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Electric vehicle chargepoints are a ‘postcode lottery’

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Written by: Emma Lunn
23/07/2021
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has outlined measures to ensure a national network of electric vehicle chargepoints is in place ahead of the 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.

The watchdog says that access to chargepoints can be a ‘postcode lottery’ with the number of public chargepoints per head in Yorkshire and the Humber a quarter of the number in London.

The CMA has conducted a market study into electric vehicle charging and is looking at whether the industry can deliver a comprehensive UK charging network that works competitively and that people can trust.

It found that some aspects of charging are working well – including charging at locations such as shopping centres, workplaces and at people’s homes.

But other parts of the charging network are facing problems which could impact the government’s plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and its wider commitment to make the UK net zero by 2050.

In particular, the CMA is concerned about the choice and availability of chargepoints at motorway service stations, where competition is limited.

It also says the roll-out of on-street charging by local authorities, which many drivers will rely on, is too slow. Rural areas, meanwhile, risk being left behind with too few chargepoints due to lack of investment.

In addition, research shows that charging can sometimes be difficult and frustrating for drivers, which could stop people switching to electric cars.

A study by Which? earlier this year 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.

The CMA said drivers have concerns about the reliability of chargepoints, and that it’s difficult to compare pricing.

To address these concerns, the CMA has set out four principles to ensure that using and paying for charging is as simple as filing up with petrol and diesel.

Firstly, working chargepoints must be easy to find with details of up-to-date availability and working status information. Secondly, charging should be simple and quick to pay for, with contactless payments accepted and people not expected to sign up to specific schemes.

Thirdly, the regulator wants the cost of charging to be clear with a standard way of pricing, such as per kilowatt of energy. Finally, it calls for all chargepoints to be able to charge any type of electric vehicle.

The UK has about 25,000 chargepoints at the moment with forecasts suggesting more than 10 times this amount will be needed by 2030.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Electric vehicles play a critical role in meeting Net Zero but the challenges with creating an entirely new charging network should not be underestimated. Some areas of the roll-out are going well and the UK’s network is growing – but it’s clear that other parts, like charging at motorway service stations and on-street, have much bigger hurdles to overcome.

“There needs to be action now to address the postcode lottery in electric vehicle charging as we approach the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

“Our recommendations will promote strong competition, encourage more investment, and build people’s trust, both now and in the future. The CMA has also opened a competition law investigation into EV charging along motorways and will continue to work with government and the industry to help ensure electric vehicle charging is a success.”

Sue Davies, Which? head of consumer protection policy, said: “The UK’s electric car charging network is confusing, disjointed and in dire need of reform to make it a viable option for all, especially those who do not have access to a private charger – so it’s promising to see the CMA calling for a national strategy to improve the sector and investigating competition concerns.

“To ensure electric cars are a choice for most consumers, the government should take these recommendations seriously and take the necessary steps to make the public charging network larger, simpler and more accessible than it is today.”

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