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Published on May 25th, 2019 | by Andy Miles

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Charging On Without A Plan In The UK

May 25th, 2019 by  


The UK government, like the eccentric Don Quixote, is charging on without a rational plan for charging infrastructure. What has been required since 2010 when the first viable EVs started to emerge is a central government plan and policy for charging infrastructure. In the absence of any such planning, charging points of all kinds have sprung up like weeds in a neglected garden, with no specifications for siting, for access, or for payment. The result is that some areas are very sparsely provided, and in other areas there are a plethora of different providers all requiring special cards, smartphone apps, pre-registrations, or subscriptions.

Searching for Salvation

There are websites that provide a location map of every charge point and which network runs the charger, but you need to sign up with them before you can use them. That is not very helpful for a driver desperate to get a charge, as I found to my cost recently.

When I go to visit my youngest daughter in Frome, in Somerset, I can rely (as usual) on the excellent Ecotricity rapid charging network on the motorways. However, though I get a charge just before leaving the motorway, I have to go about 60 miles on an 80% charge to get from there to my daughter’s house. I arrive with about 15 miles of range left. That is typically not a problem for me, though, as there is free public L2 charging just around the corner at the “Cheese, and Grain.” It was a blow to find an “out-of-order” sign this time, though. This was the first time I was forced to consult my Open Charge Map app to find another charger. This is where I found that most of the chargers around were owned by Polar (BP) and I would have had to have pre-registered to get a card, or pay an extortionate fee if not registered. Fortunately, we found a free charger at the local medical centre, so ended up with 80% charge for the return journey.

UK Charging Infrastructure

Image by Andy Miles

EU to the Rescue

The EU did rather better than the UK government, having discussed charging infrastructure needs from 2010 onward and issuing a directive in 2014. To give people time to comply, that only came fully into force in October 2018, by which time it was a bit late. They have required any public charge point to have standard connectors available, and also to provide what they call “ad-hoc” access. That is not defined in the EU legislation, so takes on its everyday meaning of requiring no particular pre-arrangement. The UK government have created a definition of “ad-hoc” in their legislation which is similar.

Not Quite Meeting the Requirements

They have also allowed providers to get away with saying that the requirement for ad-hoc provision is satisfied by users being able to sign up to their smartphone app while at the charging station, before they are able to use it. The government have also allowed providers to create dual pricing schemes, where anyone using instant, ad-hoc access — using a credit card, for example — will be charged an extortionate amount for the privilege. This is clearly not what the EU intended. As I mentioned, Polar, as one example, charge people around £7 a month for subscription users, or about £7 a charge for ad-hoc users.


What is Really Needed

What is really needed is for anyone to be able to go to any charger and access it using a credit or debit card, or a smartphone equivalent, such as Apple Pay, and be charged for the electricity they use. It would be outrageous if people had to pay a monthly subscription to use fuel pumps, or had to pay extra to use a credit card. It is equally outrageous for people to be treated like that when using EV chargers.

The few networks providing true ad-hoc access without prejudicial pricing are Instavolt, Shell Recharge, and Engenie. Any driver can charge up using a credit or debit card, and can pay only for the kilowatt-hours used. The government should insist on all providers doing the same.

Image via Instavolt

The Sleeping Giant Begins to Stir

The government have belatedly decided to invest £1 billion into setting up facilities for charging which will be similar to motorway service areas, have up to 24 charge points, include 500 kW chargers, and provide public amenities. However, they still have no central plan for locations, and it is left up to a private company, Gridserve, to decide on locations. Gridserve will also be operating a dual pricing system, like Polar, with one rate and special privileges for subscription payers and a more expensive service for ad-hoc users.

Lost in the Maze

We currently have at least 11 public charging network providers in the UK, all with different access and payment methods, some of which are convenient and fair, and some of which are not. This makes our charging infrastructure very fragmented and incoherent. I have not included Tesla, as they do not offer a public charging network, being restricted to only Tesla cars. Here is a full list.

Name

Details

Pricing

Polar

Run by BP with over 5,000 charge points, mostly L2. Access by membership card or app.

£7.50 per month membership, with mainly free access, or around £7 per 30 minute charge for non-members.

Ecotricity

Over 300 L3 stations, and increasing. Sited on most motorway service areas. All 100% renewable energy. Access by app.

£0.30 per kWh, or £0.15 per kWh for Ecotricity home electricity customers.

Shell Recharge

Run by Royal Dutch Shell. All 100% renewable energy. Sited at existing fuel stations. Access and payment by credit/debit card.

£0.35 per kWh

Charge Your Car

2,000 mostly L2 charge points. Requires membership.

£20 annual membership plus either £1.00 connection fee or an amount per kWh.

Genie Point

Requires membership card or an app.

£9 one-off fee for the card, then £0.30 per kWh + £0.50 for L2 and + £1 for L3.

Source London

London area only. Membership or pay as you go.

Membership £4 per month, or £10 one-off fee. Charges vary from £0.026 to £0.143 per minute depending on levels of membership, or for non-members.

Instavolt

All L3 chargers, and all accessed by credit/debit card.

£0.35 per kWh

Engenie

Restricted to some counties around London. All L3 chargers, and all accessed by credit/debit card.

£0.36 per kWh

Pod Point

Over 1,000 mostly L2 units. Give instant access for up to 15 minutes, and during or after that require connection using an app.

Free to use

ESB

Run by Transport for London (TfL).

All L3. Membership or pay as you go using an app.

Members — £4 month and £0.25 per kWh

Pay as you go — £0.29 per kWh

Zero Carbon World

L2 destination chargers at hotels and similar public businesses with car parking.

No access methods required — just plug in.

Normally free to use, but business owners can set charges and conditions for use.

The Free Market “Provides”

To be sure of being able to use all of these, a UK EV driver will need to pay about £200 per year in membership subscriptions and carry about 8 cards or smartphone apps to get access. For my own travelling, I just use Ecotricity, paying the £0.15 per kWh charge, which is the cheapest and most convenient. These are ideal for me since they are L3 chargers sited at what are already large, well planned motorway service areas. For destination charging, I mainly use Zero Carbon World, as, again, they do not require any access methods, are free to use, and normally come with free exclusive parking spaces. I would consider using Pod Point, Engenie, Instavolt, or Shell Recharge, but none of the others that require monthly/annual fees or have extortionate charges for one-off access.

What I have described is a good example of what the free market supplies, left to its own devices without any central planning or regulation from government. As usual, it is only because of sensible EU directives that we have any standards or plans for EV charging infrastructure at all!

 
 
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About the Author

As a child, I had the unrealistic expectation that I would learn about, and understand, absolutely everything during the course of growing up. Now, at the other end of life, I am fully aware of how much I have not learnt and do not understand, and yet, I remain interested in everything. My education, starting with an arts degree and going on to postgraduate studies in everything from computer science to hypnotism reflected my broad interests. For 20 years, I worked in local government. I am now retired, living in North Leicestershire in the UK, with plenty of time for doing whatever I like. I have always had a keen interest in everything alternative, which includes renewable energy and energy efficiency and, of course, electric vehicles. So, naturally, I have taken ownership of an EV, now that they are affordable and practical forms of transport. Writing is also one of my great pleasures, so writing about EVs and environmental issues is a natural evolution for me. You can find my work on EV Obsession, and CleanTechnica, and you can also follow me on twitter.



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