In association with Nissan LEAF
Electric car charging networks rated
With electric cars rapidly growing in popularity, we’ve rated the main providers of public rapid chargers with some help from What Car? readers...
These days it's easier than ever to find public chargers for your electric car. At the end of April 2023, there were 68,512 charging points at 24,909 locations around the country, according to charging app ZapMap. That’s around a 35% increase compared with a year ago.
More and more companies are setting up public charging networks in all sorts of guises. They range from dedicated electric vehicle (EV) charging hubs – where more than 40 cars can charge up at once – to chargers in lamp-posts and on bollards in residential streets where people who don’t have a driveway to charge their car up at home overnight. All of these developments should help ease the transition to EVs for more people.
However, none of these new charging points is free to use. In fact, the soaring cost of electricity has forced the average cost of public charging to rise exponentially in the past year. According to research by the RAC, the average cost of a rapid charge (up to 100kW) went up by 72% in the 12 months to September 2022, while an ultra-rapid charge (100kW plus) increased by 87%. That means it can cost more to replenish an EV’s batteries at a public charger than it does to refuel a petrol car (see our petrol vs electricity test).
We’ve put the UK’s major charging networks under the spotlight to see which are best when it comes to five key criteria: accessibility, charging speed, ease of use, reliability and – crucially – value for money.
We surveyed around 2800 EV owners, asking them to tell us about their experiences of using public charging networks. We also carried out our own research by charging some of our favourite EVs at sites operated by each provider. We used a BMW iX, a Cupra Born, a Kia EV6 and a Nissan Ariya.
By combining owner feedback with our own findings, we’ve created overall customer satisfaction ratings for 12 different charging networks, enabling us to reveal the best ones, and those you’re better off avoiding.
How the charging point networks were rated
So that our testers and the readers who completed our survey could give us an in-depth view of each charging point they’ve used, we set down guidelines on the factors that needed to be taken into consideration in five key areas:
Accessibility and location
To score well in this category, a provider should have a wide-reaching network so EV owners don’t have to drive too far to find one of its locations. When they get there, the bays should be spacious, easy to park in and, ideally, well-lit and covered from the elements.
Marks will be lost if bays are frequently blocked, either by non-electric vehicles (a particular issue with on-street charging bays and those in petrol stations), or by EVs that have finished charging. Overstay fees for leaving cars in charging bays for too long are a good incentive for EV owners to move their cars after charging.
Other issues that might affect accessibility include restrictions on the opening hours of locations and sites in restaurant or hotel car parks that can be used only by patrons.
The latest EVs can be charged up extremely quickly, and the newest 360kW chargers can add up to 100 miles to a car’s range in just five minutes. These chargers are the cream of the crop, so they gain the highest score here, while the slowest chargers – barely any faster than a household three-pin plug – get the lowest score. However, if a network fails to provide the stated charge rate and users end up paying for a very fast charge but don’t receive one, marks should be deducted.
Ease of payment
Public charging points have become more convenient as their popularity has increased. In the early days, users often had to register to receive a radio frequency identification (RFID) card to access them, but this is less common now. Many still ask you to register online or using an app, though. The best are quick and easy to use, while the worst have a lengthy sign-up process and are clunky to use.
Most newer devices accept contactless credit card payment, or offer pay-by-phone and other options, with no need for an account to be created. These are the easiest to use, so they score the highest.
It’s frustrating to turn up at a charger and find it broken, so maintenance is an important factor. If a network’s chargers are frequently out of order and not fixed quickly, it will lose marks here. A responsive and helpful customer service centre that can be called when assistance is needed will help a provider to redeem itself.
Value for money
It’s no surprise that many of the quickest chargers are the priciest to use, but the tariffs shouldn’t be prohibitively high. Those that don’t charge as quickly should be cheaper to use, and the slowest should be the cheapest so they are affordable for overnight charging for those who don’t have access to a home charger.
We rank the 12 main public charging companies
12. Charge Your Car
Overall rating 55.5%
Charging speed up to 50kW Cost per kWh Varies; we paid £8 per session
Charge Your Car operates chargers on behalf of a number of regional suppliers around the UK. The providers set their own tariffs, so prices vary depending on the provider, location and charging speeds available.
Payment requires registering via the Charge Your Car app. You can also buy an RFID card for £20, but you don’t need one to charge. BP Pulse took over the network in 2017, and anyone with a BP Pulse access card can use this network.
Charge Your Car was the worst-performing network in our survey. Users slated it for having chargers that were frequently out of order or blocked, and our experience echoed this.
Our tester visited three sites before he was able to charge his car. All four spaces were occupied at the first and the charger was broken at the second. The third site was pricey at £8 per session, and it was only open during office working hours. The app’s sign-up process was fairly easy, but it didn’t show the charging points at the first location at all, even when the tester was at the site.
Overall rating 65.2%
Charging speed up to 50kW Cost per kWh 79p (80.00-19.59), 75p (20.00-07.59)
This large network has 50kW chargers at more than 500 of its sites. As part of a partnership with Morrisons supermarkets, it has installed 250 chargers in its car parks, and it’s also in the process of installing 600 rapid chargers at 300 Premier Inn hotels.
Some locations have a lower off-peak rate between 8pm and 8am, providing EV owners with cheaper overnight charging. Payment can be made via the app, a website or an RFID card, and you can register or charge as a guest, but there’s no contactless payment option.
The first GeniePoint site we visited appeared poorly maintained, with out-of-date pricing and taped-up repairs. We were unable to establish a connection via the app or website and eventually had to give up. The Morrisons site we tried was in good condition, available to use and worked fine, but we found it fiddly to connect the app with the charger.
Users gave GeniePoint just 57% for dependability, finding many chargers out of order and not repaired swiftly. However, they like that it has lots of sites with dedicated parking spaces.
Since we did our research Geniepoint has increased its price and introduced peak and off peak charging rates: users now pay 75p/kWh to charge between 8am and 8pm and 57p overnight.
10. Charge Place Scotland
Overall rating 69.4%
Charging speed Most up to 50kW, very small number of 100-150kW units
Cost per kWh Varies; we paid 25p
This company works with local councils and private businesses to provide chargers around Scotland. It currently has 2286 charging points and is working to create an ‘Electric A9’, installing chargers along the 273-mile road that’s known as the backbone of Scotland.
Prices depend on location and charging speed, ranging from 15p to 80p per kWh. Contactless payment is possible at some sites, but others rely on the firm’s website, app or an RFID card.
EV owners rated Charge Place Scotland poorly for the reliability of its charge points, and having very few high-speed chargers further hampered its score.
Our tester tried a 50kW charger operated by Mid Lothian Council, with a low, 25p/kWh fee. It was in a public car park, easy to spot from the road and in excellent condition.
We found it easy to pay via the app and the charger connected quickly. The location benefited from a nearby children’s play area and toilets, but there was an overstay fee of £1 if you left your car on the charger for more than 60 minutes.
9. Pod Point
Overall rating 69.5%
Charging speed up to 50kW Cost per kWh up to 65p
With more than 7300 charging points across the UK, Pod Point is the UK’s second most prolific network, and it’s in the process of installing devices at 300 Lidl stores and 600 Tesco stores. Future plans include the introduction of chargers at nine shopping centres with 75kW and 100kW chargers. However, only 14% of the Pod Point network is still free to use.
We tried a 50kW Pod Point charger at Lidl, Colchester, which has two spacious bays close to the car park entrance.
With no contactless option, you have to pay via the Pod Point app, which is annoying because it not only requires you to register up front, but you also need to load the account with £10 before you can start charging. The 40p/kWh rate charged at Lidl locations is good value, but it meant we were left with a credit of around £7 on the account, which we’d have to use up at some point. We saw a 40kW charge rate – a little down on the 50kW advertised.
Pod Point’s user scores for accessibility, reliability and value for money are fairly strong, but they dip for ease of use and charging speed.
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