Which? is calling for a major overhaul of the UK’s fragmented electric vehicle public charging network to ensure emission-free vehicles are a viable option for all consumers.
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 rely on a bewildering array of sub-standard apps and payment methods, and drivers can face unnecessarily expensive charges.
With around 12 million electric cars expected to be on UK roads by 2030, according to the Climate Change Committee, Which? believes the public charging network as it stands is not fit for purpose for the millions of people who will soon depend on it, and is in dire need of reform to ensure it is accessible for all consumers.
More than 30 providers make up the UK’s public charging network, however Which? found almost all require motorists to download a network-specific app, or sign up for a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card to use their charge point – 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.
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, dividing the public charging network even further. When Which? asked if Tesla would open its supercharger network to other car brands in the future, 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 do not 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 but charges 25p per kWh for those who pay via its website or app and 30p per kWh for card payments. Which? calculated that this 5p difference, using the Volkswagen id.3 as an example, could mean owners paying by card would be charged around £140 extra annually.
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”.
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 per cent charge, though overnight chargers are cut off after four hours.
As a first step to reform the public charging network, the government and industry should consider making public chargers universal so motorists need just one app, RFID card and account to access all networks across the UK. While creating a universal infrastructure will have its challenges, Which? believes it is essential to create a simple and appealing network.
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, as the UK needs more charge points. It 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.
The government’s ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars will encourage more motorists to switch to emission-free vehicles, which will play a vital role in achieving net-zero by 2050. However, to ensure motorists can make this transition, the public charging network needs to work much better for consumers.
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.”
Notes to editor
Which? tests found the Volkswagen id.3 with a 58kWh battery requires 2,795.431 kWh over a year’s mileage of 9,000 miles (based on the pre-pandemic average annual mileage drivers reported in Which’s most recent car survey, where 47,013 UK car owners told us about 55,833 cars they own).
Using the annual required kWh to charge a Volkswagen, Which? calculated the difference in cost when paying by card or online with BP Pulse and using Source London’s different charging points.
Buying an electric car
- If you’ve never driven an electric car, you may be surprised by the quick acceleration from a standstill, so take it slowly on your test drive until you get used to it.
- You will save money on car tax. Electric cars are exempt from car tax as they emit zero CO2. Also, they are exempt from the ‘expensive car supplement’, which sees most models that cost over £40,000 liable for an extra £310 per year for years two to six of ownership.
- If you can charge at home, you’ll want to get a wall box charging point. The UK government currently offers a grant toward buying and installing a wall box, called the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme, which covers 75% of the cost, capped to a maximum of £350. For those living in Scotland, the Energy Saving Trust will provide up to £300 further funding on top of this, with an additional £100 available for those in the most remote areas.
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Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.