Taking charge

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Features

Pierre Jeannes, managing director for Mr. Electric, discusses the need to upscale the UK electric charging infrastructure to meet the increasing demands of electric vehicles. 

Electric vehicles (EVs), including both pure and hybrid, are making increasing inroads across the UK as consumers are looking to become greener and more sustainable. They are an inevitable new feature of the UK’s automobile industry and now come in all shapes and sizes, from two-seater city cars to 4x4 off-roaders.  

Although EVs still account for a comparatively small share of the new car market, figures have grown gradually in the past five years, and this has also brought a rise in the required charging point infrastructure. 

EV technology has developed greatly since the milk float, and as performance and range increases, purchasing an electric vehicle is becoming a very real option for many people, particularly among environmentally and economically-minded drivers. 

Today, there are around 60 different electric models (electric and plug-in hybrid) available in the UK, with many of the top manufacturers in the UK now offering a number of EVs as part of their model range. More than 130,000 registered EVs are on UK roads, and there is a growing public charge point infrastructure of over 5,000 locations.

Environmental credentials are one of the key benefits for EVs, as unlike petrol or diesel cars, they don’t emit any of the gases that contribute to global warming and make them an obvious choice for anyone who cares about their carbon footprint. As one of 13 members of the Zero Emission Vehicle Alliance, the UK has pledged to make all passenger vehicles sold ‘zero-emissions’ by 2050.

Government grants for EVs have contributed to the accelerated buying of these vehicles. In the third quarter of 2018, the number of grant eligible plug-in cars registered in the UK surpassed 15,000. By comparison, according to Statista, electric plug-in cars newly registered in January 2019 were 1,334, which is more than half the amount of three years previously.

Reducing costs

While the initial upfront purchase price of an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle can be higher than traditional vehicles, this is offset by lower running costs over the lifetime of the vehicle and can offer a number of potential savings. Depending on the tariff, you could pay as little as 96p to fully charge a pure electric car for a 100-mile range. Electric cars are also exempt from road tax and the London Congestion Charge and are entitled to free parking in numerous ‘pay and display’ areas.   

As an example, one Mr. Electric customer who realised the benefits of EVs and made the switch to electric was Alan Plaice, who lives in Truro. 

“We have two EVs in our household – my wife’s is a hybrid and mine is 100% electric. We already have solar panels installed on our roof, which have proved very cost effective for us, so it made total sense for us to switch our cars to electric and ultimately reduce the air pollution,” he said of making the switch the EV.  

“Having made the initial EV investment, which was costly as we bought BMWs, we then needed to find a reputable local electrical contractor who could install the car charging point at our home, as well as replace our domestic fuse box. Mr. Electric carried out the work for us and they were extremely professional and helpful throughout the project.  

“We have an EV charging point, which is compatible for our cars and is located by the back door for use, as and when required. Mr. Electric is also currently helping us to apply for the OLEV Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme so we can hopefully get a refund of up to £500 on the cost of the installation. We are keen supporters of sustainable green transport and really happy that we made the change – EVs really are the future.”

Developing an EV charging infrastructure

EVs are a global phenomenon. They are bringing significant beneficial opportunities for the electrical industry and by 2020, the International Energy Agency believes global EV numbers could hit 13 million. While the focus is to push for EV adoption in a big way, the need for a parallel development of a charging infrastructure is paramount.  

The UK needs to increase its EV charging network six-fold by 2020 in order to cope with the amount of EVs due to hit our roads. But the big question is whether the supply of EV charging infrastructure can catch up with the burgeoning growth of EV demand?  

If the UK wants to be a world leader in this market, we need to put a charging infrastructure network in place – including boosting residential power grids, installing smart technologies and investing in workplace and public charging points.   

Evidence suggests that the UK network of EV charging points is on the rise. It has increased from a few hundred in 2011 to more than 8,210 charging locations, 13,173 charging devices and 22,385 connectors by 30 April 2019, with numbers rising every month, according to EV chare point locator, Zap Map. The proportion of charger types has also changed significantly during that time with a surge in high power (rapid) units being installed across the UK.

We believe that the ongoing growth of EV ownership in the UK will be reliant on the wider availability of charging infrastructure for consumers and businesses alike, particularly as prices come down and technology improves. If we are to see a national network of high-powered EV charging stations grow, there needs to be greater public and private investment in developing the necessary technology to roll out the infrastructure needed.