Is the UK’s EV charging infrastructure keeping pace with the Government’s plans?
The UK Government has set ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions. Electric vehicle take-up is crucial to achieving them. But can the infrastructure handle it?
The UK pledges to bring carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. This means that any greenhouse emissions are offset by initiatives such as planting trees. This is a massive undertaking, and the UK’s targets are more ambitious than those of any other developed nation. To help achieve this, the UK Government has recently announced that a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be brought forward from 2040 to 2035, at the latest. This ban also includes hybrid vehicles, cars that use a combination of petrol and battery power.
For these ambitious plans to come to fruition, for everyone to be happily driving around in electric vehicles, big changes need to happen. The electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure is growing, but currently, it’s growing far too slowly. Without a significant acceleration in progress, it will not be fit for purpose.
Investors Chronicle wrote:
“Accelerating the transition towards electric vehicles will require concurrent investment in charging infrastructure to support more widespread use. ‘Range anxiety’ is a key barrier to people switching to electric vehicles, based on the fear they could struggle to find a charging point when out and about.”
In this article, we’ll look at the EV charging situation in more detail and what needs to be done to make them work. We’ll look at the obstacles standing in the way of growth for EV charging infrastructure and finally, the consequences of not making it work.
EV charging infrastructure in 2020
Currently, there are purely electric vehicles on the market, including the Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and Tesla cars. However, they are in the minority compared to hybrids like the Toyota Prius. In 2019, manufacturers sold 38,000 pure EVs, but more than 3 million hybrids.
However, public demand for pure EVs is growing fast and the motor industry is adapting to meet it. Volkswagen and Kia both say that 20% of total sales will be pure electric by 2025, while Volvo is going for 50%.
While the electric car sector is accelerating, the infrastructure around it, public electric charging points, is not. According to charging point locator Zap Map, there are around 30,000 charging connectors spread across around 11,000 locations.
This is not nearly enough. A report from Scottish Power suggests that by 2050, the UK will need 2.6 million charging points. That’s an extra 2,570,000 connection points to be built in 30 years. Currently, around 10,000 points are being added every year, so it’s safe to say that something has to change!
The most sought after charging points are the ultra-rapid chargers, which can give your electric car 100 miles of range from a 10-minute charge. The first ultra-rapid chargers in the UK were introduced in the summer of 2019, at Heathrow airport.
Range anxiety is standing in the way of take-up of electric cars. It is a problem that having more charging points can solve.
Currently, the range of a new, pure EV Renault Zoe is 245 miles from one charge. This is extremely impressive and a significant improvement on what’s come before. However, if you were in London and driving to Newcastle, you would have to stop to charge your battery on the way. While you would still probably have to refuel your petrol or diesel car if you were making this journey, filling up your tank is quick and Homeeasy. Charging your electric vehicle is not.
This is the issue that stops consumers from buying electric cars.
Challenges of installing more charging points
Unfortunately, solving this problem isn’t as easy as simply installing more charging points at service stations, petrol stations, supermarkets and other public spaces. There are several obstacles in the way.
- Installing charging points is expensive – current estimates for installing ultra-rapid chargers at 54 UK locations exceed £1 billion
- Installation takes time – plans to equip RoadChef service stations with charging points have been held up by local electricity grid operators for more than three years
- So far, everyone is talking about charging points in cities and service stations, but what about in rural areas?
- Can the National Grid cope with the increased demand that charging electric cars will bring?
- Companies fitting charging points (service stations, supermarkets) will have to reorganise their entire space to take account of demand for charging
What needs to be done?
This problem has not been solved yet, because no one has stepped up to address it.
The Government introduced a new Act in 2018, promising improved access to charging points in suitable locations. The Act gave the Government powers to force upgrades to the network. However, this has not happened yet. We don’t know how far the Government is prepared to go to make it happen. Can it take on the local grid operators that are delaying progress?
The motor industry may be able to take some of the strain. Tesla has introduced its own-brand ‘superchargers’ at many motorway service stations. However, a more industry-wide, coordinated response would be more effective.
A coordinated response between the Government, the car industry, the energy industry and the service stations would be the optimum. If they can come together and get it right, all sides will benefit. The companies will make money and the Government will hit its targets.
Consequences of inaction
What will happen if the EV charging infrastructure in the UK doesn’t adapt to fit this new enforced demand?
If we can’t solve the problem of range anxiety, people will not buy pure electric vehicles. When the ban comes in, in 2035, people will stick with the cars they’ve got. When it’s time to replace their vehicles, they will buy second-hand hybrids or petrol/diesel cars. This means we won’t get to net zero.
It’s in everyone’s interests that we invest in EV charging infrastructure. Let’s see if we do.