ON Wednesday the 26th of April ESB’s car charging points in Northern Ireland changed from unpaid to paid services. ESB operates the largest charging network in Ireland, consisting of 1,350 charging points. Up until now the Northern Ireland charging points were free to use. Alongside the introduction of charges, ESB are also committing to improving their network of chargers.
As part of a £10m investment all charges will be upgraded, and they plan to double the amount of fast chargers, which charge at 50KWH, while at the same time increasing their charge to 100KWH. They also have plans to introduce five high power charging hubs, which will charge at 200KWH and charge multiple cars at the same time. Following the news of these changes the Mourne Observer contacted the Northern Ireland Electric Vehicle Facebook group to get their reaction.
Two electric vehicle owners who use the charging points in south Down explained that they have mixed feelings about the news. Primarily both were happy that the infrastructure of charging points would improve. But they also felt that the proposed charges appeared to be quite high. Christopher Wynne lives in Dromore and has been driving an EV since November 2020, first a Volkswagen ID.3 and more recently a Volkswagen ID.5. He chose to buy an electric car because he was interested in the technology but also because it was more efficient and cheaper to run. He told the Mourne Observer that he has been using the public infrastructure of charging points in Dromore, Banbridge, Newcastle and Kilkeel, and also in the north west of the province. But he said there are issues with the system. “I was always mindful to make ‘responsible’ use of them, that is: only charge for as long as necessary and would never have left my vehicle on one for more than four hours,” he said. “As the months went past, there was a clear increase in demand for them with more and more EVs on the road and therefore being able to use the public network was becoming more of a headache. “I moved house and was able to have a charger installed at home and that makes the charging experience much more convenient, especially with the current state of some of the ESB charging network (i.e. not working).” With that in mind, Christopher felt that the news that changing the service from free to paid would solve some issues. He said: “The news of the introduction of ‘pay to charge’ is definitely welcome, as it is likely to stop the ‘abuse’ of the network, especially as it will be much cheaper to charge at home rather than when out and about. “I hope that this will also bring additional investment into the network of chargers as today, too many are unreliable or completely out of service. “I know the units in Greencastle Street in Kilkeel have been out of action for some time, and the same goes for units in Dromore, Banbridge and Hillsborough. “Personally, I’ll be charging at home, but of course a scenario may arise where I need to charge on the road and I’d expect that the overarching availability of charges will improve once there is a fee associated with using them.” The ESB have pricing plans based on the type of chargers, of which they have three – 22KWH, 22KWH – 1005KWH and 150KWH plus.
Pricing plans are slightly cheaper for those who are on a membership, but in general the cheapest cost is 46.2 (per KWH) for those using the 22KWH or less on a membership plan; right up to 67p for those using the 150KH plus charging points without a membership. Christopher felt that those costs were high, considering that charging at home will cost less than 40p per KWH, and in some cases around 30p. He said: “I was surprised by the costs per kw being applied – at 49p a unit for the ‘fast’ chargers it’s fairly expensive compared with charging from home, and recognise this will have an impact on those who have an EV and are maybe unable to charge at home.” Neil McLoughlin is from Newry. He chose to drive an electric vehicle because he felt that more people should start driving electric. The change also helps him because it is more cost efficient because he drives a lot. He doesn’t use public charging points as much as he used to because of how the chargers are used by the public. “I initially used most chargers in Newry randomly for quick topups while in town (as the chargers were designed for), but as with most things completely free, people often abuse this. “I’ve seen people leave cars unattended charging for 24h+. This is one of the biggest frustrations of EV drivers. Therefore, I now rely solely on home charging overnight via a day/night tariff which gets me a full charge of 220 miles for in around £4 at current rates.” Therefore the news that the chargers will no longer be free means that there will more opportunities to use the charging points.
ESB have also pointed out that they are introducing a charge for those who overstay at charging points. So overall Neil was delighted to hear that the charges were being introduced. “I am absolutely delighted. It will mean that only people needing a genuine charge will avail of the vital infrastructure. I would imagine it will also encourage the development of high speed charging hubs as it becomes an attractive investment for businesses. “My only fear will be that companies with a geographical advantage in a great location will take advantage of high pricing. Although as they say, we pay for convenience!”