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How the UK’s EV charging network could be about to explode

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UK Electric Vehicle Chargers
The number of electric vehicle chargers in the UK could be about to explode. Image credit: Amani A / Shutterstock.com

There are already more electric vehicle charging points than there are petrol stations, but it’s still not enough. That’s why the UK Government has announced major new investment to spur the development of even more chargers. 

The UK Government has set a target of reaching 300,000 public electric vehicle chargepoints by 2030 – which it notes is equivalent to almost five times the number of fuel pumps currently on the road today. To reach that figure, however, the network will need to increase tenfold. 

According to Zap-Map, on March 29 there were 30,345 individual electric vehicle chargers in 19,101 locations. That means almost an additional 270,000 chargers will need to be installed between now and January 1, 2030, which is just 93 short months away. 

With just 730 public chargers installed in the last 30 days, at the current pace it will take 346 months to reach the 270,000 additional chargers required – blowing past the Government’s target and landing us in 2050, ironically the target the UK has set for net zero. 

In fact, to meet the 2030 goal, nearly 3,000 electric vehicle chargepoints are going to need to be installed between now and 2030. That’s equivalent to the total number of chargers currently installed in Scotland, installed every single month. 

So, how’s it going to be done? 

A new strategy

While we wait for the UK Government to reveal their energy strategy in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has at least teased a new Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy. This is backed by £1.6 billion worth of investment, as well as new legal requirements on electric vehicle charging operators – something that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders recently called for, although the Government stopped short of establishing a new Ofcharge regulator

Where do we begin with this new strategy, however? Well, let’s start with the £500 million that will be invested towards the installation of new public chargers. This will include a £450 million Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) fund, which will supposedly boost projects such as EV hub and innovative on-street charging, so those without driveways are supported in the transition. 

Local chargers for local people

This has been one of the major missing pieces of the puzzles in the electrification of transport. While it’s relatively easy for those with off-street parking to install an electric vehicle charger at home, those living in apartments or houses without off-street parking have had to rely on public charging. This is often found far from their homes and seen as a massive inconvenience, not to mention it’s also far more expensive than your own charger that is scheduled to only charge at off-peak rates. 

To address these concerns, the UK Government has announced a pilot scheme for the LEVI fund which will see local authorities bid for a share of £10 million in funding, allowing selected areas to work with the industry and boost public charging opportunities. 

Meanwhile, the LEVI funding includes up to £50 million to fund staff to work on local challenges and public chargepoint planning – ensuring that any development complements all other zero emission forms of travel, such as walking and cycling.

Boosting rapid charging

While the UK has over 30,000 individual EV chargers, the majority of these can be defined as slow or fast. Those chargers are ideal for hotels, offices and apartment blocks, where people are going to spend large amounts of time, but for those travelling on long journeys, rapid chargers are necessary. 

This is where the UK’s network falls short; there are just 5,000 chargers that are defined as ‘rapid’ or ‘ultra-rapid’ in the UK. That denotes chargers that are rated between 25 kW and above, a key area that needs improvement. 

To support this need, the UK Government has an existing £950 million Rapid Charging Fund, which it says will support the rollout of at least 6,000 high powered super-fast chargepoints across England’s motorways by 2035.

Making installation easier

On top of the new financial commitments from the UK Government, there are also new legal commitments. This includes forcing operators to allow EV drivers to pay by contactless, compare their charging prices and find nearby chargers using apps. Additionally, one of the key issues of reliability is set to be addressed. 

It’s not a rare occurrence to turn up to an electric vehicle charging point and find it out of order, so now the UK Government is set to mandate that operators provide real-time data about chargepoints, requiring a 99% reliability rate at rapid chargepoints to ensure that they are working before a driver arrives. This should hopefully stop the situation where someone breaks down as a result of arriving at a faulty charger with a low state of charge. 

It’s not just consumers that will get a good deal, however, as chargepoint network operators will also find their lives made easier. The UK Government is promising to address concerns around high connection costs and delayed planning permission approvals, but it hasn’t detailed exactly how it plans on doing that. 

Will the UK Government’s plan work? 

So, the question is, will the UK Government’s plan for achieving a robust, reliable and plentiful electric vehicle charging network by 2030 actually work? Well, the industry thus far seems to see it as a positive step, albeit a step and not the only work that can be done by this Government. 

Ian Johnston, the CEO of Osprey Charging, noted, “The announcement by the government is an important step towards ensuring that we have the right number of charging points in all locations across the UK. This is crucial to give everyone the confidence that when they make the switch to electric, they will be able to charge as easily as they refuel today – whenever and wherever they are. These charging stations simply must be reliable, easy to navigate and importantly, accessible for all.

“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. We look forward to working with the government to help bring this strategy to life, delivering a high quality, inclusive, open-access and reliable charging network that’s worry free, comfortable and enjoyable to use.”

Simon Tucker, Managing Partner & Head of Energy, Utilities, Resources and Services EMEA at Infosys Consulting, added, “The Government’s latest pledge to provide a 10-fold increase on the current public charge points across the UK by 2030 is desperately needed. Electric cars are becoming mainstream, accelerated by the rising price of fuel, but the location and surrounding infrastructure is the biggest roadblock. Not all roads are equipped for the transition, and it’s a massively uneven picture across the UK. The infrastructure simply isn’t there to support the shift.

“The digital experience is also lacking. That’s why the mandating of operators to provide real-time data for consumers to check the status of devices and compare prices, and accept contactless payments, will be a game-changer. Even if charging ports were more widespread, there’s currently no ability to roam between networks and charge with other providers. Countries like Norway and Sweden are way more ahead, as they built the infrastructure before the cars. Here, we’ve been running before we can walk. However, this new pledge is a step towards correcting the UK’s backwards approach to EV roll-out.”

Paul Willcox, Managing Director, Vauxhall, concluded, “The electric vehicles (EVs) sold now not only help to reduce air pollution, and our fossil fuel use, today but they become the used electric vehicles of tomorrow – enabling more of the UK to transition quicker to zero-emissions-in-use motoring.

“With demand for EVs rising, and an expanding choice of EVs available, we believe that public confidence in a visible, reliable and easy to use charging network is key – especially for those who do not have the luxury of off-street charging.

“Vauxhall recently welcomed the Government’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate announcement – a target on the amount of EVs sold in the UK – on the basis of it taking a 360-degree approach and including complementary targets on charging infrastructure.

“Whilst we welcome the Government’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy, we feel that it is a missed opportunity to provide certainty to customers by mandating binding targets on the roll-out of the charging infrastructure in the UK. It is essential that infrastructure keeps pace with market demand, or in fact leads demand, to remove any customer fears of ‘charging anxiety’ and accelerates the electrification of Britain’s roads as quickly as possible.”

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