Gridserve to surrender monopoly on motorway EV charging

Electric Highway operator agrees to end exclusivity deals early to improve competition and standards at motorway service stations

Tuesday, 8th March 2022, 2:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th March 2022, 4:26 pm

The company which holds the monopoly on electric car charging at motorway services is to give up its exclusive hold on access under a new deal.

Gridserve, which operates the Electric Highway network, has signed a legally binding agreement with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which means it will not enforce its exclusive rights over charge points after November 2026.

The firm currently holds long-term exclusive rights to install and operate public chargers at Extra, MOTO and Roadchef service areas - accounting for two thirds of all UK motorway service stations.

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The agreement means that Gridserve is ending its current contract with Moto around two years early and its deal with Roadchef four years ahead of schedule. It also means it won’t enforce separate exclusive rights granted under the Government’s Rapid Charging Fund (RCF).

Gridserve took over the Electric Highway network in 2021

The announcement has been welcomed as an opportunity to improve competition and potentially bring down prices while pushing up standards.

The CMA launched an investigation into Electric Highway in July 2021, two months after Gridserve bought it from Ecotricity. It was concerned that long-term exclusivity deals, some lasting up to 15 years, were harming competition in the EV charging market, putting drivers at a disadvantage.

Announcing the agreement, Ann Pope, the CMA’s senior director of antitrust, said: “We need a combination of investment now and healthy competition going forward to make sure chargepoints are installed at scale where people need them, for a fair price.

“Today’s commitments strike the right balance. Gridserve will continue to invest in the much-needed roll-out of chargepoints across the country but the exclusivity linked to its investment won’t be an undue barrier to others competing in the near future.”

In a statement, Gridserve said: "We immediately understood why concerns had been raised, as upgrading the EV charging infrastructure at motorway locations is an essential part of the public charging mix and of particular importance to providing the confidence for new motorists to make the transition to electric vehicles.

"In order to retain our focus on delivering the necessary charging infrastructure, Gridserve pursued a path towards settlement with the CMA at a very early stage in proceedings. The settlement was reached without any decision or admission of breach-of-competition rules."

The CMA estimates that up to 480,000 public charging devices will be needed to meet demand as drivers switch to electric cars. There are currently 29,818 devices with 50,266 connectors, according to Zap-Map and greater competition is seen as key to accelerating their installation.

Jim Holder, editorial director, What Car?, commented: “Any increase in competition is good news for consumers, as competition typically serves to drive prices down and service standards up.

“The cost and quality of public charging on the UK’s motorway network needs to be improved nationwide and while consumers will undoubtedly benefit from Gridserve’s decision not to enforce exclusive rights, this doesn’t address another important consideration – the need for standardisation and ease of use, as well as dependable reliability.

“As motorists increasingly consider making the switch to electric power, the industry needs to remove the barriers to entry and simplify the electric vehicle landscape, by providing as much accessibility and consistency as possible.”

Patrick Reich co-founder of EV charging platform Bonnet said the move was good news for existing and future EV owners. He said: “As demand increases, so will the need for more EV charging options. Currently, drivers remain anxious around not finding an available or working EV chargepoint when driving long distances, but this change will hopefully put an end to this type of charging anxiety.

“Increasing choice across the motorway charging network will help keep costs competitive, increase investment in charging innovation and improve reliability for EV users. The public EV charging industry needs to become more robust as we strive towards the 2030 petrol and diesel vehicle ban and this decision is a step in the right direction.”