Last week, the British government revealed a new electric vehicle infrastructure strategy.
The headline figure from the strategy is a tenfold increase in the number of publically available chargers by 2030. That number sounds impressive but, in actuality, it would mean only 300,000 public chargers would be available for UK drivers by the end of the decade.
“As an EV driver myself,” wrote Transport Secretay Grant Shapps, “I know that home-charging not only provides access to the cheaper electricity prices, but also means that my car is charged each morning ready for the day ahead.
“But not everyone has access to off-street parking, so we will focus efforts on installing more on-street chargepoints, providing convenient and affordable charging, ideally on the street where you live. You’ll see chargers integrated into lamp posts and next to parking bays, for example.”
But is that enough? Every tenth car on the roads in the UK is electric and, as fuel prices rise, the number of EVs on the road is only set to rise. Moreover, is bigger actually better when it comes to charging networks?
One Size Fits All?
“With just 1,000 on-street chargers outside of London, action is urgently needed,” the Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh told Auto Futures.
“Experts agree the chronically slow roll-out of EV charging points has left the government playing catch-up and undermined key climate goals. And, just weeks after the Conservatives promised to act at COP26, they slashed grants for electric cars and backtracked on key pledges to install more public charging points.”
The government says that £500 million will be invested to bring high quality, competitively priced public chargepoints to communities “across the UK.”
This includes a £450 million Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) fund aiming to boost EV hubs and on-street charging for drivers without driveways. A pilot scheme for the fund will see local authorities bid for a share of £10 million in funding, allowing selected areas to work with industry and boost public charging opportunities.
The LEVI fund also includes up to £50 million for local authority staff to work on public chargepoint planning and their area’s unique challenges – ensuring that any development complements all other zero-emission forms of travel, such as walking and cycling.
“The Competition and Market Authority said that we needed a ten-fold increase [in the number of chargepoints], so it is great that the government is aiming to deliver that,” said Alex Kynoch, a government sector lawyer at Browne Jacobson.
“The ability to compare pricing is critical because funding models for chargepoint infrastructure often include exclusivity deals that can limit consumer choice and convenience.
“On-street residential charging for those without off-street parking is a huge challenge. EVs are particularly well-suited to cities and it’s critical that residents can charge their vehicles overnight. However, while making funding available for these vehicles available to ‘boost’ these projects is welcome, it is only the first step in rolling out affordable and convenient solutions for consumers.”
Of course, what is convenient for one driver might be very different for another. City drivers, obviously, are less likely to have access to off-street parking. However, those city drivers will also have to compete with a greater number of cars to get access to lamp post-based chargepoints.
What’s more, with city dwellers driving less frequently than their rural counterparts, there might come a situation where cars are left plugged into lamp posts and other public on-street chargers for days, or even weeks, at a time. This would naturally put a huge strain on the number of chargers available at any single time.
However, the situation doesn’t necessarily become easier when you move outside of urban settings. Suburban drivers, for example, are more likely to have access to driveways but they are not guaranteed to have one. But, with less overall need for off-street charging, it seems unlikely that suburban streets would be filled with lamp post chargers as a priority.
“The biggest issue we see with the new scheme is that its focus on trickle and fast charging will spell trouble down the line. Usage on those chargers is not enough to cover their upkeep – they won’t generate the revenue. And while the scheme requires local authorities to maintain funded chargers for at least seven years, it doesn’t provide the cash for that maintenance. That means the infrastructure will forever have to be subsidised from the public purse,” said Asif Ghafoor, CEO of EV infrastructure provider Be.EV.
“Our view is that councils should look at strategically placed mini-hubs of rapid chargers within a ten-minute drive of where people live, in addition to dwell and destination charging. That’s the approach we’re taking with the local authorities we’re working with. And it must be part of a strategy that looks at the bigger picture of where chargers are needed in the community and what’s already in place. Local authorities have to be smart about this.”
Chicken and Eggs
“Giving Britain the confidence to drive electric requires three things: innovative software and plentiful data, a network of rapid charging points throughout our roads and homes, and a steadfast plan to give consumers the confidence to buy and the private sector the assurance they need to build and invest,” said Aidan McCleave, CEO of electric car rental company UFODRIVE.
The problem, however, is that without widespread charging networks, drivers will be unable to buy electric cars. But, without useful information and data on how and where people will need or be able to charge their cars, we’re still shooting in the dark.
“Having the charging network, particularly rapid chargers, is vital to tackling ‘range anxiety’ – and it’s great to see the Government put the funding into this that it deserves,” said McCleave.
“However, considering Britain has 30 million cars on its roads, it may not be enough – and EV infrastructure is one of those things that must be all or nothing if people are going to take the plunge.”
The government is adamant that the private sector will play a “key role” in helping drivers switch to electric vehicles and noted that BP Pulse, the UK’s most-used charging network has announced a £1 billion plan to further develop charging infrastructure.
“This £1 billion investment is vital to provide the charging infrastructure the UK needs. We’re investing to build a world-class network,” said Richard Bartlett, Senior Vice President for BP Pulse.
“This investment allows us to deliver more. More high-speed charging in dedicated hubs and on existing fuel and convenience sites. More home charging services. And crucial enhancements to our digital technology that will make charging fast, easy, and reliable.”
In fact, the government is so confident in the private sector’s ability and willingness to deliver exactly what is needed for the British public it has pledged “to continue addressing any barriers to private sector rollout of chargepoints, such as local councils delaying planning permission and high connection costs.”
Chargepoint operators have already committed to an additional 15,000 rapid chargepoints across England’s road network – four times the current offer – and more than 100,000 on-street chargepoints by 2025.
“There are already many billions of pounds of private investment committed for the deployment of charging infrastructure across the UK from leading networks like Osprey, and the announcements will allow this funding to provide the critical infrastructure to the areas that are as yet underserved – notably the motorway service areas and the Local Authority towns and cities across the nation,” said Ian Johnston, CEO of Osprey Charging.
Of course, as the Green Party’s co-leader Adrian Ramsey told us, “EVs are no panacea.” And, with the rising cost of living, continued semiconductor shortage, and stretched supply chains, many people in the UK will be unable to afford to buy a new electric vehicle in the coming years. There might come a point in the near future when some drivers are simply unable to stretch to a new vehicle, in spite of the current encouraging trends and rising fuel prices.
Helping Britain – or any country for that matter – move towards an electric future will not be easy. But, from talking to experts in the field, it certainly seems as though a comprehensive, joined up vision is needed.