In the face of rapidly growing competition for electric vehicle (EV) charge points, inadequate support from both central and local government is threatening to put the brakes on the UK’s zero emission transition. These were the findings from a report released by car financier Novuna Vehicle Solutions, which casts doubt on whether the government’s target of installing 300,000 devices by 2030 is achievable, and uncovers growing discontent amongst EV drivers.
The Electric Vehicle Ecosystem (EVE) Report, which includes insights from over 2,000 motorist interviews, together with in-depth analysis of public data, reveals that the number of electric cars chasing every public charge point has grown threefold in just three years, rising from a ratio of 5:1 in January 2021 to a ratio of 15:1 in January 2022. This national average masks some significant regional disparities, with drivers in the South-West (32:1) and North-West (28:1) having the hardest time finding a charger, unlike Londoners who benefit from comparatively good provision (5:1).
The rapidly growing competition for public charge points means that one in three (31 per cent) EV drivers now frequently have to queue for a charger, with many wishing there was greater attention paid to their plight. Three in four (76 per cent) report that based on their experiences of EV ownership, the UK’s current charging infrastructure is simply unfit for purpose.
This is corroborated by Jay Yang, CEO at Zerova, who says that a lack of charging infrastructure is one of the main reasons holding back mass adoption of EVs.
“If we are going to ensure mass adoption of electric vehicles, EV infrastructure as a whole needs to improve. Rather than specifics about the technology, the lack of infrastructure causes drivers to have range anxiety – a fear that their vehicle will not make it from point A to point B. The establishment of widespread, reliable, and flexible charging systems is crucial for electric vehicles to be fully popularised.
“In addition to reliable infrastructure, fast-charging is likely to be essential to the successful adoption of electric vehicles as it is the only way that they will become practical alternatives to traditional fuels – allowing drivers to ‘fill up’ without long waits.”
‘Charge where you stop’
However, finding a solution for EV charging infrastructure is not as simple as providing more charge points – though that is certainly one element. For Tim Evans, 3ti founder and CEO, it is time that people stopped simply asking how many charge points are required to effectively service the current and future EV market, and instead considered how to best support the needs of EV drivers.
“As drivers, we are creatures of habit. We fill a petrol or diesel car at a service station because it is quick and easy to do so. Why try to make EV ownership fit this pattern when the technology is intrinsically unsuited to this framework? If EV drivers can charge at home, then it is the most efficient solution, but in the UK that is impossible for around 50 per cent of households. The answer is to charge at your destination or workplace.”
Evans argues that charging while you are parked reduces the reliance on carbon-rich, often more expensive rapid charging and, as there are around 20,000 public car parks with four million parking spaces, and an additional nine million workplace parking spaces in the UK, we should use them.
“We should change the mentality of EV drivers so that we no longer consider how to schedule a ‘plug and run’ forecourt visit, and instead adopt a ‘charge where you stop’ mindset. The rapid charger network can then be used strategically and more sparingly as a top-up during longer journeys.
“Solar Car Parks (SCPs) that combine electricity generation, EV charge points and battery storage can provide the necessary infrastructure where it is required, supplying locally generated renewable energy to EV drivers, on-site businesses or even back into the grid. This can not only reduce energy costs, but give businesses greater control over energy supply: a crucial advantage at a time of energy price volatility and potential power outages.”
To combat traditional barriers to entry for large scale SCP adoption, such as financial investment, lead times and planning restrictions, 3ti has developed the world’s first pop-up mini solar car park and EV charging hub. The first prototype, Papilio3, was installed at Surrey Research Park in May, and within the first two months had generated sufficient solar power to drive an average family EV in excess of 28,000 miles. A modular unit built around a recycled shipping container, Papilio3 can be installed in under eight hours and provides 12 charge points that support EV charging of up to 22 kilowatts.
“Currently, around 40 per cent of UK electricity is generated from fossil fuels. It is often this carbon-rich electricity that is called upon to support peak-time EV charging via rapid chargers. Solar provides a renewable source of energy to counter this reliance and support EV drivers where and when required: via destination and workplace charging infrastructure in locations where EVs are naturally parked for a period of hours,” concludes Evans.
“It is essential that we consider the environmental impact of EV charging and how to best utilise our natural, renewable resources. Only then will we unlock the full benefits of our attempt to decarbonise the transport sector through a shift away from diesel and petrol vehicle production.”
Different solutions for heavy duty electric vehicles
Heavy duty electric vehicles, however, will require different systems and solutions.
“Each market, country, and customer have a different set of requirements,” comments Yang. “There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to accommodate at home, at work, fleet and on the go EV charging. As such, a variety of flexible solutions for different settings and applications is essential.
“The size and weight of vehicles like buses, trucks and trains create new challenges, such as the size of the battery required to power the vehicle for long distances, the time it takes to fully charge the batteries, and also scalability. The solutions designed for these types of vehicles must be tailored differently compared to passenger cars.”
The EV industry is currently working on realising the potential of megawatt charging systems (MCS) that are vastly more powerful, to meet the needs of commercial vehicles. Zerova, for example, is working with global association CharIN to help accelerate the adoption and rollout of megawatt charging. CharIN is the largest user group of EV standards, with more than 260 active member companies, and is working to standardise megawatt charging solutions to speed uptake.
“Increased infrastructure will help with mass adoption; however, tailored solutions to various EV needs are also essential to this process,” explains Yang. “For example, our 4th generation Depot Charger is transforming the way fleets of buses are charged. It is suspended from the ground at the height of five metres to charge electric buses and is compatible with all standard charging technology specifications. It is fully modular and does not require human intervention for plugging and unplugging. The entire charging station can be expanded with a number of charging islands to meet customised needs. This means that this solution can help the roll-out of electric buses on a global scale.
“It is important to establish open dialogue with customers to understand which markets they are serving and what features are important to capture their market.”
Is the UK’s 2030 target achievable?
Despite the growing problems in the supply and demand of public charging infrastructure, the EVE report states that three in five (59 per cent) drivers of petrol or diesel vehicles say their next car is likely to be an EV. Novuna predicts that this future demand will result in more than half of UK adults being EV drivers by 2030, the date when the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be phased out. This would equate to 54 EVs vying for every public device by 2030 – even if the 300,000 public charge point milestone is reached.
Consequently, it is not surprising that the clamour for off-street parking amongst EV drivers means that two thirds (68 per cent) say they would never buy or live in a house without the space to install their own charge point.
Jonny Berry, head of decarbonisation at Novuna, says that it is clear that the level of adequate public charging infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the current demand for EVs, and there is no hope of being able to support mass adoption of EVs by the start of the next decade without radical change.
“The Government vows to have 300,000 public chargers installed by 2030, but with just 32,000 devices in the ground today, our research puts into question whether this target is achievable,” remarks Berry. “It has taken ten years to reach this milestone – we must now build the same number in a single year – and then repeat that feat every year until the end of the decade.”
For the majority of motorists, the onus is on the public sector to accelerate the rollout of charge points. Four in five EV drivers (81 per cent) want the Government to do more to boost the number of chargers in the UK, and virtually the same proportion (79 per cent) want their local authority to do more. Petrol and diesel drivers agree (71 per cent and 68 per cent respectively), wanting to see better provision before they make the switch.
Berry concludes: “Our findings highlight how the charging network is not only a cause of frustration for EV drivers, but also the millions of petrol and diesel drivers looking to transition to electric sooner rather than later. Having to queue for a charge is a concern raised all too often by motorists, illustrating just how pressing it is for more charge points to be installed as a matter of urgency. Without radically transforming existing infrastructure addressing charging anxiety, the road map to net zero will undoubtedly extend beyond 2030.”