electric car charging

‘Postcode lottery’ for access to EV chargepoints, CMA warns

Image credit: UK Power Networks

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published a set of measures to ensure that the UK’s network of electric vehicle (EV) chargepoints is reliable, competitive, and fit for purpose ahead of the 2030 ban on the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines.

The CMA found that some parts of the new EV charging sector are developing relatively well, including charging at shopping centres, workplaces, and private parking (such as garages and driveways), but other parts are facing problems that could hinder the planned petrol and diesel engine phase-out.

The regulator expressed particular concern about the choice and availability of chargepoints at motorway service stations where competition is limited; the speed of the roll-out of on-street charging by local authorities; and lack of investment in building chargepoints in rural areas. It also cited research showing that charging can be difficult and frustrating for drivers, as well as issues around reliability and cost putting drivers off going electric.

The CMA laid out four principles which it states should ensure that using and paying for charging is as simple as filling up with petrol or diesel: working chargepoints must be easy to find; charging must be simple and quick to pay for (e.g. no need to sign up to an app); the cost of charging must be clear with a standard way of listing prices; and charging must be accessible (e.g. can be used by any type of EV).

There are approximately 25,000 EV chargepoints in the UK. Forecasts suggest that more than ten times as many this will be needed by 2030 with numbers continuing to increase as drivers stop using their petrol and diesel cars. In February, the Policy Exchange think tank warned that the UK needs to ramp up the installation of changepoints to five times the current rate if the plan to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles within the current timeline is to be achieved.

 “Electric vehicles play a critical role in meeting net zero but the challenges with creating an entirely new charging network should not be underestimated. Some areas of the roll-out are going well and the UK’s network is growing. But it’s clear that other parts, like charging at motorway service stations and on-street, have much bigger hurdles to overcome,” said Andrea Coscelli, CMA CEO. “There needs to be action now to address the postcode lottery in electric vehicle charging as we approach the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.”

“Our recommendations will promote strong competition, encourage more investment, and build people’s trust, both now and in the future. The CMA has also opened a competition law investigation into EV charging along motorways and will continue to work with government and the industry to help ensure electric vehicle charging is a success.”

At present, while London has 80 EV chargers per 100,000 people, Northern Ireland has just 17. Yorkshire and the Humber, the North West, the West Midlands, and the East of England are also behind at around 20 per 100,000 people. These regional variations approximately match regional variation in private ownership of EVs, which is much higher in London and the South East than in Northern regions.

The watchdog’s recommendations are that: the government sets out a National Strategy for EV charging infrastructure rollout to 2030; energy regulators should ensure it is quicker and cheaper to connect new chargepoints; governments must support local authorities in boosting roll-out of on-street charging including providing funding for expertise; conditions should be attached to the £950m Rapid Charging Fund to open up competition so drivers have a choice of provider at motorway service stations; and tasking a public body with monitoring the sector as it develops to ensure charging is as simple as going to a petrol station.

The CMA has also launched an competition investigation into long-term exclusive arrangements between the Electric Highway (which provides chargepoints) and three motorway service operators: MOTO, Roadchef and Extra. Currently, the Electric Highway provides 80 per cent of all chargepoints at motorway service stations, excluding Tesla chargepoints. These arrangements last between 10-15 years and cover around two-thirds of motorway service stations.

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