Ecotricity is to begin charging electric vehicle owners for use of its Electric Highway, the rapid charging network that has been free for the last five years.
Customers will be asked to pay a flat rate of £5 for up to 20 minutes of fast charging instead of a price based on the power drawn down from the charging point. Ecotricity claims this remains cheaper than the equivalent cost of a petrol or diesel car while the network will remain free for Ecotricity domestic energy customers.
The 20 minute period was chosen to reflect the average time Ecotricity believes people spend at motorway service stations, which make up the bulk of the charging network. Speaking to Clean Energy News earlier today, a spokesperson for the company said that the price point for the charging points was chosen to ensure customers could get “a fair use of them and fair access.”
"We investigated the prices all the other charging networks are charging - let's remember we have been offering this for free for five years - and we looked at the equivalent costs for refuelling petrol and diesel cars at motorway service stations. We looked at the issue of ensuring people don't monopolise the chargers while other motorists are waiting to use them, we looked at the frequency of how often the average person uses the electric highway and then we looked at our need for revenue so that we can maintain the network and also expand it. That's how we came to the price point that we did,” he said.
While nothing is in place to stop a customer paying for a second block of charging time, the spokesperson added that Ecotricity assumes “common courtesy” would prevail and people would give way to other waiting motorists after 20 minutes.
However, the charging time required for an EV changes depending on the model, with owners of the slower charging Renault Zoe already expressing concerns over the new payment model. However, Ecotricity are clear that the Electric Highway should not be used for a full charge, only as a top up and that the £5 charge still represents good value.
"Nobody should use the Electric Highway as their primary charging point, it was always designed for those occasional trips where people have to go longer distances. The reality is that 99% of car journeys are less than 100 miles so it's only usually 1% of car journeys where people will use the Electric Highway on those long distance trips,” the spokesperson added.
To use the new system, customers will be required to download a new app on to their smart phones for use of the network, with modem’s being installed in each charging point to ensure signal is available. The clean energy company is working on the assumption that every EV owner is in possession of a smart phone, but customers will only be able to call Ecotricity during working hours, if they do not have one.
Access to the network is unavailable under these circumstances at the weekend.
The change is being rolled out point by point and is expected to be complete by 5 August, with customers encouraged to keep their cards and download the app immediately to ensure they are able to use the network.
The move to charge has been met with heavy criticism by many EV drivers, who have agreed with the principle of charging but not the £5 per 20 minute block.
Judging from my tweet stream, response to £5 for 20 minutes Ecotricity rapid is resoundingly negative. Still free to Ecotricity Customers.— Robert Llewellyn (@bobbyllew) 7 July 2016
Can't believe Ecotricity are charging £5 to use #EV chargers. Potentially 50 miles for £5, that's more than Diesel & Petrol!?— Scott Ravenhill (@ScottFleetHire) 8 July 2016
Ecotricity says it was always intended to begin charging for use of Electric Highway, adding: “The number of people using it has reached a tipping point where we need to start charging to keep it viable and keep the maintenance up and expansion going.”