The everyday cost of electric vehicle charging isn’t at the forefront of many people’s minds while infrastructure concerns remain, but how important is it, and how important will it become in the future?
The Government recently announced a wide-ranging new consultation into the public charging experience for electric vehicle drivers, covering four main areas: ease of payment, opening up data on charge point location, ensuring chargepoint reliability and using a single payment metric – allowing drivers to understand and compare pricing across UK networks as they currently do with petrol and diesel prices on a pence per litre basis at different fulling stations.
But how important is that to drivers now, and how is that likely to change going forward? And how aware are drivers currently of the cost to charge their electric vehicle?
According to the Electric Vehicle Association England, an organisation formed last summer to represent and give a voice to current and future EV drivers, quantity and quality of charging points are still the key things to EV drivers relying on the public network.
“The most important aspects are that chargers are available and that they work,” EVA England director Gill Nowell tells Company Car Today. “It’s a really strong theme that convenience over price is really important to drivers, although people tend to avoid the really expensive ones.” She says the figure of up to around 30p per kWh is seen as a fair price by EV drivers, and that the majority of users are aware of the cost of charging at different networks.
“The trend from drivers is that they are well acquainted with the most expensive networks and most unreliable networks, although it’s tricky because in some cases they are the only option,” she continues. “But hopefully reliability is improving because of the ease of reporting points that don’t work, and as more and more options emerge every day, people know which ones they can trust.”
The Government consultation into the consumer experience at public charge points claims that drivers would like to see better pricing information.
“We want consumers to be able to easily compare the cost of charging between different networks, helping drive competition and bring down prices,” said the official consultation document. “Evidence suggests that consumers are confused by a lack of comparability of pricing information at either public chargepoints or through other means, for example, smartphone apps.”
Although there is no totem pole-style pricing display for charge points, as there is for petrol stations, charge point companies generally do a good job of making their costs obvious from a quick google search, and on apps such as Zap-map. The geographical spread of charging points means it just takes more planning than driving on from one petrol station to the next one down the road.
IN DEFENCE OF SUBSCRIPTIONS
BP Pulse, formerly BP Chargemaster, has a more complex set-up than other charge point providers, with a subscription service, a free membership and a turn-up-and-pay contactless offering, all at different prices. The company also then has different pricing for the different levels of charging – regular AC points that are generally up to 7kW, 50kW and high-powered 150kW chargers.
“For people that are regularly charging, subscription tends to provide them with better value and we’re seeing the majority of usage on our network is via a subscription product,” said BP Pulse’s head of insight and external affairs, Tom Callow. He also claims that the company has the UK’s largest network of contactless chargers that require no subscription, membership card or app.
“The thought that everyone wants contactless, and that subscriptions and memberships are terrible, doesn’t seem to be reflected in real-life behaviour. It’s something people tend to suggest when they don’t drive an electric vehicle, but when they get behind the wheel they realise it makes sense.”
Callow likened the subscription offering to a mobile phone contract.
“You don’t spend ages thinking about the contract that you have, you work out which one is right for you and you use that,” he says. “For example, I know that a pay-as-you-go phone doesn’t work for me, but it might for other people. What we have got to do is to make sure that charging is no more hassle than refuelling.”
That’s especially true for fleets, where a single fuel card covers a large number of refuelling transactions.
“I doubt as a fleet manager you’re going to want your employees coming in every month with dozens of contactless payment receipts,” continues Callow. “That’s why we’ve had a single invoice and account for fleets; they want all their public charging from us on a single bill.”
BUILDING A NETWORK
One of the most expensive networks at present is run by Ionity, although the reason for the expense is at least partially down to the company providing ultra-powerful 350kW charging stations in motorway locations to enable high-mileage EV travel.
“We remain committed to building a network of high-power chargers for consumers that enables long-distance travel in an EV,” says Pia Bretschneider, Ionity country manager UK and Ireland.
“That means we are making a significant investment into building up and operating high-power charging stations in 24 countries across Europe.”
She continues: “Most EV drivers will use the Ionity chargers on a longer journey; this means also that the majority of charging transactions take place elsewhere, typically at home or work where the car remains parked for several hours and where the driver pays a lower rate for the charged energy.
“Decisive for a successful transition to EVs will be availability and cost of residential and workplace charging, as well as a fast, hassle-free and reliable high-power network for longer EV journeys.”
Ionity is owned by a group of car manufacturers – Audi, BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche – which offer their own drivers cheaper access to the Ionity charging points.
At the other end of the scale is Gridserve, the company that recently opened the first of what it says will be at least 100 sprawling charging sites across the country. Its goal is to provide a solution to the local EV drivers who can’t charge
at home, so is priced accordingly.
“The comparison would be with a local petrol station that serves the community primarily but it’s also on the edge of a
busy road to get faster traffic, rather than a motorway whose entire function really is serving passing traffic,” Gridserve chief executive Toddington Harper tells Company Car Today.
“The pricing element is obviously not the comparison with the motorway service stations that are normally more expensive than a local petrol station. We set our prices as to be as competitive as possible, which is why we’re quite a lot less expensive than other people in this space.” Indeed, the company charges 24p per kWh across its 36 charging points of speeds from 22kW to 350kW.
“If you do what some of the other guys are doing, which is kind of charging whatever they think they can charge without really doing the maths and making it economically attractive to customers, it means that you’ll be seen as a last resort, as opposed to a regular option,” Harper continues. “And also, it doesn’t really help the 40 or 50% of people who can’t charge their vehicle at home.”
THE EVOLUTION OF CHARGING COSTS
Looking at how charging costs could evolve, EVA England’s director, Gill Nowell, can see some competition coming into the marketplace as the geographical spread of charging points increases.
“I’m looking at some great companies that will be wanting to recoup their investment. However, they will also want to build their brands, so it’s likely you’ll see special offers start to come through to boost the competitive angle,” she says.
“They may even offer different bundles of services; maybe not just charging but also your domestic energy as well.
“But I do think cost of charging will move up people’s agenda, although it depends on the type of journey. If people are just doing the odd road trip and have to stop and charge it will depend on choice and range, but if there’s only one option you’re not going to drive out of your way to find another site. Rapid-charge location and reliability trumps price.”