The true cost of charging an electric car at home

Telegraph reader John Ball, of Bradley Stoke, Bristol, knew his neighbor was installing a home charger for his electric Mini. Ball didn’t expect his own driveway to be dug up to house someone else’s new electric vehicle.

The reason he was unable to use his own propulsion for 10 days was that his house was in a “loop”. That is, a single power cord connects a home to the power grid. Up to six other properties branch off from this. In order to accommodate an electric car charging station, each property must have its own electricity grid connection.

Randolph Brazier is Director of Electricity Systems for the Energy Networks Association (ENA), which oversees the National Grid. He told us, “It was a way of saving money when the power supply was nationalized. If we encountered a looped supply, we would unloop it for free. We then restore any gardens, pathways or driveways that have been disturbed.”

We all foot the bill for this work, which is typically done on patio or land lots, with the 23 percent of our electricity bill that goes towards grid costs.

Your existing power system may not be able to handle this

Before having a home charger installed, your property’s electrical system may need an upgrade to handle it. Consumer organization Citizens’ Advice said: “Sometimes consumers need additional unforeseen measures. Some will be free for individuals; others are billed directly to the consumer and could be relatively expensive (thousands of pounds).”

Charge point installer Simon Bedson, from government accredited contractor Sussex Charge Points, added: “I’ve heard from people saying they’ve had their entire consumer unit replaced, which will cost £650-700.”

Car dealers have incentives to sell certain chargers

If you are buying a new electric vehicle, chances are the dealer will also try to sell you a home charger.

In a lengthy report, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said: “We have seen internal documents showing EV manufacturers and dealers entering into preferential partnership agreements with charge point operators. This means that preferred operators’ charge points are recommended over other options and sales staff can be financially incentivized to sell charge points from specific operators. Therefore, there is a risk that people are not sufficiently informed about all options.”

Installer Bedson confirms: “As long as the right connection is in place, you can choose any charge point you like. But I’ve heard stories from car dealers who have said everything it takes about home charging to close a sale.”

Smart tariffs not mentioned

To be future-proof, the government insisted that charging points, which are partially paid for by the Electric Vehicle Homecharging Scheme (EVHS), must be smart. This allows consumers to benefit from special EV tariffs, for example by charging at night when electricity prices are low.

But you can only benefit from these tariffs if you know about them. Charlie Cook, founder of comparison site RightCharge, said: “We recently asked 91 EV drivers the following question: ‘Did whoever you bought your car from introduce you to the concept of off-peak/smart rates?’ Of those 91 drivers, every respondent said ‘no’.”

The local authorities don’t want to know

According to the ENA, 40 per cent of UK drivers have no off-street parking. And the latest English Housing Survey says just over a third (36 per cent) of homes in the UK are rented. How many tenants will want to pay for a charging point?

They will mainly rely on charging points provided by the municipality. The CMA said, “Local authorities play a critical role in this segment to drive immediate adoption and maximize competition.” To pave the way for them, the government is providing charge point subsidies in the form of grants that municipalities can apply for.

But nobody seems to have informed the local authorities about it. Councilor Martin Tett of the Local Government Association said: “We do not anticipate that local governments will want or need to become the default provider of electric vehicle charging points in the long term.” According to the CMA, a third of available charging point funding has gone unspent.

It could be a bumpy ride

A sweeping change from something as fundamental as the way we fuel our cars was never going to be easy. Randolph Brazier from ENA assured us that the network has the capacity to cope. However, he stressed that, unlike some of the examples above, the switch needs to be done in a connected and intelligent way.

“If we don’t do that, we could be in for a bumpy ride,” he said.

This article will be updated with the latest information.

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