Consumers must be at heart of design process for electric vehicle charging schemes

By agency reporter
May 23, 2019

Citizens Advice, in its role as the official consumer champion for energy, is calling for the electric vehicle and energy sector to put consumers at the heart of the design process as new methods for charging electric cars are developed.

The charity has developed a set of recommendations, based on its research examining drivers’ attitudes towards new ‘smart’ charging schemes.

Sales of electric vehicles are increasing - which is good news for the environment and the decarbonisation of our transport system - but a big challenge for the electricity grid, says the charity.

The mass use of electric cars and vans is around the corner. The government is under pressure to bring forward its 2040 deadline for a ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel cars to 2032.

The problem:

Electric car owners tend to charge their cars in the evening - just as there is already a spike in demand from people coming home, turning on lights and heating, and cooking dinner.

As electric vehicle usage increases, there is a risk electricity grids might need to be upgraded with thicker wires to cope with increased demand – putting up everyone’s bills.

Citizens Advice believes the next few years present an important opportunity to develop so-called ‘smart’ charging schemes for electric vehicles which are convenient and fair for drivers, but do not put pressure on the electricity grid. These can offer drivers lower tariffs in return for moving their charging to times of the day when there is less demand on the grid and electricity is cheaper. Other ideas could see electric cars plugged in and ‘selling’ electricity back to the grid while their owners visit a shopping centre for instance.

Many of these proposed schemes are in their infancy and a long way from being implemented on a wide scale. Citizens Advice warns that if they are to work, consumers’ different travel needs and lifestyles should be taken into account from the beginning. And consumer concerns should remain a top priority for firms as they develop these new technologies.

Recommendations:

The recommendations from Citizens Advice are based on the suggestions of the drivers it interviewed both individually and in focus groups.

The study included private car owners with a range of different needs, including those with mobility problems and parents of small children. Small businesses who rely on vehicles, such as taxi firms, were also represented.

Citizens Advice says electric vehicle charging schemes should:

Protect customers

  • Companies should offer financial guarantees which seek to limit the money that users put at risk, and/or guarantee a minimum level of savings or income.
  • There should also be guarantees on aspects such as battery health.
  • Customers should be able to switch schemes, complain, and keep track of their data easily.

Be easy to use

  • Schemes should be easy to understand, quick to set up, and intuitive to use.
  • They should be accessible for people who are not digitally savvy.
  • Available for those who live in areas with weak mobile or internet signals

Be tailored to fit in with different customer needs, in particular

  • People with mobility issues, parents of young children, and those living in remote areas with restricted access to public transport or public charging.
  • Small businesses who may not have the time and resources to actively engage in smart charging compared to large companies

Allow customers to retain control and set preferences

  • Enable users to set and change preferences and requirements.
  • Give users sufficient information before they sign up, and keep them informed about how the scheme they agreed to is working for them.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The electric vehicle market is small, but rapidly expanding. It’s also a vital part of the decarbonisation of the whole transport system. If the evolution of new charging systems is to be a success, drivers need to be involved and listened to from the start. The potential risks and benefits can be hard for people to assess – particularly if, like most of us, they don’t own or have access to an electric vehicle. It’s also really important that the needs of people with limited budgets or mobility issues are considered and these groups are not left behind.”

* Citizens Advice https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

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