Research suggests quality, not quantity, is the problem for Britain’s charging infrastructure
10 July 2019

The UK’s public charging infrastructure is just about keeping pace with electric car expansion, but there’s now a new concern: the poor usability and reliability of the network. 

Currently there are 13,702 public chargers with a total of 23,280 connectors across the UK, according to the latest data from popular charging locator app Zap-Map. These chargers support a growing fleet of vehicles classed as ultra-low emission (the vast majority of which are plug-in), which totalled 185,853 by the end of 2018, according to data from the Department for Transport. 

As firms such as Volkswagen, Vauxhall, Peugeot and Honda expand their electric car lineups, the number of plug-in cars will grow dramatically to seven million in the UK by 2030, according to a recent study from consulting firm Deloitte. However, because most will be home-charged, it believes only 28,000 public chargers will be required to service them. 

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Theoretically then, we’re already nearly halfway there, even though slower chargers will need replacing and the geographic imbalance must be addressed (for example, Greater London has 26% of chargers, while Wales has just 3%, says Zap-Map). 

But public charging is already frustrating many users. “How the hell are we expected to get to carbon neutral when the charging network is so random, inconsistent and generally awful to use?” tweeted Conor Twomey, head of UK public relations for Mitsubishi, maker of the country’s best-selling plug-in hybrid, the Outlander PHEV

A snapshot provided by ZapMap for 29 May showed that almost a quarter of chargers were out of service. Of those, 7.5% were flagged up with a problem while 16% were not communicating their status, leading Zap-Map to assume they were not working.

The sheer number of charger providers is one problem. Zap-Map lists more than 50, each with their own network and, sometimes, their own monopoly of a location. Ecotricity, for example, signed exclusive agreements with motorway service station operators such as Welcome Break, but has been singled out multiple times for the poor reliability of its chargers. The alternative is off-motorway stops, usually in places without the variety of shopping and eating choices motorway services offer. Ecotricity declined to comment. 

Even if the charger is working, you then have to figure out how to use them. Some of the blame can be pinned on the car manufacturers themselves for not agreeing on a standard charging protocol, resulting in different connectors for different charging systems. CCS (combined charging system, so called because it combines AC and DC charging in a single plug) is becoming more popular, but the dominant connector is still the Japanese-developed Chademo DC system used by both the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi Outlander.   

But perhaps the biggest stumbling block to usability is payment. To foster loyalty, a charger provider might require you to become a member and pay a monthly fee in return for cheaper charging. That might work fine if you stay in that network but, with more than 50 charger operators, it’s almost impossible. 

The competing tussles of the charger operators have got the attention of Conservative MP Bill Wiggin, who tabled a Private Members’ Bill to try to bring some order to the payment system. “Electric vehicle users in the UK are currently disadvantaged compared with our European neighbours due to our lack of an interoperable payment system for EV charging,” he told parliament in November last year. 

From 2018, charger operators have had to comply with a Europe-wide order to offer ad-hoc charging payment: in other words, you don’t have to be a member of a particular network before using one of their chargers (although you might have to pay more). But payment is still a minefield. “EV drivers in the Netherlands, for example, are able to charge their cars using a common payment card system,” Wiggin said, proposing a similar system here. This wasn’t a bid to nationalise charging, he added, but “simply to ensure the free market is working for consumers”. A second reading of the bill due in March didn’t happen and Wiggin didn’t reply to our questions. 

The cry from EV users on social media is to make payment possible by contactless bank card, bringing charging closer to the simplicity of buying petrol or diesel. Already some operators offer that, including Engenie, InstaVolt and Shell Recharge. But others are kicking back, citing the cost. And money is tight. Deloitte calls it a chicken and egg situation. Consumers don’t want electric cars until they’re happy the charging network is established, but charger operators are reluctant to invest until the customers are there. 

Public chargers are lying idle, too. According to Zap-Map data, a fast charger was used on average 0.8 times a day in the first three months of 2019, while rapid chargers were used 1.8 times. Ecotricity’s Electric Highway Company lost £830,000 last year, according to company accounts. Deloitte reckons it could take until 2023 for the UK charging industry to turn a profit. The charging industry’s woes are likely to be the electric car driver’s woes too, for some time yet.

Nick Gibbs

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22

10 July 2019
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10 July 2019

Its amusing Ecotricity losing money voluntarily, Of course I used them with my Outlander when it was free, but I would have continued to do so if they had charged a rate competitive with domestic prices or slightly higher.But they chose to price PHEV's off the network as their rates to this day are higher than just running on petrol. They accused PHEV's of 'charger blocking' for more needy EV's and probably was the case when it was free. But a PHEV only needed 20 minutes and being on a motorway services few people would want to stay any longer than they had to. I think if they had realistic pricing some PHEV users would come back to using them.It can't be worse than as the article points out, they sit languishing unused and losing money.(also partly due to their pricing being unpleasant even to EV drivers who can take a lot more power onboard, they tend to use them only if desperate)

10 July 2019
The Apprentice wrote:

Its amusing Ecotricity losing money voluntarily, Of course I used them with my Outlander when it was free, but I would have continued to do so if they had charged a rate competitive with domestic prices or slightly higher.But they chose to price PHEV's off the network as their rates to this day are higher than just running on petrol. They accused PHEV's of 'charger blocking' for more needy EV's and probably was the case when it was free. But a PHEV only needed 20 minutes and being on a motorway services few people would want to stay any longer than they had to. I think if they had realistic pricing some PHEV users would come back to using them.It can't be worse than as the article points out, they sit languishing unused and losing money.(also partly due to their pricing being unpleasant even to EV drivers who can take a lot more power onboard, they tend to use them only if desperate)

20 minutes?! - Max 10 for a motorway pitstop, thankfully I have a vehicle capable of a 600 mile range and have never had to fill up at a motorway services, as the prices have and always will be astronomical (even when purely EVs).

The fixation on profit only will kill the EV concept - unless government mandate a maximum limit for electric rates from chargers tied to the base rate for generation, nobody will ever travel long distances in EVs.

And for me, and polls show a majority of drivers - that's a showstopper.

Of course there are alternatives to the current model of car ownership (such as borrowing a car from the dealer for a weekend) which look promising.

However, it would be far easier to just buy a diesel PHEV - and get decent economy even when generating electricity (notice ALL large industrial electricity generators are diesel.... there's a reason).

Diesel PHEVs negate the particulates issue (NOx is harmless), and reduce CO2 - saving the planet, and removing the inner city-only public health issue

10 July 2019
CarNut170 wrote:

The Apprentice wrote:

Its amusing Ecotricity losing money voluntarily, Of course I used them with my Outlander when it was free, but I would have continued to do so if they had charged a rate competitive with domestic prices or slightly higher.But they chose to price PHEV's off the network as their rates to this day are higher than just running on petrol. They accused PHEV's of 'charger blocking' for more needy EV's and probably was the case when it was free. But a PHEV only needed 20 minutes and being on a motorway services few people would want to stay any longer than they had to. I think if they had realistic pricing some PHEV users would come back to using them.It can't be worse than as the article points out, they sit languishing unused and losing money.(also partly due to their pricing being unpleasant even to EV drivers who can take a lot more power onboard, they tend to use them only if desperate)

20 minutes?! - Max 10 for a motorway pitstop, thankfully I have a vehicle capable of a 600 mile range and have never had to fill up at a motorway services, as the prices have and always will be astronomical (even when purely EVs).

The fixation on profit only will kill the EV concept - unless government mandate a maximum limit for electric rates from chargers tied to the base rate for generation, nobody will ever travel long distances in EVs.

And for me, and polls show a majority of drivers - that's a showstopper.

Of course there are alternatives to the current model of car ownership (such as borrowing a car from the dealer for a weekend) which look promising.

However, it would be far easier to just buy a diesel PHEV - and get decent economy even when generating electricity (notice ALL large industrial electricity generators are diesel.... there's a reason).

Diesel PHEVs negate the particulates issue (NOx is harmless), and reduce CO2 - saving the planet, and removing the inner city-only public health issue

Depends on what your doing, usually I am working out and about, so a 20 minute stop often let me have a snack (or eat my lunch 3 hour late, not unusual!), drink, weewee, read all the emails that had pinged in whilst on the road, look at our call management system on a tablet and catch up, do some replies, make a couple of calls with full concentration... soon passed.

 

I suppose people's perspectives depend on where you live, if anywhere near London then of course its difficult, its just part of the unique misery of S.E. existence.But in the big wide normal world beyond, well everyone I know has a parking space and can charge without a problem if they need to.

11 July 2019
If EH had chargers that all worked, and always worked, with CCS,it would really help.

10 July 2019
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10 July 2019

The contactless payment system needs careful implementation. Engeneie pre-authorise £29 everytime you scan. One failed charge and you can be looking at loosing access to £58 for a upto a month for a fiver of leccy. I can't afford to do that too many times.

10 July 2019

People will use home chargers the vast majority of the time, I wouldn't be surprized if currently over 90% of EV power comes from a socket/wall charger in the home. Go on the BOLT forumns in the US and there're owners who've never used a public charger. And why would they when they can be twice as expensive compared to over night rates, afterall who'd go to a petrol pump that charged £13.99 a gallon? 

For the next 7 years public charging points will only be emergency and top up's only for the vast majority of people, afterwhich 200kW chargers will be as more common than petrol stations.

The only exception to the above are Telsa free charges which will be ending soon anyway

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

10 July 2019

The exception to the rule, people without parking spaces. Well do BEVs have to cover 100% of the market to be a success, 'no' is my answer, removing 60-70% of ICE polution would be a massive gain.

Besides when 350kW chargers become the norm I suspect 'non-driveway' owners will use these but pay more per kW than most, but it'll still be less than petrol! 

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

11 July 2019
xxxx wrote:

The exception to the rule, people without parking spaces. Well do BEVs have to cover 100% of the market to be a success, 'no' is my answer, removing 60-70% of ICE polution would be a massive gain.

Besides when 350kW chargers become the norm I suspect 'non-driveway' owners will use these but pay more per kW than most, but it'll still be less than petrol! 

When EVs hit a market capture much lower than 60-70% ICE cars will go into a death spiral.

Petrol stations have been reducing in number and reliant on the sales of products other than petrol for a while now.

Cut half their trade and the vast majority will close.

As it stands around half the people in the UK could charge their cars at home, that is easily a big enough market to drive ICE to that death spiral.

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