Dale Vince, founder of utility company and electric car charging network Ecotricity

As Ecotricity Ends Five Years of Free Electric Car Charging, Implements £5/20 Min Fee For Non-Customers, Drivers Complain

Ecotricity, the UK utility that has made a name for itself for championing renewable, responsible sources of energy generation, has for the past five years been something of a saviour for UK electric car drivers, offering free DC quick charging for electric cars at an increasingly large number of motorway service stations.

Called the Ecotricity Electric Highway, the network of charging stations — nearly 300 in total — has we’re sure played a part in encouraging many a car buyer to make the switch from petrol or diesel to electric. And with stations placed at almost every service station and most of the network’s early reliability and teething problems solved with redundancy and multiple charging stations at most sites, its free-to-use charging stations made it possible to travel long distances without burning a drop of fossil fuel.

Ecotricity Electric Highway Rapid Charger

Charging on the Electric Highway will cost you (if you’re not an Ecotricity customer).

But on Thursday this week, the company finally announced the end of its free-for-all charging philosophy, publishing details of a new £5 per 20-minute charging fee for all electric car drivers who don’t use Ecotricity as their chosen domestic energy supplier. Indeed with somewhat short notice, it informed customers that as of Monday the 11th July — that’s two days from now — customers will need to download and register for a new smartphone app to continue to use the network as it phases out its old Ecotricity cards.

It’s not going down well among drivers who have come to over-rely on the network.

Ecotricity's Electric Highway is impressive in its reach.

Ecotricity’s Electric Highway is impressive in its reach.

In an e-mail sent out to registered users of the electric highway, Dale Vince, Ecotricity’s owner, indicated that he now feels the time is right to move from the free-for-all to a free-for-some model, with Ecotricity’s customers continuing to benefit from the network at no cost. All other users will be required to pay a fee of £5 for a 20 minute charge. Whilst this has caused some consternation amongst pure EV owners, the louder complaints have come from purchasers of PHEVs – particularly owners of those that are equipped with DC rapid charging.


Well, for most owners of pure EVs – that price is still worth it. While perhaps irksome, £5 buys enough charge to still make using an EV cheaper than using a conventional car, provided you only need to make a handful of long-distance trips every month. And while that 20-minute charging window may not give you a full charge — the Nissan LEAF electric car generally takes between 30 and 40 minutes to get from its low battery warning to 80 percent full — that 20-minute, £5 charge is certainly enough to seriously extend vehicle range.

But it’s not just electric cars with DC quick charging ports that make use of the electric highway: the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid SUV, the only car on the market to date in Europe with CHAdeMO DC quick charge capabilities, is also compatible with Ecotricity’s charging stations. And with a mere 12 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion batteries on board (and a real-world range of just 25-30 miles in electric-only mode) the convenience of the DC quick charging stations offered by Ecotricity mean that for those with time to spare, stopping off and topping up their Outlander PHEV’s battery pack regularly has become quite the draw for many Outlander PHEV owners.

After all, if the electricity is free, why not top up when you stop for a coffee?

Mitsubishi's Outlander PHEV is a best seller in Europe, but plugging it in may now only save fuel, not money.

Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV is a best seller in Europe, but plugging it in may now only save fuel, not money.

With the introduction of Ecotricity’s new charging scheme, that’s unlikely to be a thought. Indeed, while that £5 buys sufficient charge in the Nissan LEAF, BMW i3, VW e-Golf or Kia Soul EV to be worth the cost, in the Outlander, it doesn’t pay off.

The challenge for Ecotricity is, of course, that giving away electricity for free to electric car drivers, while great for social kudos points, is  unsustainable from a business point of view, even if some of the charging stations on its network were installed in partnership with automakers like Nissan. And to its defense, Eoctricity has made owners aware for some time that the costs associated with maintenance and expansion of its rapid charging network meant that one day, it would have to charge customers for the electricity they use.

At this point, we should also note the kind of abuses that Ecotricity has sustained as a consequence of offering free charging thus far. Like any network offering completely free charging to customers — even Tesla has experienced issues — there are always a handful of users who take advantage, charging up at DC quick charging stations for free rather than charge at home, staying well past the end of vehicle charging, tying up the charging station and preventing others from using it, and generally treating the stations like their own personal property.

Our iMiEV sometimes required more than one go at the charger, depending on how it was configured.

Our iMiEV sometimes required more than one go at the charger, depending on how it was configured.

In some parts of the country, users report even more sever issues in the form of local taxi companies making use of the free electricity to charge their electric taxi cabs, essentially using the free power to benefit their own businesses, something that the network was never intended for.

To expect Ecotricity or any other charging network to continue offering free power would be, to say the least, optimistic. And while we here at Transport Evolved agree that a charge is not unreasonable, £5 per 20-minute charge is on the steep side, especially given the fact that most electric cars on the market today will need two 20-minute charging sessions (£10) to charge to 95+ percent full, or face stopping 30 or 40-miles further up the road for another top-up.

Of course, there are other networks in the UK that also offer rapid charging for electric cars, but it’s worth noting that Ecotricity has something of a monopoly on motorway service station charging (other than Tesla’s Supercharger network, that is). And given that the time you’re likely to use a rapid charger is when you’re travelling long-distance in between cities, it’s fair to note that there’s something of a Hobson’s choice right now. Consequently, it’s unlikely that Ecotricity will feel enormous pressure to change.

Which leaves electric car owners with a few options: either spend more time looking for alternative charging stations for long-distance trips (competitors Charge Your Car and Polar offer DC quick charging at prices from £4.50 up to £7.50 for quick charging sessions, but customers often also have to pay parking fees and/or a monthly membership charge on top); switch energy suppliers to Ecotricity (whose energy prices vary from region to region in terms of affordability); or simply suck it up and pay the cost.

Whether PHEV owners will continue to use them is a whole separate question – and one which may have negative impacts for the air quality on Britain’s motorways. But it’s worth reminding those outside of the UK that petrol prices are far higher in the UK than they are in say the U.S., which does tip the gasoline vs electric affordability scale in the favor of an electric car, even if you include the occasional long-distance trip (and multiple £5 quick charges en-route).

As for why Tesla can continue to charge nothing for its Supercharger stations at point of use? That’s simple: the Supercharger costs are built into the Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X’s high sticker price. Ecotricity doesn’t sell electric cars, so it can’t offer the same service.

Are you frustrated by the Charge to Charge? Or do you feel it’s completely justified and reasonable? Would you like to see a different charging model? And just how should electric car charging networks monetize themselves in a way that allows them to take a fair fee for the overheads associated with installing and operating expensive charging infrastructure?

Let us know in the Comments below.


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  • Martin Lacey

    Ecotricity is merely monetising it’s asset base. £5.00 for 20 minutes for none customers will more than cover operations and maintenance, which hopefully means fewer out of order signs. In February they announced a new domestic electricity tariff which offers 1k miles of free EV driving… not sure if it’s home charging or use of the “electric highway” system!

    • Neil Carmichael

      The electric highway is free for customers of their domestic tariff so the 1k must refer to home charging

      • Martin Lacey

        For the time being…. There’s nothing stopping Ecotricity to charge domestic customers for using the electric highway at some point in the future

    • Nino Dvoršak

      If you want free charging, it comes “in the package” now when switching to Ecotricity. If not, then you have to pay. It seems like an extra reward system for anyone that switches to Ecotricity.
      The fact is, all non-customers are picking up the price from all the customers also. And I believe in isn’t the best system, but it “sure as hell” isn’t the worst.

  • Chris O

    The business case for commercial charging services is probably pretty marginal as building and maintaining a network is costly and the number of cars it can service every day is limited so in terms of $/hr there probably isn’t much scope for improvement. Plenty of scope for improvement in KWh/minute of power dispensed though, next step being no doubt an increase in maximum output from 50KW to 150KW to service the next generation of 200 mile EVs. Those 200 mile EVs should net at least 120 miles of extra range in 20 minutes which would warrant the £5,- and the time spend. Of course price is likely to go up with improved service…

  • Rik Dud

    I’m amazed at the cost, I know they have to start charging at some point but £5 for 20 mins charge i’ll get 50 to 60 miles on my leaf, I can get that out of my diesel car for the same cost & drive non stop… I for one will go back to using my ice car for longer journeys.. Chargemaster have it about right by charging per KW & 9p at that, which is around the same as the cost of home charging.. Although mines even cheaper on economy 7 & solar panels 🙂 It takes away one of the biggest advantages that encourage electric car owners, new & old to do longer journeys, very upsetting & frustrating….

  • Nino Dvoršak

    Got a question for @TransportEvolved… How did you make that picture with the description “ECOTRICITY’S ELECTRIC HIGHWAY IS IMPRESSIVE IN ITS REACH.” I always only get the option to see charging stations grouped together, never can I see them one by one when zoomed out. How did you manage that?

    I think that is was a right decision to pay for charging. Time-based charging model is right in my opinion, but I would prefer if they charged like for every 5 min or so, to add a little more flexibility, but still allow customers to easily calculate how much a charge will cost.
    Since the main cost for charging is cost of building a charging station, this is why time-charging is essential to keep charging bays relatively accesible.

    • Except cars vary wildly in their ability to take a charge. Some fast-charging cars will take big gulps while others will only sip.

      But the charge will have to cover the highest model, cutting off the lower ones. You want it high enough that there’s always a station free, but…

      It’s certainly a conundrum.

      • Nino Dvoršak

        But the electricity cost is not what Ecotricity is worried about. They are worried about someone charging for an hour and hogging other users (like PHEV’s or EV’s with 60% batteries that just don’t want to pay at home for charging their car (since Ecotoricity is (was) free)). If people payed by electricity used to charge, those PHEV’s and EV’s with 60% batteries would still hog Ecotricity’s chargers.
        If people pay based on electricity, this scenario is possible, if not, charging pumps will be available for those who really need them.

  • whitmarsh

    To ask us to pay for charging is fine, though £5 for 20 mins is quite steep. However, their reasoning is wrong, namely that 20 mins is the typical time for which people stop at a motorway services – you can barely get into the coffee queue in that time, much less have something to eat and a pee. That means that you have to put your car on charge and either sit in it or go into the building and come out again in the middle of your meal or whatever to disconnect the car – and presumably they expect you to move it then too. All a lot of hassle. Furthermore, 20 mins might not be enough to get you to the next stop. It would be much better if they were to charge per kWh – and even let you pay up front for what you need and have the station cut off when you reach the limit.

    • Yeah, it would be best if maybe their was an option to do 30 minutes too. Or simply bill by the minute, however long it takes.
      I understand that in Norway (a mature EV market) most fast charging is billed that way… by the minute.

      I found this from Norway’s Charge & Drive network on the topic: Pricing the fast charging of electric vehicles correctly ensures the availability of the service.

      Here is an excerpt:

      Proposed alternatives to minute-based pricing include one-time fee or kWh-based pricing. One-time fee does not motivate the driver to free up the charger for the next user, since the user aims to get most return for the cost already paid. With kWh-based pricing, the cost of keeping the charger occupied decreases. Thus the motivation to vacate the charger decreases since the costs of using it keeps decreasing towards the end of the charging.

      According to the experience we have gained from Norway, minute-based pricing is in fact the best way to ensure the availability and efficient use of fast chargers. Norwegian drivers of electric vehicles are satisfied with the minute-based pricing of fast charging. It is important to them to be able to use the charger as quickly as possible and continue their journey. In Norway, evEV-drivers spend on average 15 minutes at a fast charger.

      This is the source:

  • Even full EVs might not use them – unless you really, really need that 40% charge, it won’t be worth it. No trickle-charge benefits to topping up a low battery at the lower energy cycle to have some cushion on the way home.

    (And as pointed out below, the $ per mile puts it up at gas-powered vehicles, so drivers might not opt to drive their full-EV then.)

  • Here’s some price comparisons I spent quite a bit of time figuring for other DCFC providers. All rates are figured for a 10 kWh, 20 minute charge:

    Ecotricity is £5.00 / $6.50

    Blink is £4.24 / $5.50
    Sheetz is £3.08 $4.00
    Charge.net is £4.20 / $5.40
    EVgo is £7.68 / $9.95
    Clever is £6.00 / $8.20
    Fortum is £4.55 / $6.00

    So really, reality is that Ecotricity’s rate is only a bit high, but quite in line with others.

    • Nino Dvoršak

      And also, their customers charge for free (at least for some – Quite a long – time, I believe).

  • Neil Carmichael

    I can understand peoples frustration when they *have*t charge their car but the bays are full with car for whom charging is optional

    To that end I see “charging for charging” as a positive thing, and these are my reasons

    * If you don’t need to charge, you won’t be blocking the bay
    * Ecotricity are a company that has always reinvested income so this will improve/extend the network
    * More people will move to them as an energy provider (to get free charging), and as they are one of the greenest in UK that can only be a good thing

  • Albemarle

    It’s about their main business, supplying electricity. One more perk to encourage new customers to change to them. It also frees up rapid chargers so their own customers have a better experience.

  • Ian Lorenc

    No one yet noticed that – under article 13 (Fair Use Policy) of their terms and conditions – Ecotricity energy customers are restricted in their free use of the Electric Highway?

    >>”To ensure fair and equal use of the charge points for all, we operate a Fair Use Policy which we may amend from time to time (in accordance with clause 8).

    Free usage is limited to the first 52 sessions in any 12 month period starting on the date that you register for the app and each anniversary of your registration (the “Free Usage Limit”).

    Once you have reached the Free Usage Limit, you will be required to pay a Fee per Session (see clause 4 above) for any future use.

    There is no cash alternative if you do not reach your Free Usage Limit and you cannot transfer remaining sessions to subsequent years”<<

    So, if you think as an Ecotricity customer you're going to get a free charge every day, or every other day, or every few days, you're out of luck. Once a week is all you're getting.

  • Nino Dvoršak

    News update? 6 pounds for 30 minutes of charging?

    In the link, click on “Show more” section:

  • Surya

    I travel to the UK in my zoe about once a year. I use their network, which is pretty good indeed. I’m happy to pay, but I don’t like their system of a fixed price for a fixed time.
    In the past I noticed that you’d better stop at every charger in case the next one is down to avoid getting into trouble. With this system that will be very expensive.
    The only fair way to charge is per kWh delivered. Why is that so hard?
    Since I don’t live in the UK I don’t have the option to become a customer, and that blows, because now it feels like I have to pay a premium to subsidize their customers who charge for free.

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