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CMA pushes for national EV strategy as it launches motorway charging investigation

The CMA has launched an investigation into the Electric Highway's agreements with motorway service operators. Image: GRIDSERVE

The CMA has launched an investigation into the Electric Highway's agreements with motorway service operators. Image: GRIDSERVE

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has highlighted a lack of competition at motorway service stations as a key concern in its electric vehicle (EV) market study as it launches an investigation into the Electric Highway.

The competition law investigation is to look at the long-term exclusive arrangements between the Electric Highway – recently acquired by GRIDSERVE – and motorway service operators MOTO, Roadchef and Extra.

With the Electric Highway currently providing 80% of all chargeponts at motorway service stations, excluding Tesla chargepoints which currently are only available to Tesla drivers, as well as its exclusive arrangements lasting between 10-15 years and covering around two-thirds of motorway service stations, the CMA is concerned it is making it difficult for other operators to provide competitive chargepoints.

In response to this, GRIDSERVE said it has already made "incredible progress upgrading the original Electric Highway network" including replacing chargers in over 70 locations in less than eight weeks with new technology, contactless payment, reliable charging with 24x7 customer support and introducing a Customer Charter.

"Our focus is to find a path forward that addresses the concerns raised by the CMA, enabling us to retain momentum and continue to swiftly deliver the net zero charging infrastructure plans and investment we have worked so hard to put in place, that support the successful uptake and transition to electric vehicles, in-line with the government’s clearly stated objectives," GRIDSERVE said.

It comes as the CMA releases four recommendations as part of its market study on EV charging, finding that while some parts of the sector such as charging at locations like shopping centres workplaces and private parking are developing relatively well, other areas are still facing barriers. This includes the rollout of on-street charging by Local Authorities, which the CMA said is too slow.

Research from Centrica released earlier this year found that across the next four years, only 9,317 on-street EV chargers are planned for installation by local authorities, with this being only 35 chargers per council on average.

The CMA has therefore recommended that the government supports Local Authorities in boosting the rollout of on-street charging, including by defining a clear role for Local Authorities to manage the rollout in their area and providing funding for the expertise needed for this to happen.

One government initiative designed to support the rollout of on-street charging by Local Authorities is the On-Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme, funding for which was renewed in February.

The CMA also said that rural areas risk being left behind with too few chargepoints due to a lack of investment, while other concerns including reliability of chargepoints and difficulties in comparing prices and paying for charging risk reducing people’s confidence and trust.

Therefore, it has recommended that the UK government creates an EV charging sector that people can trust, including tasking a public body with monitoring the sector as it develops to ensure charging is as simple as filling up at a petrol station.

In the government's Transport Decarbonisation Plan - released last week - it committed to publishing a full EV infrastructure strategy later this year, with this to set out its vision for infrastructure rollout and the roles for the public and private sectors in achieving this.

It has also recommended that the government attaches conditions to its £950 million Rapid Charging Fund, which is to be used for grid upgrades at motorway service stations, to open up competition so that drivers have a choice of charging provider at each service station.

Additionally, it has recommended that the government sets out an ambitious National Strategy for rolling out EV charging between now and 2030, when the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars is set to come into effect. This must sit alongside strategies from the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland governments, the CMA said. Energy regulators should also ensure it is quicker and cheaper to connect new chargepoints.

"Our recommendations will promote strong competition, encourage more investment, and build people’s trust, both now and in the future," said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA.

As part of the market study, the CMA has also set out four principles for making paying for charging as simple as filling up with petrol and diesel.

Working chargepoints should be easy to find, with up-to-date availability and working status information, charging should be simple and quick to pay for, for example not requiring people to sign up and making sure contactless is widely available, the cost of charging must be clear, for example with a standard way of pricing, and charging must also be accessible, for example with all chargepoints being able to be used by any EV.

In response to the CMA's recommendations, Adrian Keen, CEO of InstaVolt, said: "We recognise the urgent need to address charge point disparities in the UK, but we must get the balance right between government intervention and allowing the private sector to continue the incredible work that has been underway these past three years where we have seen the quality of the networks improve greatly."

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