Gridserve agrees to end exclusive EV charging rights on motorways

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has confirmed that Gridserve – which owns the Electric Highway charging network – has agreed to end exclusivity charger agreements with major motorway service operators.

Following an investigation, the CMA has secured commitments from Gridserve which it says “will unlock competition and increase choice of electric vehicle chargepoints on motorways for drivers”.

Following the launch of its investigation in July 2021, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has secured legally-binding commitments from Gridserve, which also incentivise investment in the market now.

Gridserve, which owns The Electric Highway – a major chargepoint operator in Great Britain – has agreed:

  • Not to enforce exclusive rights in contracts with Extra, MOTO or Roadchef, after November 2026, which currently cover around two-thirds of motorway service areas in the UK. In doing so, Gridserve has committed to reducing the length of the exclusive rights in the current contracts with MOTO by around 2 years and Roadchef by around 4 years (the contract with the third operator, Extra, is due to end in 2026).
  • Not to enforce exclusive rights at any Extra, MOTO or Roadchef sites that are granted funding under the UK government’s Rapid Charging Fund (RCF). This means that, in such cases, competitor chargepoint operators will be allowed to install chargepoints regardless of the exclusivity in The Electric Highway’s contracts.

Each of the motorway service area operators – Extra, MOTO and Roadchef – and Gridserve have also promised not to take any action that would undermine these commitments.

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: “GRIDSERVE completed the acquisition of the Electric Highway network from Ecotricity in June 2021 so we could rapidly improve the charging experience for existing electric vehicle drivers, as well as deliver many additional high power chargers as quickly as possible to support the mass market transition to electric vehicles. GRIDSERVE has remained committed to this, delivering the most comprehensive upgrade to the UK’s motorway EV charging infrastructure in history, including upgrading hundreds of legacy chargers with new technology, and building new Electric Hubs with six or more high power chargers, with two of these new sites already operational and a further 12 currently under construction.

“Shortly after our acquisition, the CMA announced an investigation into whether the exclusivity clauses of the contracts we had acquired with three Motorway Service Area (MSA) operators breached competition rules. We immediately understood why the CMA was interested in EV charging at Motorway Service Areas, 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 offering commitments to the CMA at a very early stage in proceedings, which we are pleased have now been accepted. The commitments were accepted and investigation closed without any decision or admission of a breach of competition rules. The main components of the commitments are reducing the application of the exclusivity provisions under the relevant contracts to a period of approximately 5 years, and also not to enforce the exclusivity against chargepoint operators or MSA operators which plan to utilise RCF-funded additional grid capacity. The RCF is the Rapid Charging Fund, an initiative being set up by Government to provide funding for grid connections in locations that have prohibitively expensive or commercially unviable grid connection costs.”

Alongside reducing Gridserve’s exclusivity, the CMA says its action will also allow the RCF to be rolled out as planned and provide drivers with faster charging. This funding is intended to encourage the installation of chargepoints at motorway service areas, but it is expected to only be available for sites with more than one chargepoint operator. Without the commitments, CMA stated that Gridserve would have retained exclusivity at the vast majority of motorway service areas and wide take-up of the RCF would not have been possible.

The CMA consulted on the commitments extensively with industry, regulators, and consumer organisations before accepting them, which now brings this investigation to a close.

The CMA has also written an open letter, reminding the sector of its obligation to comply with competition law in relation to electric vehicle charging arrangements.

Image: Shutterstock.

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