CMA investigates dominance of Electric Highway chargers

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    The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is launching an investigation into suspected breaches of competition law in the EV charging sector.

    The CMA is concerned that the Electric Highway network, acquired from Ecotricity two months ago by nascent energy firm Gridserve, has a dominant presence at service stations run by Moto Hospitality, Roadchef and Extra MSA.

    According to the CMA, the Electric Highway operates 80% of all motorway chargers in Britain (excluding Tesla-specific Supercharger devices) and has long-term exclusivity agreements – of 10-15 years – in place at two thirds of the network’s motorway service stations.

    The investigation will determine whether the long-term exclusive arrangements entered into by the Electric Highway, Ecotricity and its host locations are in breach of the Competition Act 1998.

    Other operators, the CMA notes, could hinder the installation of devices from rival charging firms, meaning drivers lose out on the “benefits of competition”: greater provision, more choice, competitive prices and reliable, high-quality charge points.

    The CMA notes that it has “not reached a view as to whether there is sufficient evidence of an infringement of competition law” and as such hasn’t issued a statement of objections to the named parties.

    In a statement, Gridserve said: “Our focus is on finding a path forward that addresses the concerns raised by the CMA, enabling us to retain momentum and continue to swiftly deliver the net-zero charging infrastructure plans and investment we have worked so hard to put in place, that support the successful uptake and transition to electric vehicles, in-line with the government’s clearly stated objectives”.

    The CMA has also published a series of measures aimed at addressing shortfalls in the EV charging network in the run-up to the 2030 ban on the sale of new combustion-engined cars.

    “Access to charge points can be a ‘postcode lottery'”, it says, highlighting that Yorkshire and the Humber has 75% less chargers per head than London.

    It also expressed concern about the limited choice and availability of chargers at motorway service stations, as highlighted by its investigation into the Electric Highway.

    Charging should be “as simple as filling up with petrol or diesel”, said the CMA, meaning working chargers must be easy to find, quick to pay for, have a clear pricing structure and be accessible by owners of all EVs.

    Gridserve said it agrees with these core principles, highlighting that it has recently launched a new interactive map “to make journey planning as seamless as possible”, offers contactless payment on every new charging device, has a “transparent” pricing structure of 30p per kWh at service stations and can accommodate all EVs at its charging stations.

    The CMA said, in order to support the government’s planned electric car roll-out, the UK’s charging network must expand from 25,000 to more than 250,000 devices by 2030.

    It recommended that the government sets out a ‘national strategy’ for this expansion, support local authorities in installing more on-street chargers, open up competition at motorway service stations and task a public body with monitoring the sector.

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    When The Hippy (Dale Vince) set up the Electric Highway more than 10 years ago using money from Nissan, no-one else was interested. By last year EV drivers were complaining that Electric Highway chargers usually didn’t work & that there was usually a lack of CCS, & that there was a massive problem as other companies couldn’t set up EV chargers on these sites.

    Fast forward to this year, the Electric Highway partnered with Gridserve to get some of the chargers replaced, & then Gridserve bought out Ecotricity from the Electric Highway. Gridserve aims to replace ALL the old chargers by end of September & are moving very quickly to do so. Also Gridserve want to increase the numbers of chargers on these sites, but are restricted at almost all of them by the lack of electricity infrastructure to be able to supply all these extra chargers, so they are trying to get extra supply.

    Gridserve have also promised to build over 10 new hubs before year end, the first is the Braintree HQ, then Rugby services that has lots of chargers installed, Gatwick South Terminal, Cornwall Gridserve Hub, etc.

    I think the CMA is picking up from the complaints from when The Hippy was not really running things rather than the recent Gridserve developments, but all the same, if we need 10 times the current number of chargers bu 2030 then they will need new sites with better electrical supplies than the existing MSAs (Motorway Service Areas).

    Looking at Toddington Services recently I noticed that there is a decent potential supply fairly close to the northbound side (Sundon NG Substation which I believe supplies Aylesbury & Luton).


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