A few days ago electric car drivers of Britain were dealt a body blow – Ecotricity’s Electric Highway is no longer FREE. From 5th August all sites will be updated and require drivers to pay £6 per 30 minute charge intiated via an Apple or Android smart-phone app. Your Ecotricity RFID card will be redundant (some say – so will the network).
I have so far kept quiet on the issue, choosing to remain neutral until I have gathered thoughts from drivers affected – it’s now time to poke my head above the parapet.
To be clear, I am not a Ecotricity Energy customer and the car I drive (BMW i3) is privately owned.
A bit of background…..
Ecotricity have provided free-to-use charging at motorway service stations for a since July 2011, upgrading and maintaining to meet demand. Initially a simple 3-pin plug was all that was available, the technology was in it’s infancy and electric vehicles small in number. As technology improved faster, higher output chargers were installed, the installation of these was funded by Ecotricity, Nissan and Renault along with a splash of Government money to help with the uptake of electric cars.
Fast forward a few years and we have a growing network of rapid chargers sited on Motorways and A-roads making long journeys easy. However, things are not perfect. Occasionally charge points fail and require repair which can leave EV drivers stranded and enjoying a ride on a recovery truck. The reliability of the network has improved and the new smart-phone app will highlight chargers in use or out-of-order which is great news.
Charge point hogging
Cars grazing at a charge point has become increasingly problematic causing distress to some who feel more entitled to charge than others. An electric car is reliant on charge points and the sight of a short range plug-in hybrid using a rapid charger can cause certain EV drivers blood to boil.
I personally don’t see the need to descrimate or advocate a superior entitlement to a charge points, every electric mile helps improve local air quality and should be encouraged. However, if you are stopping to top-up your PHEV to save a couple of ££s, that stop isn’t a very cost effective use of your time in my opinion.
I have recently read a Facebook post from a driver complaining that they will now have to charge at home and not at the local Ecotricity charge point – could this be one of the reasons we find ourselves with pricing structure designed to ‘price-out’ certain vehicles.
Ecotricity state the money generated will go towards expanding the network, adding more charge points at existing sites and improving reliability which we all want.
So what’s the problem?
For some, any price is too much. There will always be people who enjoy a free lunch so setting a tariff will upset. There is an acceptance it was never going to be free forever and that charging to charge is necessary to fix some of the current problems, yet the way it has been structured needs rethinking.
Other charge network have fees based on the amount of energy consumed. Not all EVs are created equally drawing energy at different rates. This means certain cars will draw twice as much energy in their 30 minute slot than others.
Commercially a decision to charge in this way makes sense. A flat fee is easier to manage and more lucrative, yet does not take into account the customer needs, any business must put customers first, this sadly does not seem to be the case.
Some owners who rely daily on the network could be pushed back towards traditional fuels as the cost will become prohibitive. I have heard stories of drivers considering selling or have cancelled orders for new electric cars, a consequence I don’t believe Ecotricity want.
One way to get a free charge is to switch to Ecotricity as your home energy supplier. For some this could be quite a lot more money than they currently pay. In my case an annual increase of £220, or 44 rapid charges. I wouldn’t benefit from switching, but you might.
Switching your energy provider to Ecotricity grants you 52 rapid charges per annum.
Could this result in a new charge point hogging problem with customers who have effectively pre-paid maximising their usage?
Currently initiating a charge is done using an RFID card, always with me in my wallet. The card always works and is not effected by the weather or the location of the charger. Unfortunately mobile phone signals are. Some other charge networks offer an RFID card as an alternative, something Ecotricity seem to have overlooked – also, if you use a Windows Mobile or a Blackberry you are no longer welcome.
The technology exists to pay for a charge using your contact-less bank or credit card, a method far superior to that chosen by Ecotricity, but no doubt more expensive to implement.
Add in the limited availability of Ecotricity customer services, open 8:30am to 5:30pm Monday to Friday and again you could find yourself on the back of a recovery truck if you can’t start the charger.
Many drivers have taken to Social Media or email to express their concerns to Ecotricity. Hopefully they will be listen and be open minded to their customers ideas as the customer is key to success.