Which? is calling for a major upgrade to the UK’s Electric Vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure as new research from the consumer champion finds that only 13 per cent of EV and Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) charging happens via the public charging network.
Which’s annual car survey highlights low usage of the public network, with only 15 per cent of EV charging and 5 per cent of PHEV charging currently happening at public charge points. However, the consumer champion stresses that improving the access to the public charging network, as well as the experience of using it, is vital to accommodate the predicted growth in EV use. It would also give drivers who travel long distances or don’t have access to charging at home the confidence to switch to an EV.
A recent nationally representative Which? survey showed that three of the five most significant barriers to consumers buying an EV related to anxiety about charging. A third (33%) of those surveyed pointed to the lack of availability of charge points on long journeys and three in 10 (29%) raised concerns about a lack of charge points close to their home.
Which? is committed to supporting drivers to make the move to EVs; an important step to help reduce emissions and make a more sustainable choice. In a new report: ‘Building an Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure that is Fit for the Future’, Which? makes the case for major developments in the public charging infrastructure.
The current availability of public charge points is inadequate in some areas and the expansion of the charging network is happening too slowly. There are also significant national and regional disparities, with four times as many public chargers per 100,000 people in London as in the North West of England; while in Scotland there are 52 public charge points per 100,000 people, this compares with just 18 in Northern Ireland.
While Which?’s research also shows that the vast majority (93%) of EV and PHEV owners are currently able to charge at home, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimates that over eight million households will not be able to charge an EV at home due to limited access to off-street parking. As the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars after 2030 approaches and more drivers switch to electric, the number of people who will soon be completely reliant on public charging is set to rise sharply.
Those who are unable to charge from home face having to pay higher prices on the public network, and all EV drivers face challenges including multiple payment systems and poor charge point reliability.
Development of EV infrastructure is a devolved power and the UK and devolved national governments have taken different approaches. Last year, the UK government consulted on how to improve the consumer experience at public charge points, and EV charging strategies are either being developed or are already in place for the UK and devolved nations. Local authorities also play a key role in on-street charging and there is a significant variance in their approaches.
With a UK government EV Infrastructure Strategy expected imminently, Which? is recommending a number of actions that the UK and devolved governments, local authorities, car manufacturers and chargepoint companies need to take to make the public charging network fit for the future.
The consumer champion is calling for a significant increase in the number of charging stations both on-street and at service stations – particularly in areas where they are scarce – as well as requiring charge points that are currently restricted to specific brands to be available to all EVs.
Action is also needed to simplify a system that currently has around 60 different charging networks, many of which need a specific app or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card. This means customers who want to use public charging points have to download different apps or sign up for multiple RFID cards. Which? believes that drivers using charge points should be able to pay with their bank card where possible, or use a single app/RFID card that is accepted by all networks, greatly simplifying the process.
Public charge points can also be expensive with some costing nearly 80 per cent more than charging at home. Which? believes those who have no choice but to use the public charging network should be able to charge at a comparable rate to charging at home.
Sue Davies, Which? Head of Consumer Protection Policy, said:
“Our research shows that few electric vehicle owners currently rely on the public charging network, but this will have to change if millions of people are going to switch from petrol and diesel vehicles in the next decade.
“Improving the UK’s flawed charging infrastructure will support more motorists to make the switch to a zero-emission vehicle. The current confusing and complex system needs to be quickly overhauled if the network is going to be ready for the ban on new fossil fuel cars in 2030.
“Charging must be easy, accessible and affordable if people are going to make the move to an electric car.”
Notes to editors:
- The full Which? report: ‘Building an Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure that is Fit for the Future’ can be read here (please note this will be live once the embargo breaks).
- The figures relating to the amount of charging using public infrastructure and percentage of those who charge at home come from the 2021 Which? Car survey: UK survey in field from April to July 2021. 48,034 respondents told Which? about 56,853 cars they own and drive, including 2,184 EV/BEV owners and 923 PHEV owners.
- Which?’s survey of consumer’s attitudes towards electric vehicles can be read here. Fieldwork was carried out online by Yonder and data has been weighted to be representative of the UK population (aged 18+).
- Department for Transport data shows the number of public charge points across the UK by region as of 1 January 2022 and is available here.
- Analysis of the comparative cost of using public and home chargers was done by the National Audit Office, which found that it is between 59-78% cheaper to charge at home (National Audit Office, Reducing carbon emissions from cars, February 2021).
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