Ranked: Britain’s best and worst electric car charging networks
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...
There are now more than 24,000 charging points around the UK, with the capacity to charge 42,500 cars simultaneously.
But 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. What Car? itself 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. From all this data we created a unique satisfaction ratings for 12 public charging companies, enabling us to reveal the best charging networks - and the ones to avoid. We start at number 12 – and work our way up the best network in the UK.
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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.
11: GENIEPOINT - overall rating 57.8%
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.
9: ENGIE - 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.
9: ENGIE - overall rating 59.9% (part 2)
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.
8: IONITY - 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.
8: IONITY - overall rating 61.4% (part 2)
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.
7: BP PULSE - overall rating 64.2% (part 2)
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 by 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.
6: GRIDSERVE ELECTRIC HIGHWAY - overall rating 70.2% (part 2)
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 (pictured), 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.
4: SHELL RECHARGE - overall rating 75.5% (part 2)
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.
3: OSPREY - overall rating 76.7%
Charging speed: Up to 50kW Cost per kWh: 36p
OSPREY, FORMERLY CALLED Engenie, currently has around 200 charging points dotted around the UK, but in autumn last year it gained significant government funding 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.
2: INSTAVOLT - 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.
1: TESLA SUPERCHARGER - overall rating 89.8%
Charging speed: Up to 250kW Cost per kWh: 28p
THE TESLA NETWORK is expanding fast; 120 new chargers were added last year and there are currently more than 600 chargers at more than 70 locations around the UK. That means you’ll find a charging point at most motorway service areas and at other leisure sites, such as major shopping centres.
In our survey, the network gained the outright best scores in three areas – charging speed, location and value for money – and came equal top for ease of use. It lost out only to Instavolt when it came to reliability.
1: TESLA SUPERCHARGER - overall rating 89.8% (part 2)
Tesla’s system is easier to use than most. Owners have an account with Tesla that includes credit card details, and payment is taken automatically; all you have to do is plug in the cable. Owners of some Tesla models get free charging.
We visited the Supercharger site at the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent. The bank of 17 chargers was in an indoor car park that was bright and well lit and was located next to a shopping centre entrance. The first charger we tried was out of action, but we were able to choose a different one straight away, and it worked flawlessly.
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