Chargemaster Unveils Multiple UK Tariffs for Electric Car Charging. We Explain All

As it promised a few weeks back, UK firm Chargemaster has just quietly unveiled details of how much it will charge electric vehicle owners to use its Polar EV charging network from April 1.  With two different monthly tariffs plus a more expensive Pay-As-You-Go option, Chargemaster says existing Polar customers — who currently pay £10 per year for unlimited charging and whose memberships will automatically expire on March 31 — will have to choose to let their membership expire or to sign up for one of the new services.

Chargemaster units are now found in many city-centre parking garages.

Chargemaster’s POLAR network  units are now found in many city-centre parking garages.

With charges for a Type 2 public charging station costing up to £2.50 per hour, and rapid charging costing £8.50 for half an hour however, many EV owners are already fearful that the fees outlined by Chargemaster are too expensive, too soon.

Here at Transport Evolved, we’ve spent some time drilling down to figure out exactly what’s included in each tariff, as well as what we think it will mean for current and future EV drivers.

Polar Economy Plus

Chargemaster says the Economy Plus tariff will cost drivers £12 per month if paid by direct debit, and include twenty ‘charging credits’ which can be used on the network over the course of each month.

  • An hour of charging at a Polar Network 13 amp (UK domestic outlet) point will cost one credit. That’s a theoretical power draw of just under 3 kilowatts per hour, but since most production electric cars we know restrict 13-amp charging to 10 amps, that’s nearer to 2.3 kilowatts, or between 5 and 10 miles per hour.
  • An hour of charging at a Polar Network type 2 (7 pin Mennekes) point will cost two credits. Because the Type 2 charging standard does cover a range of power levels, that could equate to a power level of anywhere from 3.3 kilowatts or 7 kilowatts single phase all the way up to 22 kilowatts three phase. In our experience however, most Polar points are either 3.3 kilowatts or 7 kilowatts, translating to a usable range increase of between 10 and 20 miles per hour, depending on the car you have.
  • A half hour of charging at a Rapid DC or rapid AC unit will cost ten credits. On many EVs, this will be enough to theoretically charge from empty to 80 percent full, but in our experience 30 minutes will normally charge from 20 percent to 80 percent full in that time. A fully depleted battery pack will require nearer 45 minutes.

Once you’ve used up your ‘credits’ Chargemaster says you’ll still be able to charge, but it will levy an additional £0.95 per hour (or part) for 13 amp domestic charging points, £1.90 per hour (or part) for Type 2 charging stations, and £6 per 30 minutes (or part) for rapid charging.

It’s worth noting too that this particular tariff seems very similar to BMW’s own ‘mobility’ package for BMW i3 owners, which offers ‘free’ charging access for subscribers to its service. It’s also worth noting that Chargemaster is the chosen provider for this service.

Chargemaster's website now lists the Polar network tariffs which will go live on April 1.

Chargemaster’s website now lists the Polar network tariffs which will go live on April 1.

Polar Standard Tariff

Costing £20 per year, the Polar Standard Tariff appears to be designed as a more occasional-use option for EV owners, because it charges a yearly rather than monthly fee.

Unlike the Economy Plus tariff however, there are no free charging sessions built into the price.  As a consequence, you’ll pay:

  • £1 per hour (or part) for domestic outlet-style 13-amp charging stations
  • £2 per hour (or part thereof) for Type 2 charging stations, regardless of its power capabilities or your car’s power drain.
  • £7 per 30 minutes (or part thereof) for rapid charging stations.

While the membership fee is charged annually, usage charges will be collected monthly by direct debit.

Polar Instant Smartphone App

Offering a ‘pay-as-you-go’ service without the need for RFID cards or subscription, this particular service will require users to have the relevant smartphone app installed on their phone, and for them to have pre-registered from April 1 at the PolarInstant.com website.

To use the service, you’ll have to pay at the point of service via your smartphone app. Costs will be

  • £1.30 per hour for 13 amp domestic outlet-styled charging stations
  • £2.50 per hour for the type 2 charging stations, regardless of how much power your car can draw
  • £8.50 per half hour for rapid charging stations.
In a month, Chargemaster says Polar's new PAYG site will be live. Right now, it's just a domain holding page.

In a month, Chargemaster says Polar’s new PAYG site will be live. Right now, it’s just a domain holding page.

(At the time of writing, we note that while it’s now less than a month before the site is due to enter operation, there’s little more than a domain-registration generic holding page at the PolarInstant website. While we hope that a website is being developed to soon be deployed, we admit to finding a lack of a branded, official website holding page so close to launch a little troubling.)

What will it really cost? 
Based on the figures provided by Chargemaster in its official statement, we’ve come up with some costings for a hypothetical EV owner who drives 80 miles a day to and from work, using a public charging station to replenish their car’s battery pack to full so they have enough range to get home and do evening errands.  For that purpose, we’re assuming they’ll put about 8.4 kilowatt-hours back into their car’s battery pack — that’s about 3 hours of charging from a domestic outlet.

We’re also assuming they drive to and from work 5 times a week, plugging in at the public charging station an average of 21 times a month and then moving their car the minute charging has finished. (And yes, while statistically these kind of distances are far above the average UK commute distance, we know many EV drivers who regularly drive 80 miles or more every day, and many more who plug-in daily at a public charging station for three hours or so. We’ve provided these figures as a ‘worst case’ scenario based on the belief that a 40 mile commute to work isn’t so unusual, and that those who drive much less won’t need to charge away from home.)

  • £62.85 per month for the Polar Economy Plus tariff on 13 Amp (£12 monthly membership + 43 hours of ‘overage-charges’)
  • £93.70 per month for the Polar Economy Plus tariff on Type 2 at 3.3 kW ( £12 monthly membership + 43 hours of ‘overage-charges’)
  • £44.30 per month for the Polar Economy Plus Tariff on Type 2 at 6.6 kW (£12 monthly membership + 17 hours of ‘overage’ charges’)
  • £144 per month for the Polar Economy Plus Tariff, rapid charging (£12 monthly membership + 19 days of ‘overage’ charges’)
Chargemaster's charges will depend on which type of EV you have -- and where you plug in.

Chargemaster’s charges will depend on which type of EV you have — and where you plug in.

For those making the same trip using the Polar Standard tariff, we’d estimate the costs to be:

  • £64.67 per month for Polar Standard Tariff on 13 Amp (£1.67 membership fee per month plus £63 of use charges)
  • £107.67 per month for Polar Standard Tariff on Type 2 at 3.3kW (£1.67 membership fee plus £106 of use charges)
  • £55.67 per month for Polar Standard Tariff on Type 2 at 6.6 kW (£1.67 membership fee plus £54 of use charges)
  • £148.67 per month for Polar Standard Tariff on Rapid Charger (£1.67 membership fee plus £147 of use charges)

For those considering the pay-as-you go system — and we’re pretty sure nobody making this kind of regular commute would, the prices would be:

  • £81.90 per month for 13 amp PAYG access
  • £132.50 per month for Type 2 at 3.3 kW PAYG access
  • £67.50 per month for Type 2 at 6 kW PAYG access
  • £178.50 per month for single, daily rapid charge use on PAYG. 

True cost? 

As we’ve mentioned before, the Transport Evolved team think it’s only correct and reasonable for EV owners to pay a commensurate fee for the electricity they use at public charging stations.  It’s inevitable after years of virtually free EV charging station access that some form of charge has to be levied against owners for the electricity they use.  And we support that.

But based on our calculations, our hypothetical 80 mile per day EV driver, topping up with 8.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity at public charging stations five days a week  uses 178.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month at public charging stations.

Even at 20 pence per kilowatt-hour (most domestic and business tariffs are well below 10 pence per kilowatt-hour, so we’ve doubled it to help pay towards system upkeep) the total monthly cost would be just £35.70. Remember, that’s for a tariff which is 200 percent the price of your average UK energy price.

Charge at home on cheap-rate electricity, and you could easily get that figure well below £10 per month.  Essentially, these proposed charges would more than quadruple — much more in some cases — the running costs for an EV.

Use one of these, and you'll be faced with pretty expensive daily use charges.

Use one of these, and you’ll be faced with pretty expensive daily use charges.

Own the ‘wrong’ type of EV with 3.3 kW instead of 6.6 kilowatt charging, and you could be paying the kind of fees for electricity that you’d expect to pay for petrol. And that’s with UK petrol prices approaching £6 per gallon.

Worse still, we’ve heard from at least ten EV drivers this morning who tell us that these charges mean they’ll be returning to gasoline when their EV’s lease period is up.

It’s worth mentioning too that the costs here are far more than the prices U.S. drivers are set to pay on the Washington portion of the West Coast Electric Highway: $19.99 U.S. per month for unlimited use, or $7.50 per quick charge.

The problem

Of course, the electricity itself is the cheapest overhead of any public charging network. Buying, building and installing charging stations is a costly affair, with the higher power charging stations costing more to install than lower powered ones. Maintaining the IT infrastructure which allows the charging network to communicate back to its head office adds additional cost. 

Were Chargemaster’s network extremely reliable with lots of redundancy and the ability to let users know en-route of a problem with a particular charging station, we’re fairly sure owners wouldn’t be so frustrated about the upcoming charges. But here at Transport Evolved we’re often contacted by EV drivers moaning about charger reliability across the UK. Broken or ICE-blocked charging stations is a major complaint.

Plugging in at a public charging station owned by Chargemaster is about to get costly.

Plugging in at a public charging station owned by Chargemaster is about to get costly.

The situation is not helped by current UK utility regulation, which stipulates that in order to resell electricity by the kilowatt-hour, a company needs to be a registered utility company. In of itself, that’s a complex — and costly endeavor — causing charging providers like Polar to charge per unit of time rather than unit of energy.

A per-unit energy tariff, with a flat, understandable fee per charging station type, would be far more equitable, but what do you think?

Are you a Polar customer now? Will you continue to use the network after it moves to tariff-based charging, or are the fees just too high for you to consider taking an EV?

Are you an EV driver who is seriously considering moving back to gasoline in the light of these charges? Or do you think the tariffs are fair and only right as proposed?

Leave your thoughts — with tempered language, please — in the Comments below.

[For our U.S. readers, £1 is equivalent to $1.67 at current exchange rates. Europeans will find the pound sterling worth €1.19– Ed]

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