Autovolt Magazine

Should we be charged by time or kWh?

At a time (pun intended) when electric vehicle charging is no longer free, the question of payment has come to the fore; should we pay for time plugged in or kWh used? Up until now, it was never really that important a question. Most plug-in car owners benefitted from free charging networks, but that’s all about to change with the most popular network – the Electric highway – moving to “charge-for-charge”.

Ecotricity’s Electric Highway has opted for payment by time, with the actual amount of energy delivered to your electric car not being taken into consideration. This can make things expensive, as £6 buys you 30 minutes plugged in with no guarantee you’ll be delivered electricity at the maximum rate possible. In fact, it’s a near certainty that you won’t be provided with the maximum 43kWh as most batteries aren’t capable of taking that level of charge right the way through their charge cycle. They charge slower when either depleted or nearing capacity.

However, the counter argument in favour of timed recharging is that if rapid chargers increase in energy rate but cost the same, owners of EVs would benefit. It’s conceivable that the same £6 for 30-minutes charging would provide more kWh than it does currently. For example, today a 30-minute recharge for an average Nissan Leaf will provide about 16kWh via CHAdeMO. But what if the rate of delivery doubled in a car that had a battery twice the size? If the energy rate were doubled to 32kWh and still provided in 30-minutes, the £6 cost isn’t so hard to swallow. However, whether Ecotricity will honour this ideal remains to be seen, although the company has stated they plan to invest further in the Electric Highway with both upgrades and new charge point locations.

Of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Ecotricity does need to maintain the expensive rapid chargers, which are left vulnerable to damage at the edge of busy car parks and a proportion of the money will go toward improving the network. Likewise, if you are an Ecotricity energy customer, the Electric Highway remains free to use. You can switch to Ecotricity using the code VOLT1 to receive a one year subscription to AutoVolt, £25 John Lewis voucher and of course Ecotricity’s renewable energy. If you have an electric car, you’ll get a further £40/year off too!

Other networks including Charge Your Car (CYC) have adopted a variable tarriff set by the charge point owners themselves. Owners of charge points name their price and it tends to be based per session, rather than limiting the time plugged in or charging per kWh. For example, rapid charge points on the CYC network near AutoVolt HQ cost £5 per session, while other chargepoints on the CYC network remain free to use.

Chargemaster’s Polar network is a mix of costs, incurring a monthly fee of £7.85 (first six months are free) and 9 pence/kWh every time you charge. If you do a lot of recharging, Polar can work out cheaper than if charging from home, at least so far as kWh, but the £8 monthly fee can be a big ask for those who only make occasional use of the network. However, Polar is a more flexible system than others, by offering charging for any amount of time. Likewise, the kWh approach means charging need not last 30-minutes, when 10 will do.

Fastned, the Dutch rapid charge network that’s quickly spreading across Europe, has introduced a new 19 cents/kWh (€) tarrif, which is similar to the average domestic power supply cost in Europe. Like Polar, it too commands a monthly fixed fee to access the network, at €24. More interesting is Fastned’s payment model, where electric car drivers can choose from four tarrifs to suit their needs. For example, lower monthly cost means more expensive kWh at the charge point – ideal for casual users. The least expensive option is to pay 79 cents/kWh (€), with no monthly fee. Conversely, at the other end of the spectrum and perhaps useful for an electric taxi firm, Fastned charges €99/month with no kWh fee. Crucially, each Fastned tariff doesn’t hold you at a pump any longer than you need be and this more flexible approach appears to be winning in Europe.

Back in the UK, there are other options for recharging that still cost next to nothing. The Source West, East and London schemes each offered minor payments per year to cover admin costs and sending out an RFID card, with no fees to recharge your car. Then of course, there’s charging at home, which is of course done per kWh.

Whether you believe paying for time or kWh is the more fair choice, it’s clear charge point networks need to establish a method that isn’t confusing, is fair and will work well in the future when more plug-in cars are expected to hit the road. Could charge point networks be what’s holding people back from adopting electric cars, or do you think they’ve right to try different payment systems? Let us know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Should we be charged by time or kWh?”

  1. Free use by Ecotricity domestic customers is limited by fair use policy, up to a maximum 52 charge sessions per year. Charge your Car RFID card costs £20 per year, though app (which needs a mobile signal, not always available) is free. Charges at points I have used vary from free (Aberdeen City), £3,80 per session Moray to 15p/kWh (York). Costs depend on the owners, CYC just administer billing.

    1. All excellent points, thank you. We didn’t go into the means of payment in this article because it’s a whole other ball game entirely. However, as you rightly point out the £20 CYC RFID card is an option, as the free App can be used instead. Generally, we’re not keen on the reliance of Apps to pay for a service like charging your car, because of the reasons you cite and more. Other ideas include having card machines on the charge points themselves (like a parking metre often has) or continue to use RFID cards or Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and send a bill to the electric car owner’s home each month for the energy they’ve used, much like any other utility bill.

  2. Maximum stay at a rapid charger should be 30 mins. If your EV won’t charge rapidly, do not block a rapid charger. Maybe pence per kWh would be fairer, but on a single rapid charger, when there aren’t many around, charging for time is most important to prevent blocking by vehicles that won’t take a significant charge in 30 mins. (that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t provide non-rapid solutions (22kW?) for other EVs)

  3. Ivan Gilgado Marcos

    The charging operator Charge & Drive from Fortum has the largest charging infrastructure in the most mature EV market, Norway. They played with different payment schemes and came up with pay-per-minute at the end.

    The conclusion was that they are a service company, they give a service, they do not sell energy. Also, in a mature market with lots of EV’s, charging stations can get clogged easily (queue anxiety) and the pay-per-kwh scheme disincentive the rotation as the charging power decreases when the battery is getting full.

    The problem in the UK is that there are mainly plug-in hybrids that do not have big batteries so they cannot charge at high power rates. The solution is to install cheaper charging stations with charging power of 20-25 kW DC and 22 AC with cheaper pay-per-minute rates.

    The ones that moan about it, change your electricity bill to Ecotricity and stop crying. Do you know how much it costs to install, operate and maintain those 50kW tri-rapid chargers? Just look at the H1 2016 results of Fastned… TEASER: 50.000 eur revenue vs 2.2 million loss.

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