My Urban Car

Simple EV Charging for trips

Why UK EV drivers need help finding easier charging

There are over 18,000 EV chargers In the UK so you would imagine plugging in when needed is easy but when you’re on a long distance trip many chargers are too slow, too awkward to use, too unreliable or simply have billing arrangements that are unreasonable.

Most chargers currently require you to download apps or sign up on websites, then have to provide a lot of personal data and then bank details. This should not be happening. If it’s a local charger or network that a driver will use regularly it may be seen as worth it but when you’re on a trip and all this is for a single charge it’s a nonsense. Has a petrol or diesel driver ever been asked for their address or to sign a direct debit mandate in order to buy fuel? Or have they been required to have a minimum £10 credit resulting in £20 in charges if you are provided with 10.19 in energy? This is not helping the transition from fossil fuel to EVs powering our travel with renewable energy.

The good news is there are now more networks installing new chargers of 50kW all the way up to 350kW with contactless payment built in. The trouble is reliably finding them when you’re on the road and want to find a good easy to use charger in a hurry.

Zapmap have a rundown on UK charging companies here. The Zapmap app does have a “contactless charger” filter built in but if you want 100kW chargers and over you need to select each speed (and connector even when it knows what car you have) and it doesn’t display the operator or price until you click on each map icon.

In addition the May 2020 “Government vision for the rapid chargepoint network in England” has specified “new chargepoints will be easy to use and hassle-free“ at the core of its big rollout of rapid charging in the UK motorways between now and 2023.

A solution for drivers & charging companies

There are several good apps to help find EV chargers near you via maps. Some of these list all 18,000 chargers but it remains difficult to find chargers that are easy to use and 60kW or over. Many listings still use legacy monickers for charging speed (for example who would have thought that a 7kW charger is still labelled as fast).

Most drivers don’t care about these outdated labels, they just know they’ve got 15% battery left & want to easily find a CCS charger that will charge their EV at the fastest it can manage, whether its 50kW, 70kW or even 350kW. That way they will get to their destination quickly. They also want to be able to compare charger price, speed and convenience and know billing is clear and transparent before they drive to there.

We’re proposing a “Simple EV Charger” standard that EV drivers on a trip can easily search for, knowing they will meet key “ease of use” criteria and are as simple to use as filling up with petrol.. tap a bank card & plug in & start charging.

We would aim to roll this out as a filter on existing EV charging apps and websites. This wouldn’t just benefit drivers. Many UK charging companies are investing in chargers that would conform as a “Simple charger”. This includes some operators that will be 100% “simple charger” and others that will be adding or updating a predominantly legacy network to include some simple chargers. Either way making these new chargers easier to find by more EV drivers will increase return on investment and speed up new installations. It will also transform the experience for EV owners on the road.

Simple EV Charger criteria

It is important to note that while chargers would have to conform to the “simple” standard to be listed in a search, we would not exclude a charger if, in addition, there was an option for membership or using an app for a better price Eg Shell. Obviously the “simple charger” price displayed would only reflect what you pay for a contactless “simple charge”

Ease of use

  • ✅Pay as you go use using contactless transactions only
  • ⛔️No membership
  • ⛔️No RFIDs
  • ⛔️No website logins
  • ⛔️No apps
  • ⛔️No need to provide personal information including Name, email, home addresses

Payment

  • ✅Contactless payment only
  • ⛔️No direct debit mandates
  • ⛔️No need to enter bank card details

Billing method

  • ✅Payment based on clear per kW pricing displayed on charger apps and at charger
  • ✅minimum transaction permitted up to a limited amount.
  • ⛔️no connection charges
  • ⛔️no separate parking charges
  • ⛔️No need to pay any £10 or other payment increments in the form of minimum credit or auto top ups
  • ⛔️No billing by the minute ot hour or per charge

Speed

  • ✅CCS at least 50kW with min speeds selectable in 60+ 100+ 120+ 150+ 200+ 250k
  • once the filter is rolled out and running reliably the aim would be to include slower chargers that meet all the criteria – either by being able to do contactless payment or by being free to just plug in with no account or RFID

Access & Safety

  • ⛔️Some chargers (in fact nearly all the 50kW chargers on main roads in SW London from Polar and others) have a short cable and a charger situated at the front passenger side of the EV bay when a car is parked correctly. Effectively these restricted access chargers only plug in to cars with charging points either at the front of the vehicle or passenger side next to the wheel arch. A car with a rear drivers side port could face oncoming traffic but some of these are located on dual carriage ways! Cars like the best selling Tesla Model 3 can’t plugin whichever way you face. These “restricted” Access chargers would not be on the listing unless the user has indicated they want to expand results to restricted sites
  • ⛔️Some chargers are located singly or as pairs in locations that are isolated, unlit and unsafe to use at night. Users on a trip should know that all chargers are relatively safe to use even when charging alone. It is worth bearing in mind a charging car cannot be swiftly moved in the event of an emergency so very high risk (mistake) locations are likely to be excluded or rated

Simple EV charger display on apps & websites

  • A single search – this could be sponsored over multiple sites under a single brand name
  • easy to filter by minimum charging speed
  • Ideally show prices per kW and or based on a 30kW charge

Q & A

On most popular charging maps (Zap-Map, PlugShare) a filter for rapid chargers is already standard and often the payment method is visible at that point too – e.g. you can see the card payment option in ‘info’ on Zap-Map

Neither Zapmap, plugshare or Wattsup allow you to search simply for chargers over a certain charging speed. In fact even the Polar app it doesn’t allow you to find just their own 150kW or contactless chargers. 

Yes Zapmap does have a single button for rapid chargers but this includes everything from 350kW down to 25kW not that useful if you’re on the road and need to top up an i-pace in a hurry. 

Under “payments” in zapmap you can search for contactless which does address a large part of the requirement.

Plugshare doesn’t seem to have any ability to filter by speed or network (networks are Polar or not Polar!). I didn’t login so perhaps more becomes available but it doesn’t look like it. It does at least highlight “rapid” chargers but don’t state the specs for rapid so presumably it’s the utterly outdated 25kW to 350kW. 

Wattsupp  has the nicest interface for seeing chargers by different networks but only when planning a route at the moment and you can’t choose charging speed or contactless.

Your criteria for ‘Simple charging” is a list that goes beyond just contactless payment, and some of the points we know would not always be supported by other EV drivers. For example, many customers want the added value that can come with paying via app or RFID (on account) for various reasons – they regularly use the same local charger and it’s quicker and more cost effective; they’re a fleet operator needing monthly billing; they use fuel cards that are RFID; they want roaming that gives better rates. 

Completely agree. The class 1 charger spec is primarily for EV drivers on trips but obviously if the same charger offers other features or cheaper pricing via app or web or RFID that’s fine, they would still qualify but only contactless price would be listed.

On parking, unfortunately it is unavoidable that parking charges sometimes come into the cost of charging, and from our experience drivers understand this and are willing to pay parking and charging where it gets them a rapid charge in a premium location.

Again “Simple charging” is primarily for EV drivers on a trip so they may be less interested in a premium location. What they will want is to know easily which of 2 charger options is faster and cheaper – the one that 38p per kW or the one thats 29p per kW but has a £5 parking charge and/ or a £2 connection fee or a £10 minimum credit on an auto-topup. If you’re on a trip and pull over to see your options none of this is easy with current offerings.

The idea of this is as an optional easy to use filter (that could be sponsored)  for people on trips or whose priority is ease of use. It does seem ironic that while the industry is finally investing millions in chargers that are 100kW and over, and in chargers that are as easy to use as buying petrol, it seems determined for now not to let them be easily found. The use of the outdated terms like fast and rapid are part of the problem.. most owners on a trip just want to search on speed of charge and contactless so they don’t have to spend 20 mins or more filling in personal data, downloading apps or on the phone to call centres before their charge even begins.

The closest I have found to the proposed simple search is to search for “contactless” on Zapmap and then manually select the CCS chargers of 50kW and over (involving 12 different selections!). The alternative is to select the easiest networks -Engenie, Instavolt, Alfa power and Shell recharge which as far as I know are all 100% contactless.

Having a Tesla spares me much of this grief but journalists and EV owners are missing out on easy to use charging every day and say so. Many reviews say…”we prefer this car to the Tesla but if you do long distances we would only recommend a Tesla so you can avoid public chargers”. Some say EV’s are now ready but don’t buy one because public chargers are still too awkward to use. I don’t know the exact current numbers but I suspect we are trying to find around 700 simple charger “needles” in an 18,000 charger UK network haystack!

At least with the Government stepping in these issues will be addressed on motorways by 2023 and elsewhere by.. 2026 maybe? I don’t think consumers will want to wait that long though.

Would you like this to happen? Let us know or follow us on Twitter

@myurbancar @rivergecko

David Nicholson

David Nicholson Is the founder of Rivergecko Ltd & MyUrbanCar which provide consultancy and advice for drivers and fleets to speed the transition from dirty fossil fuel transport to clean vehicles powered by renewable energy on land water and air.

The @MyUrbanCar twitter feed is a source of news & reviews of electric & plugin cars and vans in the UK.
The @rivergecko twitter feed & www.myurbancar.com websites bring news and opinion on cleantech transport including cars, vans, buses, trucks, shipping, rail & aviation as well as autonomous vehicles & renewable energy, air pollution & motor industry news.

David Nicholson has worked as an underwriter at Lloyd's of London since the 1980's. His interest in technology goes back many years including interactive mapping, apps, green tech, boats, solar and cars.