In association with Nissan LEAF
Electric car charging networks rated: number 8-2
With electric cars rapidly growing in popularity, we’ve rated the main providers of public rapid chargers with some help from What Car? readers...
8. BP Pulse
Overall rating 69.9%
Charging speed up to 150kW Cost per kWh up to 79p
BP Pulse is the largest public charging network in the UK, with more than 9000 connectors. Around 3000 of these are 50kW or 150kW devices, and these cost the most to use, but some of its older, slower chargers are still free to use.
BP Pulse was the second worst provider for reliability, with many chargers out of order. Readers also rated it poorly for accessibility, and that tallied with our research. Our tester visited six central London sites that were listed on his car’s sat-nav as BP Pulse chargers, and they were all either no longer operated by BP Pulse or inside car parks, so he couldn’t try them without paying a hefty fee. He eventually found an on-street 50kW device in south London that he was able to use.
He had to park against the flow of traffic to use it because of the location of the charging port on his car. He had registered via the app, but after having problems logging in, he opted for contactless payment to use the charger as a guest instead.
BP Pulse’s 150kW chargers cost unregistered users 79p/kWh, but registered users benefit from cheaper rates.
Overall rating 70.6%
Charging speed up to 75kW Cost per kWh around 30p
Owned by Norwegian renewable energy supplier Statkraft, Mer expanded its UK network in April 2022 when it took over Hubsta. It has chargers for public use at around 325 locations in England and Wales.
Prices vary depending on location and charging speed. Payment can be made via the app, website or by using an RFID card that costs £10 but provides £5 credit. Contactless payment is being rolled out at some sites.
The site we tried in Shirley in the West Midlands has four 22kW chargers and two 50kW units in the uncovered car park. All were in good condition.
The faster chargers were in use, so we tried one of the slower units, which cost 27p/kWh. The 50kW chargers cost 52p/kWh. Connecting via the app was fiddly and slow, but it did eventually work. The RFID card reader appeared to be broken.
With no ultra-rapid chargers and an app that isn’t easy to use, Mer didn’t score as highly as some for charging speed or ease of use. On the plus side, it does offer affordable charging and came fifth overall for reliability.
Overall rating 75.0%
Charging speed up to 150kW Cost per kWh 79p
Osprey, formerly known as Engenie, currently has more than 300 charging points at locations around the UK and is in the process of expanding this to 2000 units. It works with private companies and local authorities to install a rapid charging network that’s powered by renewable energy.
When we tried the network, Osprey had increased its price to a whopping £1/kWh, but this was reduced to 79p/kWh before our feature was published.
We tried its Banbury Cross site, which has six devices with six 150kW CCS and six 50kW CHAdeMO chargers. Getting started was simply a case of plugging in and waving a bank card on the reader. The site was in a public car park and one of the spaces was blocked by a non-electric car. That said, there were plenty of charging spaces available and all bays were of a good size with easy access.
The network was rated as one of the best for charging speed and ease of payment, and it scored quite well for reliability. Its overall score was dragged down by the hefty prices, and even the newly reduced fee is on the high side for a 50kW charge.
Overall rating 75.4%
Charging speed up to 250kW Cost per kWh up to 77p
Tesla's charging network has long been the envy of other EV owners because sites generally have a good number of devices, are located at popular locations and are well maintained. There are around 1000 Superchargers around the UK and many more ‘destination’ chargers at hotels, restaurants and resorts. Non-Tesla vehicles have been allowed to charge at 16 sites since May this year. But while Tesla owners typically pay 67p/kWh for the fastest chargers, other users have to pay 77p.
To see what the network is like for non-Tesla owners, we took a Kia EV6 to the Banbury Supercharger site. This has 12 devices offering speeds of up to 250kW, and all were in good condition when we visited. However, we were unable to connect via the first account we created and had to register again before charging got underway. The highest charging rate we saw was a disappointing 42kW.
Our survey data found these issues to be common among non-Tesla owners, who marked the network down on ease of use and value for money. However, it came top overall for reliability and accessibility.
Tesla introduced lower off-peak rates for charging from 14 November 2022 offering savings to Tesla and non-Tesla owners. The average reduced rate of 54pkWh applies for all charging from 8pm to 4pm for Tesla owners, and the peak rate of 67p applies during the remaining four hours.
Overall rating 78.2%
Charging speed 350kW Cost per kWh 74p
There are currently 93 Ionity chargers at 18 locations around the UK, including hubs at Extra motorway service stations. These have recently been upgraded to each have at least six ultra-rapid chargers.
Charging costs 69p/kWh if you pay as you go, while Ionity Passport membership costs £16.99 a month but brings a reduced fee of 35p/kWh.
We tried Ionity’s Leeds Skelton Lake service area site, where the chargers looked fairly new and were in good condition, but there was no shelter from the rain when charging.
Chargers can be used via an app or by scanning a QR code on the machine and completing your details online. The latter method is time consuming and the website doesn’t show your charging progress in real time. In our case, the charger cut out when the car’s battery had reached 72% rather than the 80% we’d wanted. Our test Nissan Ariya charged at around 116kW – only a little short of the 130kW it’s capable of accepting.
While Ionity scores maximum points for charging speed, ease of payment lets it down.
Overall rating 84.0%
Charging speed Up to 300kW Cost per kWh 69p
Dutch company FastNed now has 12 sites in the UK, with 59 charging points, mostly beside major A-roads and motorways. Some of its smaller, older sites host only 50kW chargers, but more than half of its existing chargers have a speed of 150kW or more, and all the new ones are capable of delivering up to 300kW. It has rapid plans for expansion across the UK, hoping to open another 23 stations in 2023.
Payment is via contactless bank card or an app, giving it top marks for ease of use. It also scores very well for reliability. However, pay-as-you-go prices are a bit higher than Gridserve’s (although there’s a £9.99 monthly subscription option that brings the cost down by 30%), and the limited number of locations around the UK counts against it for now.
We tried the company’s newest station, in Oxford. Starting the charging process was as simple as swiping a bank card, and the speed was good (110-130kW). We also visited the Barnard Castle site in County Durham and tried charging via the app.
It took about five minutes to register, and the app linked quickly with the charger. Both sites were conveniently laid out, with good access.
Overall rating 85.1%
Charging speed up to 150kW Cost per kWh 75p
This network loses out on the top spot in our rankings partly because the majority of its chargers are 50kW or 120kW units and it only has a small number of 150kW chargers.
Instavolt has nearly 900 charging points across England, Wales and Scotland, and will soon add 150 more. It has partnerships with the likes of Costa Coffee, McDonald’s, Bannantyne health centres and Booths supermarkets, and operates chargers at their sites.
It excels for ease of use, allowing contactless payment without creating an account. There is an app, but you don’t have to use it. With an 82% satisfaction rating, Instavolt wasn’t far behind Tesla and Fastned in terms of reliability, and it came second only to Tesla for accessibility.
We tried an Instavolt site in North Weald, Essex, which has two 50kW units, access being tight for one of them. Payment was easy, but the unit’s slow response made us wonder if something was wrong. The charging speed topped out at 35kWh, lower than the advertised rate, so charging took longer than anticipated.
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