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Electric Highway Robbery?

electric-highway-app_largeSome EVIOM readers and subscribers may have in their EVs glove box an Ecotricity RFID card. Since 2011 this card gave you access to Ecotricity's Electric Highway, a network of rapid chargers or "Electricity Pumps" on Britain's motorway network, Ikea car parks and expanding on to A roads. Since 2011 these "pumps" have been free to use as long as you have their RFID which was also posted out to you for free! Not only this but Ecotricity only generate electricity from renewable sources.

This all sounds too good to be true for anyone moving from an expensive and dirty horseless carriage powered by prehistoric hydrocarbons. (Sorry, I'm getting off the point). Ecotricity have built up an impressive network of rapid chargers and I, along with thousands of others, have enjoyed many miles for free driving smug in the knowledge that whatever I've put into my car has been generated without burning any fossil fuels. As EVs and PHEVs gained popularity the charge points became very much in demand and reports of other drivers "ICEing" or EV/PHEV owners leaving their vehicles unattended and blocking others from using them. Early adopters happily created and adhered to an etiquette of not overstaying your welcome, not using the rapid charger if you didn't need to or if someone else's need was greater than yours. It's safe to say that plug-in vehicles have progressed beyond those early adopters and enthusiasts into the mainstream.

The free system is great but it couldn't continue forever and last week Ecotricity emailed Electric Highway card holders to inform them that from Monday 11th July they will begin to upgrade their "pumps" enabling them to begin to charge for a charge. They expect to have the role-out completed by the 5th August.

Although we knew this was coming we didn't know what the cost would be or how it would be charged. The price Ecotricity has decided upon is £5 for a 20 minute charge. Their reasoning for both the price and time limit are detailed in their Charging FAQ. The main points seem to focus around people not monopolising the charge points and pricing to match the cost of petrol/diesel. In my opinion I'm not sure they have struck the right balance. Different EVs charge at different rates and as the battery becomes "full" the charge rate drops off. Charging per KWh would seem a fairer approach but I agree that a time limit does need to be imposed to stop those  charge point hogs. Twenty minutes, however, may not be enough for most people who need as much as possible to get to the next charger or their destination, thirty minutes would seem more appropriate. If we began charging our 24KWh Nissan Leaf when it only has 10% left I think we'd struggle to get passed 60% in 20 minutes, realistically giving us another 40 to 50 miles of motorway driving. The extra 10 minutes would take us to 80% meaning fewer stops. Above 80% a slow charger is as effective as a rapid.

You do have the option of starting another 20 minutes session but this would cost you another £5 and take your total time charging to 40 minutes. I don't know about you  but I had paid for the extra 20 minutes I wouldn't be cutting it short even if there was a queue. Remember that that last 20% will be much slower that the first 80%.

Those that switch their home energy supplier to Ecotricity will continue to get rapid charging for free. This, of course, isn't an option for Isle of Man residents or anyone else visiting the UK. Another issue potentially being a problem for visitors from the Isle of Man is that the new system relies on an app on your smartphone. So you'll need an Apple or Android phone (no Windows phone app), data roaming or a UK SIM.

The Electric Highway is still a great service if you're traveling on the UK's motorways and is slowly expanding into the rest of the roads and I'm sure that as subsidies from the UK government and the EU dry up the network needs to start paying for itself. The increase of plug-in cars on the roads also means the network needs to expand at existing locations and grow to plug (no pun intended) those gaps in the country that are difficult to get to for EV drivers. I just feel the pricing structure is wrong. With the range of modern EVs it does take longer to drive long distances than a petrol or diesel car, if it costs the same too I fear many people will be put off the switch to electric. Longer range cars and faster charging rates are just around the corner but it leaves those drivers with cars manufactured in the last 5 years paying more and stopping more frequently than owners of cars bought in the next two years or so.

Update:
Interview on BBC's You & Yours covering this subject with Ecotricty Electric Highway's Dale Vince: http://bbc.in/29b6Efn. He confirms a change of £6 for a 30 minute charge.

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