Watchdog calls for more plugs, less monopoly in EV charging network

Exclusivity deals a no-no, and 'charging deserts' must be avoided

The UK's competition regulator is calling for more competition, interoperability, and better reliability in the local electric vehicle (EV) charging network.

In its response to the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles' (OZEV) consultation on the Rapid Charging Fund (RCF), the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) noted that an increase in charger provision at motorway service areas (MSAs) – critical for en-route charging – yet said work remains, particularly with regard to opening up competition between MSA chargepoint operators and ensuring chargepoints are interoperable.

Any MSA receiving RCF funds should host at least two chargepoint operators (CPOs) on site, the CMA asserts. It went on to say that even if the MSA wasn't getting funds, at least two CPOs were still a sensible option: "Greater competition at MSA sites will help to deliver more choice, better reliability, lower prices and continued innovation for drivers."

Unsurprisingly, the CMA is not a fan of long-term exclusivity deals between CPOs and MSA operators. It highlights an investigation into arrangements made by Gridserve, MOTO, Roadchef, and Extra that resulted in assurances from Gridserve not to enforce exclusive rights after 2026. No exclusive rights would be enforced at any sites granted RCF funding.

As well as ensuring chargepoints are interoperable with all types of EVs, the CMA is also pressing for conditions to be attached to RCF grants to ensure chargepoints actually work. "Achieving good outcomes for drivers requires an accessible and reliable en-route EV charging network."

Also supported are proposals to have the RCF play a role in getting chargepoints installed elsewhere in the UK's strategic road network (SRN) – for example, on A-roads. The CMA is also worried about remote or rural areas becoming "charging deserts" if decisions were made purely on a commercial basis.

Getting power into an EV battery is time consuming, and owners have long become accustomed to identifying the differences between charger types. When charging en route, the preference will always be for a Rapid or Ultra-rapid chargepoint. The most common connector – the Combined Charging System (CCS) – offers up to 350 kW, which will get an EV back to around 80 percent charge in half an hour or so, depending on what the EV can accept.

As with all things, there are plenty of ifs and buts, and EV owners must understand what their vehicle will accept and what is available before planning a journey. It is still not as simple as pulling up in a forecourt and filling up a tank with unleaded or disel fuel.

The RCF was set up in the UK to "enable a comprehensive ultra-rapid charging network by funding prohibitively expensive grid connections."

However, even with grants available to bring more chargepoints online, the words "prohibitively expensive" might just as well apply to the cost of using them, certainly when compared to those drivers fortunate enough to be able to charge at home. ®

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