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UK Government Issues “Fluffy” Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy

In 2021, 190,000 battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in the UK. This was more than the five previous years combined, and nearly 1 in 8 of all new cars sold. In December 2021, over a quarter of all new cars sold in the UK were battery electric vehicles. The equivalent figure for 2019 was less than 2%.

One thing is for sure, we’re going electric. The government recently released their report ‘Taking charge: the electric vehicle infrastructure strategy.

The Government’s Grand Plan

The government laid out their plan to remove charging infrastructure as a ‘perceived, and real, barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles.’ They said that EV charging should be cheaper and more convenient than filling up traditional petrol and diesel cars.

They believe that understanding the exact number of charging points that are needed is ‘uncertain’, due to ongoing changes in both battery/charging technology and consumer preferences. Their plan seems more like a rough projection, in their words: ‘By 2030, we expect there to be around 300,000 public charging points as a minimum in the UK, but there could potentially be more than double that number’

The Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, had this to say: “Charging often starts at home, with most UK motorists having access to off-street parking. As an EV driver myself, I know that home-charging not only provides access to the cheaper electricity prices, but also means my car is charged each morning ready for the day ahead.”

This is easy for Grant Shapps to say, but doesn’t fill me with confidence about the minister’s plans to create a genuinely viable charging infrastructure. He goes on to say that charging for those without a charger on their drive should be just as convenient as those who will rely solely on public charging networks.

What about commercial vehicles?

Serious consideration also needs to be given to those who drive vans and commercial vehicles. Whilst we are overcoming the HGV driver crisis, electric vehicle regulations could bring unneeded issues to a logistics and haulage industry that is only just recovering.

There is also driver shortages in the private-hire industry. The prospect of spending time looking for and waiting at charging points can’t be an enticing picture for those thinking of driving professionally.

The government’s projection before 2030

  • Expect around 300,000 public chargers as a minimum by 2030.
  • £950 million rapid charging fund will support the rollout of at least 6,000 high powered charging points across England’s motorways and major A-roads by 2035. Confidence in the ability to undertake longer journeys is fundamental to EV adoption.
  • Support for local authorities with over £500 million of funding, helping them find innovative ways to increase local charging point coverage
  • By 2030, there will be up to 10 million battery-electric vehicles on the road.
  • Around 70% of households with a vehicle in England currently have access to private, off-street parking.

The current EV situation

There are around 29,600 public charging points in the UK of which over 5,400 are ‘rapid’, i.e. able to charge an EV in around 30 minutes. This infrastructure is serving around 750,000 plug-in vehicles (of which over half are pure battery electric). These numbers compare well to the 8,000 or so UK petrol stations (with around 66,000 spaces at pumps) currently serving around 37 million petrol and diesel vehicles.

The pace of deployment is also accelerating, with the certainty over phase-out dates driving private sector investments of hundreds of millions of pounds during 2021. On average, 100 new rapid chargers were added to the UK network every month during 2021.

Problems with the government’s plans

  • The pace of rollout is too slow – even taking into account the recent surge in charging point installation. The infrastructure needs to accelerate for the arrival of zero-emission new car fleets in 2035. Especially for car owners or professional drivers without home-charging. Fleet drivers will rely on this kind of charging.
  • Private charging is simply not an answer. Every EV, even those with home charging, will need access to reliable and fairly priced public charging.
  • There is a ‘chicken and egg’ problem. Buyers are reluctant to buy EVs until they is a proper charging network, but governments won’t prioritise them in areas without significant EV driver numbers
  • Local authorities are fundamental to a successful charging infrastructure rollout, especially for the development of widespread on-street charging. However, different local authorities are treating it with varying levels of urgency. Some are driving the agenda forward at pace, while others are short of dedicated resources and expertise. Planning permission delays are often cited as a major barrier.

My final comments

My impression of the government’s ‘vision statement’ is that it’s so fluffy you’d throw it in the laundry basket rather than the bin. Even if the government’s more optimistic forecasts are achieved, it remains unclear, how can it can that argue using a public charger will be more convenient than current practices? If an EV owner manages to incorporate a rapid charger location into their journey it will take 15-20 minutes compared to stopping for a couple of minutes on route at a petrol station?

The UK is majorly lagging behind other countries like the Netherland in many areas, so the repeated use of empty phrases like ‘world class’ really grates. The government’s document would rather point out flattering statistics than provide a real assessment. The government is keen to gloss over the fact that only a minority of chargers being installed are rapid or ultra-rapid capable. Slow charges just aren’t going to cut it for people that rely on public charging. They restrict spontaneity and freedom, which is at the very heart of car ownership.

Ultimately, rather than leading the way Mr Shapps seems to be saying ‘let’s see how we go’. To use an apt motoring analogy, you could compare him to Chevy Chase going round and round the round-about. He can’t decide which turn to take. Let’s hope he doesn’t touch the Sat Nav otherwise there could be another fixed penalty fine for a serving minister!

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