Which is the best electric car charging network?

Audi E tron charging

With so much choice available for topping up an EV, we find out which of the UK’s biggest networks work best

More and more public charging networks are being set up every day in the UK, ranging from dedicated EV hubs to chargers placed on bollards or attached to lamp-posts.

With 60,701 chargers in nearly 22,000 locations around the country (according to Zap-Map), it’s becoming ever easier to find somewhere to top up. 

But despite this medley of locations, concerns remain, primarily regarding the cost and reliability of the infrastructure. With energy prices driving up charging costs and charge anxiety taking over from range anxiety, Autocar and sister title What Car? have put the UK’s biggest charging networks to the test. 

Defined with five key criteria – value for money, charging speed, ease of use, reliability and accessibility – we tested some of the infrastructure ourselves by taking our favourite EVs to sites operated by the different providers.

This direct experience was backed up by a further 2800 owners of electric cars who told us about their experiences with the UK’s charging infrastructure.

How were the charging networks rated?

Value for money: Slower charges won’t cost as much, allowing people without driveways to take advantage of overnight top-ups, but even rapid-charger costs shouldn’t be exorbitant. 

Charging speed: Kilowatts are king here. The latest EVs take advantage of ever-higher charging speeds, therefore rapid chargers will be rewarded and points deducted for chargers failing to deliver advertised rates. 

Ease of use: Faster sign-up processes without the use of a card mean the efficiency of charging stations has progressed significantly in the last few years. Earlier stations and other poor performers tend to have long, inconvenient sign-up processes, thus scoring lower.

Reliability: Chargers that actually work when you come to use them and have a responsive customer service team will score highly, with the reverse true for chargers that are often broken. 

Accessibility and location: To score highly, bays should have plenty of space, be well lit and canopied. Marks were lost if the bays often had combustion cars sitting in them or EVs that had finished charging without incurring an overstay fee.

The 12 UK charging companies ranked

12. Charge Your Car

Overall rating: 55.5%

Charging rate: up to 50kW

Cost per kWh: Varies, but we paid £8 per session

Wider users didn’t like this provider’s chargers, as they were often out of order or blocked. Our own experience reflected this, with our tester visiting three sites before being able to charge. At the third site, he paid £8 per session, which is pricey, especially considering it follows company policy and opens only during office hours. The process to register was easy, but the app you use to pay didn’t show charging locations even when our tester was at the site. 

11. Geniepoint

Overall rating: 65.2%

Charging rate: up to 50kW

Cost per kWh: 57p

Users of Geniepoint pay 75p per kWh to charge between 8am and 8pm, with a discount of 18p if charging overnight. The system covers a large network of 50kW chargers, 250 of which are in Morrisons car parks with payment made through the Geniepoint app.  The first site we visited was badly maintained, with incorrect pricing, bodged repairs and an inability to connect via the app or website. The second site, located at a Morrisons, was better and worked well, but the app remained difficult to connect with. Customers scored Geniepoint 57% for reliability, because of poorly maintained infrastructure, but with lots of locations and parking spots on the plus side.

10. Charge Place Scotland 

Overall rating: 69.4%

Charging rate: Mainly up to 50kW, with some 100-150kW sites

Cost per kWh: Varies, but we paid 25p

This fast-developing company has hopes to line the A9 with chargers, creating an ‘Electric A9’. With prices ranging from 15p to 80p per kWh, depending on location and speed, our tester tried a site with a lower fee of 25p per kWh. We found it easy to find the site and connect to the app, with the location featuring lots of amenities such as play parks for children, with an overstay fee of £1 if the car was left on charge for more than one hour. Owners in our wider survey didn’t rate this network highly, due to the poor reliability of chargers and the lack of high-speed chargers. 

9. Pod Point

Overall rating: 69.5%

Charging rate: up to 50kW

Cost per kWh: up to 50p

The Pod Point site we tried was one of 7300 located across the UK, situated in a Lidl car park and easy to find. While 14% of this company’s network is free, our charging incurred a fee of 40p per kWh which is good value, even if the charge rate of 40kW didn’t match the 50kW advertised. With no contactless payment possible, another complaint is that payment through the app has to be loaded with £10 of credit before starting. Users rated this company for accessibility, reliability and value for money, but it lost points for poor charging speed and ease of use. 

8. BP Pulse

Overall rating: 69.9%

Charging rate: up to 150kW

Cost per kWh: up to 79p

While registered users are offered discounts on their charging fee, ordinary users pay 69p per kWh to use BP Pulse’s chargers. As the largest charging network in the UK, BP Pulse offers free-to-use older chargers, however it scores poorly for reliability, with many chargers not working and accessibility issues as some are located inside costly car parks. The app was also clunky to use and our tester found it difficult to connect. 

7. Mer

Overall rating:70.6%

Charging rate: up to 75kW

Cost per kWh: around 30p

Mer prices vary according to charge speed and each of the company’s 325 locations in England and Wales. Payment is made through a clunky app or an RFID card, with contactless bank-card payment being introduced at some sites. Prices here were 27p per kWh for slow chargers, with 50kW chargers priced at 52p per kWh. Users rated this network for its strong reliability and cost, less so for charging speed or ease of use.

6. Osprey

Overall rating: 75.0%

Charging rate: up to 150kW 

Cost per kWh: 79p 

Osprey’s infrastructure was easy to use, if quite expensive, at the Banbury Cross site we tried. This location had six 150kW CCS and six 50kW Chademo chargers, with the process to begin charging uncomplicated. Contactless was available for payment, but the cost of 79p per kWh for a 50kW charger is towards the top end (Osprey had previously pushed it even higher, at £1 per kWh). The site was easy to access, with the network itself scoring well for reliability, ease of use and charging speed. 

5. Tesla 

Overall rating: 75.4%

Charging rate: up to 250kW

Cost per kWh: up to 77p 

Sixteen of Tesla’s UK charging sites were recently opened up to non-Tesla cars, so we took a Kia EV6 to the Banbury supercharger site. Despite non-Tesla owners paying a 10p premium to charge per kWh (at 77p per kWh), the site looked worth it, considering it was in good condition and had 12 devices with 250kW charging capability. However, we got only 42kW out of our charger, and other users report similar issues. They scored the network poorly for ease of use and value for money but higher for reliability and accessibility.

4. Ionity

Overall rating: 78.2%

Charging rate: 350kW 

Cost per kWh: 69p 

Ionity offers a Passport service, which costs £16.99 per month and reduces a customer’s charging rate from 69p per kWh to 35p. We tried the Leeds Skelton Lake site which, similar to Tesla’s network, was clean and well maintained, if unprotected from the elements. Charging is done via the app or a time-consuming registration process taken from scanning a QR code. The chargers cut out when our test car reached 72% – 8% down on what we would’ve hoped for. 

3. Fastned

Overall rating: 84.0%

Charging rate: Up to 300kW

Cost per kWh: 73p

The sites we tested from this rapidly-expanding Dutch firm were logically laid out, scoring well for accessibility and very well for reliability. Payment can be completed via contactless or an app, with a pay-as-you-go service also available. We visited two sites, one in Oxford and another at Barnard Castle in County Durham, the former of which had a good charging speed (110-130kW). 

2. Instavolt

Overall rating: 85.1%

Charging rate: up to 150kW

Cost per kWh: 75p

With nearly 900 sites across the UK and partnerships with Costa Coffee, McDonald’s and Bannatyne health centres, Instavolt’s network is wide-ranging and very easy to use with contactless payment available to everyone. The site we tried in Essex had two 50kW units with easy, contactless payment but a slow response from the machine, with charging speed not exceeding 35kW. 

1. Gridserve

Overall rating: 85.2%

Charging rate: up to 360kW

Cost per kWh: 66p

Each of the 165 Gridserve locations use new rapid or ultra-rapid chargers, and there’s a growing number of amenity-rich forecourts. The fees incurred in rapid charging are lower than with rivals and payment itself is a very easy process, with customers giving it a 100% score for ease of use. We took our test car, the BMW iX, to Gridserve’s Norwich site, where plugging in was simple and the car charged at 190kW, allowing for it to be topped up from 20-80% in just 30 minutes.

Source: Autocar

Leave a Reply