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Charging your EV in public is getting easier, but local authorities aren't playing they part

Tags: #government-ev-policies #charging-infrastructure

Charging an electric vehicle at a public charger is one of the fundamental parts of how we'll get around in a post-2030 petrol and diesel sales ban market. There are more public charge points than ever before, and growth of the network is rapid, but is it fast enough to cope?

According to the latest figures from public charging oracles, Zap-Map, there are 12,853 locations where it's possible to charge an EV in the UK. In terms of provision for connectors – which is effectively the number of cars that can be charged – the number stands at 35,449. This represents far more points where you can charge your car than where you can fill it with petrol or diesel.

And the growth is rapid in the UK. In the past 30 days alone, 482 new devices, which equates to 837 new connectors, have been added to the network. Of these, some 108 devices and 235 connectors are in the rapid (25-99kW) or ultra-rapid (100kW) segment, so not only is it easier to find a charger, it's also way more convenient to juice up quickly.

Local government lagging behind

On the face of it, you're probably wondering what the issue with these figures is. However, in the wake of the government's 10 point green economy plan, which brought the 2030 petrol and diesel deadline, as well as a renewed focus on all things around an EV-orientated road network, an AA investigation has found that local councils are lagging behind.

Of the 316 local authorities that responded to the AA's request for information, 266 stated that they did not provide any on-street EV charging facilities for use by residents. It found that whilst up to three-quarters of the cost of installation can be covered by central government through grants, many councils were struggling with internal wrangling – specifically arguments between district and county levels as to who had responsibility.

The other issue that the AA found was that councils were using the installation funding for installing car park-based charging facilities. Whilst this is useful, for residents who depend on on-street parking, and therefore will also require on-street charging in future, car park charges make them doubly expensive to use.

Edmund King, AA President, said: “While many councils already have charge points, most of these are either in town centre car parks, or park & ride locations. While this is fine and must continue to grow, we still need to provide confidence to drivers without dedicated off-street parking that they can charge near to their home. The ORCS grant is specifically designed to help local authorities overcome the challenge of on-street residential parking and charging, however, too many councils see this as a way of bolstering their town centre charging infrastructure. This goes against the spirit of the grant.”

According to Zap-Map, more than three quarters of the UK's public charging network is provided by just 15 private network providers, meaning that well below the remaining 23.3 per cent is local government-provided. Whilst it is expected that private firms will always make up the majority of EV charging network, the lack of movement by public-owned bodies, who ultimately have control of the residential streets where public provision is most needed, is cause for concern.

Geographical inequality

As you might expect, some areas dominate in terms of overall charger provision as well as local government provision. London and the South East account for almost 40 per cent of all public chargers and both London and Brighton and Hove were highlighted in the AA report as being among the biggest investors in on-street charging.

Durham in the north east and Chesterfield in the Midlands don't have any local authority-provided on-street chargers, and both of these areas are among those with the worst public charging networks, accounting for 3.6 per cent and 5.9 per cent of all public chargers respectively.

In the ten point green economy plan, it stated the goal was: “Backing our world-leading car manufacturing bases including in the West Midlands, North East and North Wales to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, and transforming our national infrastructure to better support electric vehicles”. It would seem that encouraging the installation of charging networks in the 'world-leading car manufacturing bases' would be a good place to start.

Update 27.11.20: There is good news for Cornwall, which has secured £2.9m funding from the European Regional Development Fund to almost double the number of charge points in the country. The funding will see 150 new points installed by 2023, and is being backed up by £725,000 from Cornwall Council in a bid to lower the country's carbon footprint – 22 per cent of which comes from road transport.

With the south west as a whole having 7.6 per cent of the UK's public chargers, but also having some of the most deprived areas in the country, external support and funding is vital to bring the region's EV provision up in-line with other areas.

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