The company that operates Britain’s electric vehicle motorway charging network is being bought by a business funded by Hitachi in a move expected to lead to tens of millions of pounds in investment across its sites.
Gridserve, which is backed by the Japanese conglomerate and took a 25 per cent stake in the Electric Highway in March, is understood to be buying the remainder of the business from Ecotricity, a green energy group.
Dale Vince, Ecotricity’s owner, who has run the Electric Highway network since installing the first charging points in 2011, will use the proceeds to invest in other green technologies such as making natural gas from grass.
Despite being the first motorway charging network in the UK, Electric Highway has been roundly criticised by the industry and rival operators for putting consumers off buying electric vehicles because of under-investment in recent years.
Gridserve is understood to be paying tens of millions of pounds for the remaining stake in the Electric Highway business, which is separate to the amount it is expected to invest in the sites in future.
The state of the network, which has deals with all three major UK service area operators, was part of the subject of a wider competition probe earlier this year.
Increasing the number and speed of charging points at motorways is key to increasing confidence in the ability of motorists to drive distances beyond the reach of EV batteries, which can typically last for up to 300 miles.
The government wants at least six superfast charging points at each service area by 2023 to ease consumers into battery vehicles, as part of its aim to phase out the sale of any non-electric models by 2035.
Transport minister Rachel Maclean told an FT summit earlier this year that “we do need to do a lot more on the infrastructure side of things”, saying the chief complaint she hears is about the reliability of the charging network.
She added: “We want people to be able to undertake those longer journeys, and more importantly, to have an electric vehicle as their main car.”
Speaking on Tuesday, Vince said Electric Highway “needs an owner with access to serious funding and real commitment to the cause” to help fund a “growth spurt” required to keep pace with demand and meet the new regulations.
He told the FT that the network needs “tens of millions” of pounds spent to bring it up to current standards.
“Electric car take-up has been beyond our wildest dreams when we started 10 years ago,” he said. But now Ecotricity “wants to get out of things we feel we don’t need to be in any more, and wants to get into things at the cutting-edge”.
Projects Ecotricity will fund with the money from the sale include ramping up manufacturing of diamonds made from captured carbon in the air, and expanding a vegan burger kitchen.
Toddington Harper, chief executive of Gridserve, said: “The upgraded network will provide the confidence for millions more to make the successful transition to electric vehicles in the earliest possible timeframe.”