HomeInfraPublic EV charging infrastructure forges ahead - but problems remain

Public EV charging infrastructure forges ahead – but problems remain

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This feature was taken from our special Electric Vehicle Charging Insight report.

Figures referring to the growth in the UK’s public charging infrastructure make for impressive reading.

Latest data from Zapmap shows the overall rate of installation in the first four months of 2024 has increased by almost 37% compared with the average across 2023.

Meanwhile, members of industry trade body ChargeUK have pledged to invest £6 billion before 2030 to ensure the UK has the right charging solutions in the right place.

At the end of April, Zapmap, which supplies the official charge point statistics to the Department for Transport (DfT), says there were 61,232 electric vehicle (EV) charge points in the UK, across 32,697 locations.

Of these, 36,257 are rated at 8kW or lower, 13,051 between 8kW and 49kW, 6,936 between 50kW and 149kW, and 4,938 at 150kW and above.

“Hitting 60,000 public charging stations is an extremely significant milestone for electric car drivers across the country,” says Melanie Shufflebotham, co-founder and chief operating officer at Zapmap.

“This is really just the crest of the wave. There’s a real momentum behind the increased rate of charge point installations up and down the country.”

The increase is crucial given that a lack of confidence in public infrastructure is commonly cited as one of the top two significant obstacles to widespread EV adoption, alongside the upfront cost of the vehicles themselves.

Ideally, the number of charge points should be ahead of the increase in the number of EVs to reassure fleets and consumers, but the number of charge points needed is still up for debate.

The Government’s ambition is for there to be at least 300,000 public charge points by 2030. In 2021, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) stated that at least 2.3 million charge points would be needed nationwide by that date.

However, just as important – or maybe more so – as the total number is where they are located and their speeds.

These factors were the subject of a recent study by net zero data analytics consultancy Field Dynamics, which analysed its GigaMap dataset of 140 million MOT records and EV efficiency data.

It pairs each existing vehicle with an equivalent EV, working out where they are based and how many households in that area have access to off-street charging or will need public chargers.

It concluded the true figure needed may be around 442,000, comprising 120,917 slow chargers, 234,700 fast chargers, 46,150 rapid chargers and 39,926 ultra-rapid chargers.

It stipulates these figures do not factor in charger efficiency, improved utilisation rates, human behaviour and the integration of faster chargers.

Charge point breakdown

Charging facilities on the public network can generally be split into three categories: on-street, destination and rapid en-route:

■ On-street residential EV charging is designed to provide a way for drivers who live in a flat or house without off-street parking to charge while they are at home. As the name suggests, the charge points are usually situated at the side of the road and most will have power outputs of 3kW or 7kW.

■ Destination charging is situated at locations such as restaurants, supermarkets, shopping centres or garden centres, allowing drivers to top-up while they are pursuing a leisure interest for an hour or more. Charge points at these locations tend to be AC and between 7kW and 22kW, although some will be DC and 50kW or more. There is no set rule for these applications.

■ Rapid en-route charging is the fastest option – the DC chargers can be from 50kW to 350kW – and are found at either purpose-built hubs, motorway service stations or on fuel forecourts.

The price of using the different chargers tends to correlate with their speed – the faster the unit, the more it costs, leading to this aspect of the public network increasingly coming under the microscope.

Zapmap also tracks the cost of charging and in April the average price to charge an electric car was 57p/kWh on slow/fast chargers and 80p/kWh for rapid/ultra-rapid chargers – around a 10% increase from this time last year.

These figures are pricing some fleets out of EV adoption, says the Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP).

Analysis indicates that the threshold at which EV charging becomes more expensive than fuelling an average family car is approximately 70p/kWh.

“We’re looking at a situation where using a public charger on the motorway might be 80p/kWh compared with perhaps a quarter of that or even less for people who have a charger on their drive,” says AFP chair Paul Hollick.

“The whole total cost of ownership (TCO) argument is very much based around low-cost charging.

“Electric cars and vans are relatively expensive to buy and residual values remain difficult to predict, but operators should be able to at least partially balance this out with low charging costs.

“Where this isn’t possible, some fleets are simply finding themselves priced out of electrification.”

The costs of using the public network have increased significantly over the past couple of years, and this is due to both rising energy prices and charge point operators (CPOs) needing to show a return of their investment, says Shufflebotham.

“There’s also the issue of VAT on public charging and there’s a big campaign by people in the industry to equalise the VAT between domestic electricity, which is at 5%, and public charging which is 20%,” she adds.

However, this has been rebuffed by the Government. In response to a House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee recommendation to reduce VAT on the public network, the Government in April ruled this out because it would “impose additional pressure on the public finances to which VAT makes a significant contribution”.

Government support

However, in other areas, the Government has provided significant support to public charging infrastructure.

In its 2022 Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy, it said it would spend £1.6bn to build a network of 300,000 chargers by 2030, saying charging would become easier and cheaper than refuelling a petrol or diesel car.

This funding includes a £381 million Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) fund for councils, which can then choose where is best to install charge points in their area.

Following the approval of the first five local authority applications in February, payments to 44 additional councils, totalling more than £185m were rubber-stamped in March.

However, some initiatives, such as the Government’s 2020 Rapid Charging Fund which made £950m available to have six or more rapid or ultra-rapid chargers at every motorway service station in the UK by the end of 2023, have had mixed results.

“The problem with this particular Government target is that it was set without discussion with the main CPOs about whether it was achievable,” adds Shufflebotham.

“Although the overall target of having six or more ultra-rapid chargers wasn’t achieved at all motorway services, a lot of locations overachieved that.

“For example, Reading West now has 30 ultra-rapid chargers from different networks including Gridserve, BP Pulse and Tesla.”

Installing the infrastructure also faces a number of challenges. Research from ChargeUK has found the average time it takes to complete the installation process at nearly every stage is “too long and worst-case scenarios are common across the industry”.

Issues include the speed at which the Government makes decisions over funding, the time taken for planning permits and resident consultation, and the commercial viability of sites.

ChargeUK has produced its own policy paper, ‘Accelerating the installation of public charging infrastructure’, to highlight the issues and also suggest ways to solve them.

Potential solutions to accelerate grid connections include creating a voluntary code of conduct between CPOs and distribution network operators (DNOs) for standardised design approvals, contracts and legal agreements, as well as reforming the grid connections process and prioritisation of net zero projects.

Measures which could improve the economics and commercial viability of sites include the inclusion of renewable energy in the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation.

“In this election year, whoever forms the next Government will need to match the ambition of ChargeUK members as more and more electric vehicles take to the roads,” says Chris Pateman-Jones, chair of the board of ChargeUK.

The need to simplify the planning process was also identified in a report by the House of Lords environment and climate change committee.

“The installation of charge points is a national priority,” says the report. “But planning and other associated regulations are holding back progress. Simplified and standardised planning processes are needed, whereby these overlapping regulatory processes can be satisfied in a single step.”

Richard Bruce, director of transport decarbonisation at the DfT, told the committee the planning framework was not designed for EV installation, and so it was taking time to make needed changes.

Improving the charging experience

The Government has also introduced a number of initiatives under the Public Charge Point Regulations 2023 to provide an improved and consistent charging experience.

The first of these – the pricing network – came into force in November and stipulated that the maximum price of a charging session must be displayed clearly in p/kWh. The price can be shown either on the charge point or on a separate device.

Other measures include that CPOs must enable consumers to pay through at least one roaming provider – which is essentially the electric version of traditional petrol and diesel fuel card providers and include Allstar Chargepass, Zap-Pay, Octopus Electroverse and BP’s Fuel & Charge card.

The regulations also stipulate chargers must be 99% reliable, measured as an average across each CPO’s rapid network, and a free-to-use 24/7 staffed telephone hotline must be available and advertised at all charge points.

The final requirement was that all data must be accurate and CPOs must use the Open Charge Point Interface (OCPI) to hold and open their data. This must be available to government bodies, DNOs, transmission owners and electricity system operators.

 

Public charging innovations

As with any emerging sector, public charging infrastructure is ripe for innovation.

Two of these launched in recent months are Connected Kerb’s smart charging technology – the first time scheduled charging has been available on the public network – and a project to potentially convert up to 60,000 BT Group green cabinets, traditionally used to store broadband and phone cabling, to power EV charge points.

Connected Kerb says its smart charging will allow drivers to schedule charging during off-peak hours when energy is cheapest and greenest, saving money, cutting carbon and reducing pressure on the grid.

The rollout began in April, with the majority of the company’s charge points – 6,000 already installed and 4,000 more to be opened this year – to be capable of smart charging by 2025.

Connected Kerb says the technology will see overnight tariffs of 45p/kWh, 5p/kWh lower than its daytime cost.

BT Group’s digital start-up company Etc is overseeing the trials where green cabinets are used to power charge points, with the first 7.4kW charger going into operation in East Lothian in May.

The pilot scheme is expected to be the first of approximately 600 which will be rolled out over the next 18 months, with the trial expected to last for two years.

It will look at issues such as cabinet locations, power availability, customer accessibility and engineering considerations.

 

Supermarkets sweep up

A recent trend has been the increasing number of charge points available on supermarket car parks.

Tesco has led the way through its partnership with Pod Point – initially with sponsorship from Volkswagen and now from Vauxhall – and there are currently 2,700 charging bays across 619 stores, making it the largest supermarket charging network in the UK.

Other chains are now catching up. For example, Motor Fuel Group (MFG) has agreed to acquire 337 fuel forecourts from Morrisons as the supermarket takes a minority stake in MFG in a deal worth £2.5 billion.

This agreement includes MFG installing ultra-rapid charging infrastructure across the acquired sites. MFG is targeting the installation of 800 150kW chargers within the next five years.

Sainsbury’s has launched its Smart Charge branded network of rapid charging hubs, with the supermarket giant saying it will deploy 750 charging bays by the end of the year, with the 150kW chargers at more than 100 stores.

The investment already made means 10% of UK supermarkets currently offer EV charging, analysis by the RAC shows, with 55% of those offering higher-powered charging capabilities.

“It is very encouraging to see supermarkets ramping up charging facilities across a greater proportion of their stores,” says Simon Williams, EV spokesperson for the RAC.

“The data also shows a surge of investment in the very fastest chargers.”

Charging is one of the biggest challenges faced by fleets and their drivers in the transition to full electric. In our latest Fleet News special report, we break down the challenges affecting each of the charging types – home, workplace and public – and provide advice and guidance to help you navigate your way through the EV transition journey.

 

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