Motorway electric car charging now more expensive than petrol

The company behind the UK’s ‘electric highway’ and sole provider of electric car chargers at motorway service stations has announced it’s going to start charging a fee for charging your electric car.

Ecotricity has revealed that it plans to roll out a £5 fee for a 20 minute charge at its 300 fast-charging stations across the country.

A 20 minute charge in our Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV long-term test car will fill the battery by around 50%. At most, that provides enough power for around 15 miles of electric-only driving. Without charging, the same distance will cost around £2 in petrol.

In an email sent out to its users, Ecotricity said: “When we began in July 2011, there was a bit of a chicken and egg situation – people were reluctant to buy electric cars because there were no charging facilities being built, but nobody wanted to build those facilities while there were still so few cars on the road. That’s when we jumped in to help kickstart the electric car revolution in Britain.

“And that’s going pretty well: today there are over 40 models to choose from and 64,000 plug-ins on the road. The Electric Highway itself comprises almost 300 electricity pumps – of the fast charging variety.”

The move renders it almost pointless to charge plug-in hybrid vehicles at motorway service stations – a significant change as more manufacturers introduce plug-in hybrid cars. Hyundai launched its new Ioniq this week – with a plug-in hybrid version set to follow next year.

Drivers of electric cars, which rely solely on being charged regularly, may have no choice but to pay the £5 fee to complete long journeys. They will still be able to charge at home and at public (non-Ecotricity) chargers, and Tesla drivers will continue to use the company’s supercharger network at no cost.

A 24kWh Nissan Leaf will be able to cover roughly 75 miles from a £5 20 minute Ecotricity charge. In a petrol-powered car, that would equate roughly to 75.0mpg, meaning EV drivers will generally continue to be better off than those driving petrol or diesel cars. This doesn’t take into consideration purchase or battery lease costs, however.

It comes as figures released today by the Department for Transport reveal that 45% of drivers are put off buying an electric car due to concerns over charging.

Ecotricity added: “The combination of more cars on the road and faster charging means we’re now delivering two million miles of clean driving each month – all powered from the wind and sun. That’s a great result. It’s also a growing cost. And to keep pace with demand, we need to build more electricity pumps – at existing and new locations.

“So the time has come for us to charge – for charging. We’ve taken a lot of feedback from EV drivers in order to arrive at the right pricing model. We’ve decided that a simple flat fee of a fiver for a 20 minute fast charge strikes the right balance.”

EV drivers who wish to continue to use the Ecotricity stations will have to download the company’s mobile app, which will show available chargers and allow them to pay online.

The ‘pay-for’ system is being rolled out across the network from Monday 11 July, and is expected to be completed by Friday 5 August.

Update: 11.07.16

Speaking on Radio 4’s You and Yours, Ecotricity boss Dale Vince said: “Following reaction from our customers, over the weekend Ecotricity has decided to provide a 30 minute charge for £6. This is following feedback from drivers of plug-in hybrids who say they can get a full charge in half an hour.”

Charging for charging: reaction

We contacted Mitsubishi Motors UK managing director Lance Bradley for his thoughts on the change. He responded that he was ‘disappointed’.

And he’s not the only one. A number of Twitter users are frustrated by the announcement, with some even considering cancelling their electric car orders.