UK electric vehicle drivers are set to lose their free access to charging points provided by Ecotricity. The green energy supplier, which says its Electric Highway car charging network is the most comprehensive in both the UK and Europe, has announced that 20-minute rapid charging will now cost £5 (US$6.50). The network will remain free to access for Ecotricity's domestic energy customers.

The first Electric Highway charger was installed in 2011 and the network now comprises a total of 296 chargers, of which 276 are rapid chargers. The firm says its has chargers at 96 percent of British motorway service stations and that, in the five years the network has been running, it has provided £2.5 million (US$3.2 million) worth of free travel. Ecotricity tells Gizmag that, although it works with major car manufacturers and the government to install its chargers, the network is wholly owned by the company itself.

It cites one of its initial reasons for rolling out the Electric Highway network as helping to "kickstart Britain's electric car revolution," pointing to an initial chicken-and-egg scenario whereby people wouldn't buy EVs if there weren't enough public chargers available and companies wouldn't roll-out chargers if there weren't enough EVs on the road. To help further catalyze matters, Ecotricity has offered access to its Electric Highway network completely free of charge, until now.

Having seen usage of its network treble in 2015, the firm says that it is now necessary to start charging for access so that the network can be maintained and continue to grow. The existing swipe card system is set to be phased out and, in future, the network's 40,000 members will need to download a new mobile app for Android and iOS. This will show the location and availability of charging stations, as well as provide a means of payment.

Ecotricity says it chose a charging time block of 20 minutes because research shows that this is the average length of stay at motorway service stations. In addition, many EVs can now be charged to around 80 percent of battery capacity in that time. At £5 per session, the firm says that the cost will still be significantly less than the equivalent cost for petrol or diesel.

If a customer stops charging before the 20 minute slot is up, it will still cost £5. Each charging session will end after 20 minutes, so if drivers need more juice, they'll have to cough up another fiver.

Ecotricity needs to implements the changes to the Electric Highway network manually at each charging point. Work is scheduled to begin on July 11 and is expected to be completed by August 5, meaning some chargers will remain card-operated and free for a little longer than others.

Source: Ecotricity

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