Our public EV charging network here in the UK is one of the better examples when looked at on a global level. At the time of writing, there are almost 38,000 individual connectors over almost 14,000 locations across the country (according to Zap-Map) for an overall plug-in car fleet that numbers well under a million – including PHEVs and EVs sold over the past decade.
However, with the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars less than a decade away, top think-tank, Policy Exchange, has published a paper that suggests 365,000 public chargers will be required to meet demand. Called ‘Charging Up’, the paper looks at various forecasts for EV uptake and has come to the conclusion that nearly 400k, or around 35k new public chargers per year, is the magic number.
It’s a report that might hold some sway in the halls of power, too, as it was put together specifically to advise governmental bodies – such as the DfT and local authorities – on the way forward. A critical mass of chargers is only one of a number of issues flagged in the study. Five other main areas of risk were also recommended for government intervention.
Firstly, redressing the imbalance in charger location will be needed to ensure rural and less wealthy areas don’t suffer from a lack of provision. Secondly, as it stands, many local authorities have neither the expertise or resource to implement effective EV charger schemes, so money or even private sector intervention is needed here. Thirdly, there needs to be a strategic network of high-powered chargers – for example at motorway services. Fourthly, charging networks need to be reliable and easy to use. Finally, the government needs to ensure that where private companies step-in to help develop networks, they don’t run a monopoly and therefore inflate prices.
According to lead author of the report, Ed Birkett, “if the Government gets this right, then EVs can be a practical choice for drivers right across the UK”. Simon Clarke MP, who wrote the foreword for the report, stated: “Whereas a drive of a petrol car can travel confidently from Land’s End to John O’Groats, knowing they can refill the tank every few miles, that is not yet the case for EVs.”
If we were being pedantic (we are), we would suggest Mr Clarke reads up a bit more as such a trip is eminently possible in most modern EVs with as little as 91.5 minutes charging time...
Whilst the sheer number of chargers might grab the headlines, it is the report’s other recommendations that are perhaps most critical over the next decade – ensuring that government-provided chargers are numerous enough, fit for purpose, and supported by people who are properly equipped and funded for the task.
Whilst the report’s target figure of 365,000 new public chargers seems huge, not to mention the need for strategic, rapid charging and vast pots of investment, recent news shows that network progress is incessant.
In the past week, the UK’s EV charging network surpassed 4000 rapid chargers – that is to say chargers that will deliver 50kW+. These are spread among almost 2700 locations throughout the UK, according to Zap-Map. With 700 plus coming online each month, or around 10 per cent of the total number of chargers added to the network, it’s obviously good progress.
In addition to that, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, pledged £20 million for new charge points around the country. This will help the number of government-provided chargers double to around 8000, which also brings the dual benefits of the fact all will be mandated to have card payment and will also be run using open-source software for better integration with sat navs and the like.
The figure of between 350,000 and 400,000 public charge points being bounded around in the media, thanks to the suggestion in the ‘Charging Up’ report, is a good headline-grabber. However, for many people home and office – so-called destination – charging will actually be by far and away the biggest habit they develop, rather than chargingly in public. That being said, the RAC likened failing to meet charging demand to the uneven roll-out of broadband which left some areas digitally poorer than others. This, and successive governments, will want to avoid this at all costs so over-provision might be a better tactic in the long run.