Ecotricity is now the biggest fast charger operator in Europe. Launched back in 1996 in the U.K. as “the world’s first green electricity company”, the company supplies green energy produced from renewables as its main business and deploys fast chargers (FCs) powered by solar and wind energy.
Currently, the green company is installing FCs along the highways in the country of origin, mostly on their own, but also as part of the first EU-Funded project of installing multi-standard fast chargers, the Rapid Charge Network (www.rapidchargenetwork.com). Today, Ecotricity operates 227 chargers, 10% of those chargers are normal chargers. Simon Crowfoot, Managing Director, explained that the logic behind Electric Highway lies in a solution to the chicken and egg problem: “if you do not install the stations – there will be no cars, so we install the chargers to encourage EV adoption.” By installing fast chargers at service stations along the highway across the country, the company attempts to eliminate range anxiety for EV drivers and eventually bring more EVs to the roads.
He expressed that this strategy has been successful up to date. “A year ago we did not have that many users; we delivered 8,000 kW in 12 months. Now we deliver 100,000 kW in just 1 month. And it is directly related to the installation of FCs. The growth of the FC usage is much greater than the growth of EV sales. It means people trust it more and more”. (You can also find his presentation with numbers here on our website.)
Nevertheless, Crowfoot admits that it is not an easy business. Finding appropriate sites to install the chargers is hard, negotiations with site owners are difficult and not all service stations have the power capacity necessary for fast chargers. Furthermore, he believes that, while reliability of the infrastructure is the key to a successful business, it is not always easy to achieve. He insists that it is even more important to offer trustworthy customer service. He emphasizes that customer service was not just about helping people when they are in distress, but about educating people in this new field. He calls for customer education on how to use EVs from a practical point of view by car manufacturers.
At the moment, Ecotricity offers charging for free. Nevertheless, the company spends hefty sums on the project to pay the cost of the surface, free access cards, power, installation, branding and signage. As a result, the company is not making any profits from the project, but Crowfoot is positive about the future of the business. “Because of Electric Highway, people now experience our company differently. Customers that have good experience with Electric Highway think about getting their electricity and gas from us. It definitely helps to enhance our brand and brings new customers, but it's not a primary reason to do it, it's rather a nice benefit that we hoped we could get”.
With their ability to leverage the so far non-financial benefits from fast charging infrastructure to feed their other business, the British company provides a good example for other fast charging projects, still struggling to find a business case in charging.