Electric car charging networks rated
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...
The number of public chargers for electric vehicles (EVs) has more than tripled since 2016 and there are now more than 24,000 charging points around the UK, with the capacity to charge 42,500 cars simultaneously.
What’s more, you no longer have to be in a motorway service station or shopping centre car park to find one; there has been a rapid roll-out of innovative new charging solutions, such as chargers fitted into lamp-posts and the arrival of service areas purely for EVs. And with the likes of BP and Shell fitting them at existing fossil fuel filling stations, it’s starting to feel like the network is filling out to the point where most people will be able to find a rapid charger within the 30-mile limit set by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the March 2020 Budget.
So, how good is Britain’s charging network? Are the chargers accessible, reliable and easy to use and do they offer value for money?
To find out, we asked almost 1000 EV owners to tell us what they thought of the major charging companies. We asked them how highly they rated the devices they’d used for charging speed, cost, dependability and location, as well as giving them an overall score.
To get a snapshot of what it’s like to use the public charging network, we also travelled around England and Scotland in an Audi E-tron Sportback and a Tesla Model 3 to test the charging facilities ourselves, visiting at least one site operated by each provider. We rated each network on the same criteria that the EV owners used and added in an ease-of-use rating that takes into account whether you have to go through a lengthy sign-up process to use a charging point or if you can simply charge up and pay.
By combining the survey responses with our own research, we’ve created unique satisfaction ratings for 12 public charging companies, enabling us to reveal the best charging networks and the ones to avoid.
How the charging point networks were rated
For the ratings given by readers and those for the charging points we visited, we set down guidelines on factors that ought to be taken into consideration
Accessibility and location
For a provider to score well for location, its users shouldn’t have to travel too far to reach the facility and there should be plenty of space to position their cars for easy plugging in. The best charging facilities are well lit and have a canopy to protect customers from the elements.
An important factor is whether there are dedicated bays for EVs and if there’s a penalty for users who leave fully charged cars in the spaces. Charging points at the side of the road can be blocked by other cars, and so can those on petrol station forecourts. If there are any restrictions on charging, this will affect the rating.
Some charging points are in restaurant or hotel car parks and are only for use by customers. Others are in private car parks, and these, too, might not be available for everyone to use.
As demand for the public charging network expands and battery capacities increase, many EV owners will want to use the fastest chargers that can add 60 miles of range in as little as five minutes. In our scoring, the fastest chargers gain the highest score, while those that don’t charge up much more quickly than a household plug gain the lowest rating.
Ease of payment
When the first public charging points were introduced, users would need a radio frequency identification (RFID) card for each network to activate its chargers, and they would often be required to pay for these. However, some modern networks don’t require casual users to register and allow them to pay with a contactless bank card. Others require users to access the network via an app or website.
While contactless chargers are the easiest to use, customers can get a cheaper tariff by registering with certain providers, and in these instances, the sign-up process needs to be simple and easy enough to do on a mobile phone.
If the charging points of a certain provider are often out of order and not repaired swiftly, users are unlikely to be impressed with the network and we’d expect it to score poorly. However, it could redeem itself partly if the payment facilities are broken but the device gives a free top-up (which happens at times) or if there’s another charger at the site that works.
Value for money
Although many chargers are free to use, most of the faster ones will incur a fee. While this could be as little as 12p per kilowatt hour (kWh) for subscribers to a particular network, the cost for pay-as-you-go users could be up to 69p/kWh.That said, it’s important to weigh up the cost of charging with the convenience that the fastest chargers provide, so if a charger is expensive and slow to charge, it should gain the lowest score.
We rank the 12 main public charging companies
12. Charge Your Car
Overall rating 43.5%
Charging speed up to 50kW Cost per kWh 30p
Charge Your Car has a good spread of charging points around England and Scotland, but that’s not keeping its customers happy. In our survey, they rated it worst for charging speed and accessible locations, and second from last for reliability.
Our own test of the Charge Your Car network’s performance took us to the South Downs Centre in Midhurst, West Sussex, a community centre with two charging bays. One was taken by a non-electric car, but we could park at the other. The charger wasn’t easy to use, though. We selected the lead we wanted to use and were asked to place our Charge Your Car RFID charge card on the reader. It looked like this was the only payment option, but we found a tiny instruction plaque on the machine that said that you can download an app.
The app had terrible functionality and the text on it was difficult to read, but we were able to use it to start charging. You’re meant to use the app to end charging too, but it had forgotten that we were using the unit, so we had to unplug the car to end the session.
Overall rating 57.8%
Charging speed up to 50kW Cost per kWh 39p
You’ll find GeniePoint chargers in a wide range of locations, such as fuel station forecourts and shopping centre, local authority and supermarket car parks. The network was taken over by Engie in 2019 and is installing 600 charging points at 300 Premier Inn hotels.
Although EV owners were reasonably happy with the network’s reliability and value for money, very few rated the location of its chargers highly and not many thought it had the best charging speed.
We visited a GeniePoint site at a Shell fuel station in Long Ditton, Surrey. A regular car was blocking the charging space when we arrived, but it belonged to a staff member who moved it for us. The charging bay was badly positioned and the rear of our E-tron stuck out when parked in it, restricting the exit for other drivers.
The DC outlet we wanted to use was on the left of the charger, but the E-tron’s CCS port is on the right front wing, so we had to drape the heavy lead over the bonnet. Charging is easy once you’ve downloaded the GeniePoint app or registered on the website.
10. Charge Place Scotland
Overall rating 58.0%
Charging speed up to 50kW Cost per kWh 27p plus 50p connection fee and £20 sign-up fee
As the name suggests, this network offers charging exclusively north of the border. It gained one of the highest scores for value for money from our survey respondents and was rated reasonably well for location and charging speed, but it lost points for reliability.
You can’t use Charge Place Scotland chargers unless you’re registered with the provider and have a charging card for it. Getting a card involves a lengthy online registration process, and we waited 10 days for the card to be delivered.
The Craigellachie Recharging Station on Hill Street, Aberlour, was easy to find, had plenty of room and wasn’t blocked by another vehicle. All we had to do to start the charging process was tap the access card on the panel on the charger. There were straightforward instructions on the device, too, along with a helpline phone number if we’d needed it.
Overall rating 59.9%
Charging speed up to 50kW Cost per kWh free until 29 October 2021
As well as owning the GeniePoint network, Engie has 88 charging point locations in West Yorkshire. It scored better than GeniePoint in our survey; respondents rated it very highly for value for money and said it was fairly reliable, with good charging speeds and easy-to- access locations.
The CCS charger at the first site we visited in Horbury High Street, West Yorkshire, wasn’t working, so we moved on to a charger in St John’s car park, Cleckheaton, where there was plenty of room to position the car. The machine had a touchscreen, but only for use by subscribers.
We found Engie’s app to be unfathomable and it would only display fees in euros, so we went to its website to register. Signing up was a lengthy process; we had to register a bank card and confirm the car’s registration number via email, then activate our location and finally click to start charging.
The car park was reasonably well lit and had a security camera, but the charger wasn’t under cover.
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