costs if they use a network that charges per minute rather than per kWh, such as Source London.

Using the Volkswagen id.3 as an example, Which? found from Source London’s 7.4 kW charger it would cost £1,012 annually to charge, but this would increase to £1,740 a year from a 22 kW charge point, which costs more due to its faster charging rate, though most cars have a maximum AC charging rate of 11kWh.

Source London told Which? that its prices include on-street parking, which others do not, and that its ‘price per minute pricing structure is designed to encourage users to disconnect their vehicle as soon as they have finished charging.’

It also confirmed customers will still be charged even once their car reaches 100% charge, though overnight chargers are cut off after four hours.

Call for universal chargers

Which? is calling for public charging points to be made universal so motorists need just one app, RFID card and account to access all networks across the UK.

Other improvements that should be considered include avoiding single-brand networks from being created, and for Tesla to open its charging points to all EV drivers.

Which? says the industry should also consider implementing a pence per kWh pricing structure as opposed to charging per minute, to ensure drivers are not overcharged and can easily compare costs across different providers.

Harry Rose, Which? Magazine editor, said: “Millions of consumers will be expected to own electric cars in less than a decade, but the public charging network is disjointed and in dire need of reform to ensure it is a viable option for all consumers, especially those who do not have access to a private charger.

“The lack of universal access to the various charging networks must be addressed and a much simpler pricing structure is needed so consumers can easily compare prices across providers and ensure they are not overcharged.”

The government announced earlier this week that it was cutting the electric car grant from £3,000 to £2,500 and lowering the upper limit for eligible vehicles.

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