Electric car charging networks rated: number 8-2
As more cars go electric, the demand for public charging points is set to increase. We find out whether the network is ready for the challenge...
Overall rating 61.4%
Charging speed up to 350kW Cost per kWh 69p
Ionity is a car maker-backed network that aims to provide ultra-rapid charging for EV owners across Europe. Although it doesn’t have many sites in the UK yet, it is one of only two providers to offer charging speeds of up to 350kW.
Unsurprisingly, our survey respondents scored it highly for charging speed, but they were unimpressed with the high cost of charging, rating it the worst provider for value for money.
Our first experience of using Ionity at Extra services, Cobham, on the M25 was a disaster. We weren’t able to download the provider’s app and resorted to using a third party one that wouldn’t let us pre-load bank details. We were also unable to enter our bank details when we tried to start charging, and we weren’t the only people having technical difficulties at the site. We tried calling the helpline, but there was no answer.
However, Ionity has since launched a new app, so we went to Extra services, Beaconsfield, just off the M40 to try it out. Choosing the outlet and connecting and disconnecting was slow and a bit glitchy, but we got a top-up this time.
7. BP Pulse
Overall rating 64.2%
Charging speed up to 150kW Cost per kWh 42p PAYG and contactless
This extensive network (formerly Polar Plus) consists of more than 7000 charging points around the UK, including 700 rapid chargers and around 80 150kW chargers. BP Pulse has also announced that it plans to introduce a number of dedicated EV charging stations offering speeds of up to 350kW.
EV drivers didn’t rate BP Pulse highly for location, reliability or value for money, although it scored well when it came to charging speed.
The site we visited in Bagshot, Surrey, was in a well-lit area with security cameras, but not under a canopy like the fuel pumps. You can pay via an app or using a contactless bank card. We tried the latter first and found the coloured screen tricky to read and not particularly user-friendly. The card scanner screen was so difficult to read that we weren’t sure if it had accepted our payment.
When we reverted to using the app, the charger initially thought it was being used by someone else, but everything worked fine when we switched to another bank card.
6. Gridserve Electric Highway
Overall rating 70.2%
Charging speed up to 350kW Cost per kWh 30p
Ecotricity’s Electric Highway – the network of charging stations at motorway services in the UK – has been heavily criticised in the past for its poor reliability. However, it has now been taken over by Gridserve and the new company is aiming to revamp all 300 sites by the end of 2021.
EV owners haven’t felt the benefits yet, though, with the majority of them still rating its chargers as unreliable and scoring it relatively poorly for value for money, although it was praised for location.
We visited the first renovated site at Moto Rugby services on the M6 in Warwickshire. Of the 12 rapid chargers at the site, only one was being used. There was loads of space to manoeuvre and each bay had a bump stop, so we could get close to the outlet without worrying about hitting it.
The on-screen instructions were clear and, although there is an app, you can also pay using a contactless bank card. Pricing was clearly marked and the long charging cable made plugging in a breeze. It’s just a shame that the chargers are open to the elements.
5. Pod Point
Overall rating 71.6%
Charging speed up to 50kW Cost per kWh 27p
With more than 3000 charging points around the UK, Pod Point is one of the larger networks. You’ll find its chargers in a wide range of locations, including supermarkets (Lidl, Sainsbury’s and Tesco), hotels, leisure centres and restaurants (such as McDonald’s).
Although its chargers’ power rating isn’t particularly high, it comes out second best overall for value for money, and it’s also rated fairly well for reliability and location.
The charging station we visited was in the middle of an enormous Tesco car park in Slough, and it took a while to locate the devices. When we arrived, all the charging bays were in use, but one was vacated within a couple of minutes.
You need to use the Pod Point app to select your charger and get charging started, but this was fairly simple to do. Once we’d added some funds to our account, we plugged the car in and started charging. The car park was well lit and under cover, making it a good place to charge up in bad weather, and being able to charge your car while doing your weekly shop would be useful.
4. Shell Recharge
Overall rating 75.5%
Charging speed Up to 175kW Cost per kWh 41p
This network is focused mostly in London and the South East, although it does have sites across England and Scotland. While most of its chargers are 50kW, Shell is expanding the number of 150kW and 175kW units available.
EV owners told us they were happy with the charging speeds offered and that the network was relatively reliable, but it lost points for the location of its chargers and the cost of charging, which was perceived to be high.
The existing 50kW charger at our test location, the Shell garage in Chiswell, Hertfordshire, was being replaced with a 175kW unit, and, ironically, the installer’s van was blocking one of the two charge bays, so we had to wait 10 minutes for someone to finish using the only available charger.
Although it seems logical to have EV chargers in fuel stations, this one was tucked into a corner of the forecourt next to the visitor parking bays, and drivers of regular cars were also parking in the EV bays. That said, when we did get to charge, connecting the charger to the car was easy and we could swipe a bank card to pay.
Overall rating 76.7%
Charging speed Up to 175kW Cost per kWh 36p
Osprey, formerly called Engenie, currently has around 200 charging points dotted around the UK, but in 2019 it gained significant funding from Cube Infrastructure Managers to expand the network to 2000 outlets over the next three years.
Its chargers were rated highly for reliability by our survey respondents and were further praised for their location. Although Osprey wasn’t up with the highest scorers for charging speed or value for money, most owners still scored it fairly well in these areas.
Our chosen guinea pig for Osprey’s network was at a Lidl supermarket in High Wycombe, just off the M40 in Buckinghamshire. The site is kitted out with 50kW rapid chargers that are located close to the entrance of the car park and therefore easy to spot as soon as you drive in.
All three outlets were vacant when we arrived. There was no need to download an app or register online to use them; we were able to simply plug our car in and tap our bank card on the reader to start the charging session, which went without a hitch.
Overall rating 81.2%
Charging speed up to 100kW Cost per kWh 40p
Instavolt has only reasonable coverage in England and Scotland, and this is reflected in the fairly average score it gets for location. However, EV owners were very impressed with its reliability, giving it the highest score of all the networks in our survey in this area. Although it doesn’t offer the fastest charging speed (most of its units are rated at 50kW, with a few up to 100kW), it also scored well in this area, and it was rated fairly highly for value for money.
The location of the public charger we tried sounded a bit dubious, because it was at the back end of an industrial estate. However, the car park, which was for the Bannantyne Health Club in Braintree in Essex, was easy to access and had a decent amount of space around the charger.
The parking bay was free, and because this is a contactless-only network with no need to download an app or register on a website, we were able to simply tap a bank card on the charger’s card reader to start the process and then plugged the cable into our car. All told, the experience was as painless as you’d hope it would be.
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