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Keeping customers in the driving seat vital to success of electric vehicle charging schemes says Citizens Advice

23 May 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 don’t 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.”

Notes to editors

  1. The report, “Smart electric vehicle charging: what do drivers and businesses find acceptable?”, and blog by Victoria Pelka, are available on request in pdf format. Our video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3KkP0AohI8&feature=youtu.be
  2. Citizens Advice is working with industry and regulators to ensure a smooth and fair transition of the electrification of transport. We are contributing to the EV Energy Taskforce, Ofgem’s review of how consumers pay for the electricity network, and we monitor complaints we receive from EV drivers through our Consumer Helpline.
  3. The study of consumer attitudes by Citizens Advice, carried out by research firm TRL between January and March 2019, included  members of the public (75) and those who use their cars for business (18), existing and potential electric vehicle owners, and those who’d never considered changing over from petrol or diesel.
  4. The research used focus groups and interviews to talk to drivers in detail about: time of use tariffs whereby electricity prices vary throughout the day; a third party managing EV charging levels remotely; ‘Vehicle to Grid’ whereby the EV owner sells electricity in their battery back to the grid; and ‘mandatory managed charging’ whereby the local electricity network slows down EV chargers for short time to avoid local brownouts or blackouts.
  5. Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
  6. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.
  7. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.
  8. Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.
  9. Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  10. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  11. For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 to talk in Welsh.
  12. We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
  13. Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.