Government acts to break Ecotricity 'monopoly' at motorway services

Tom Barnard

8.3.2021

The government is to act to break the virtual monopoly on electric car charging at motorway services and will use legislation to ensure the points are reliable and can be accessed by anyone with a contactless card. 

Currently just one company - Ecotricity – has contracts to provide the vast majority of non-Telsa charging provision along the motorway network. It has been widely criticised by electric car users for its outdated and unreliable hardware which makes longer journeys unpredictable for electric car drivers. 

Speaking exclusively to Electrifying.com, the Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said new chargers would arrive before 2023, with at least six at each service area on motorways and legal powers used to ensure they were reliable and accessible.​​

In an interview with Electrifying.com’s founder Ginny Buckley, Maclean answered question set by readers on topics ranging from disabled access to charging points, shelter from the weather to how the public can access government funds for infrastructure. 

But the most frequently-asked question was around the planned strategy for rapid charging on the motorway network. Maclean said: “We do believe it will take government investment to ‘charge up’ this market. So we’ve got nearly £1 billion to upgrade those connections at motorway service stations. What we are going to have is at least six high power chargers in every motorway service area by 2023. She then went on to clarify that these would be “obviously reliable” and would be 150kW or above “to allow you to charge your car in the time it takes you to get a cup of coffee.”


Contracts for the chargers would be open to all suppliers

The chargers would be available to anyone with a contactless payment card and would be in addition to Tesla units which are already installed at most service stations. Larger sites will have up to 12 points providing speeds of up to 350kW. 

Service level agreements would ensure that the points were available for at least 99% of the time, drivers have access to 24/7 customer care and there will be clear pricing information available. If these standards are not met the government would use legislation to enforce them. 

The expansion would not stop with these charge points, explained the Minister, to pave the way for the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars: “By 2030… we are going to have around 6,000 of these rapid charging points across A-roads and motorway service stations.”

Rachel Maclean is getting tough on charging standards

Maclean explained: “We want the private sector to come in and we will take the best commercial offer. Now we have set out our strategy this is an attractive area for investment. This will drive an increase in performance.” 

The move has been welcomed by industry experts. RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said: “This is great news as charging electric cars at motorway service areas needs to fast, reliable and easy to pay for so drivers can make longer journeys with the minimum of fuss.

“Nothing is more frustrating to an electric car driver than the sight of an out-of-order charge point, so the fact that there will be a commitment to having chargers ‘in service’ will make a big difference. The promise of clear pricing is also important as drivers are used to knowing what they’d be paying before filling up, thanks to petrol price ‘totems’ on forecourts.

“It should also go a long way towards showing would-be EV drivers that ‘range anxiety’ is a thing of the past, further speeding up the switch to electric.”

Ecotricity's Electric Highway has since promised that it is to upgrade all of its chargers, but this may not be enough to fend off the regulators. The Competition and Markets Authority has begun an investigation into the car charging market and is looking closely at the situation on Britain's road network. Ecotricity's general manager Andrew Hibberd responded to the study and said: "restrictive or prohibitive policy.... at this stage of market maturity could hinder more than help, as it has the potential to stifle innovation and create disincentives for investment".

It’s not just the rapid charging network which will be shaken up, said Maclean. “We have doubled the funding available to local councils to improve charging infrastructure. What I would say to anyone listening to this who thinks ‘I haven’t got one near my house’ is to get in touch with your local council. We in central government have made this money available but some of it is not being spent, which is a real shame.” The Minister also urged electric car drivers to help shape the future policy by contributing to the public consultation into the consumer experience at public charge points. 

In addition to the consultation, Maclean announced that she would be writing a monthly blog for Electrifying.com to help answer consumer questions as motorists make the switch to electric. Every month the website will be gathering questions posed by readers and putting them to the Minister. If you have a question, please get in touch!

Councils aren't accessing the available grants for chargers

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