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Smart EV charging - What do drivers and businesses find acceptable?

11 June 2019

Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) are increasing - which is good news for the environment and the decarbonisation of our transport system - but a big challenge for the electricity grid. 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 unnecessarily with thicker wires to cope with increased demand - putting up everyone’s bills.

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.

Citizens Advice commissioned research into smart EV charging [ 4 mb] to find out whether existing and forthcoming offers are acceptable to potential users, and what would make them more attractive. We used immersive focus groups to bring the smart charging options to life for participants. 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.

In this blog we make several recommendations based on driver feedback for what companies including suppliers, app developers and tech companies can do to make smart charging more attractive. Key themes are, smart charging 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.

Watch this video to see how we brought smart charging to life at our research workshops and hear from drivers themselves.