The hidden costs of charging an electric car at home

Telegraph reader John Ball, from Bradley Stoke, Bristol, knew his neighbor was installing a home charging point for his electric Mini. Ball didn’t bank on his own drive being dug up to accommodate someone else’s new EV.

The reason he couldn’t use his own drive for 10 days was that his house is on a “loop”. This means a single mains cable connects one house to the grid. Up to six other properties then branch off this one. To accommodate an electric car charging point, each property must have its own mains grid access.

Randolph Brazier is director of electricity systems for the Energy Networks Association (ENA), which is responsible for the National Grid. He told us: “This was a way of costcutting when the electricity supply was nationalized. If we came across a looped supply, we would unloop them for free. We then reinstate any garden, path or drive that’s been disrupted.”

The tab for this work, usually needed on terraced or rural properties, is picked up by all of us, using the 23 per cent of our electricity bill that goes towards network costs.

Your existing electricity system might not cope

Before you have a home charging unit installed, your property’s electrics may need upgrading to cope. Consumer organization Citizens’ Advice said: “Sometimes consumers need additional unforeseen actions. Some will be free to the individual; others will be directly charged 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 of people saying they’ve had their whole consumer unit replaced, which will cost £650 to £700.”

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Car dealers have incentives to sell certain chargers

When you buy a new EV, there’s every chance the dealer will also try to sell you a home charging point.

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

Installer Bedson confirmed: “As long as it’s got the right connector, you can choose any charge point you want. But I’ve heard stories of car dealers saying whatever it takes about home charging points to get a sale through.”

Smart tariffs not mentioned

To prepare for the future, the government insisted that charging points, part-paid for by the Electric Vehicle Homecharging Scheme (EVHS), had to be smart. This enables consumers to take advantage of special EV tariffs by charging when electricity prices are low, at night for example.

But they can only benefit from these tariffs if they 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 tariffs?’ Of those 91 drivers, every respondent said ‘No’.”

Local authorities don’t want to know

The ENA says 40 per cent of UK drivers don’t have off-street parking. And the latest English Housing Survey states just over a third (36 per cent) of housing in the UK is rented. How many tenants will want to pay for a charging point?

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They will mainly rely on local authority-supplied charging points. The CMA said: “Local authorities play a crucial role in this segment to drive forward immediate roll-out and maximize competition.” To smooth their path, the government is providing charging point subsidies in the form of grant funding that local authorities can apply for.

But no one seems to have told the local authorities about this. Councilor Martin Tett, from the Local Government Association, said: “We do not anticipate that councils either want, or need, to become the long-term default provider for electric vehicle charge points.” According to the CMA, a third of available charging point funding has gone unspent.

It could be a bumpy ride

A wholesale change of something as fundamental as how we fuel our cars was never going to be easy. Randolph Brazier from the ENA reassured us that the grid has capacity to cope. But he stressed that, unlike some of the examples above, the switch needs to be done in a connected and smart way.

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

This article is kept updated with the latest information.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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