It’s not a lack of public charge point that is putting drivers off

by | Apr 5, 2019

Many of you will have seen the recent BBC News article declaring that a ‘patchy’ network of charging points is discouraging UK drivers from embracing electric cars.

I’m always amazed by the attitude of the press in their reporting of electric cars. It wasn’t that long ago when we were getting lambasted by the local BBC for wasting public money installing charge points when there weren’t enough cars on the roads to use them. You can’t have it both ways, BBC.
 
The article looks at local authority areas and makes like-for-like comparisons and ranks authorities by the numbers of charge points in their area. There’s also an accompanying map which shows the average distance between them. Let’s also mention the use of an outdated headline image of a Twizy (with three pin plug) and a case study on a driver who has no access to off-street parking for charging. It doesn’t get more one-sided than that.
 
So here’s why I disagree:
 
  • There just aren’t enough vehicles to buy
If I only had one point to make about the accuracy of this article – this would be it.
 
It’s not the lack of charge points that is disuading potenial EV buyers but the fact that we don’t have enough vehicles on the market to meet demand. If we didn’t have huge waiting lists to buy the next models of EV and instead we had dealerships with car parks filled with unsold electric cars, then maybe I would believe that there is a problem. But, at the moment, the simple fact is that manufacturers don’t have the capacity to manufacture any more car batteries – which in turn means that they can’t produce enough cars to meet demand across Europe (and the rest of the world).
 
  • Those that have bought, are charging at home
The market is still in its infancy and for the most part, people who are driving electric cars have the ability to charge at home. There are still Government grants available towards the cost of installing domestic charge points to help them to do this. Research shows that drivers charge at home for 80% of the time, so why do we need charge points on every street at one mile intervals? We don’t right now.
 
I have been driving a Nissan Leaf for almost six years and have not encountered any problems with charging, but it helps that I have a driveway and can charge at home.
 
I commend any driver who purchases an electric car without access to off-street parking for charging (such as the case study shown by the BBC) yet, it is still quite rare for someone to buy a car at this moment in time, when they can’t charge at home. But new developments like filling stations (mentioned below) will change this soon.
 
  • Should it really be all about the numbers?

Making comparisons of the number of charge points in any local authority just makes no sense – how can you compare somewhere like Birmingham (with a population of 1.2 million) with somewhere like Rutland (39,000)? Should local authorities really just be scattering standard charge points all over their streets just so that they can say that they have ‘enough’?

What today’s cash strapped local authorities should be doing is being sensible with their investments and using data to make sure that they put the right equipment in the right locations where drivers will need them – in other words creating networks which are demand led.

Filling stations, like the type we have seen in Milton Keynes and the one opening in Sunderland very shortly, will be the future – placing multiple, rapid chargers, in key locations, easily accessible for drivers.

  • There is a rapid charge point in every single motorway service station

With every single motorway service station home to a rapid charge point (helping EV drivers to make longer journeys), I’m not sure how you can call the network ‘patchy’ in terms of geography. There may not be a charge point in every single town centre however we have to ask ourselves whether there needs to be.

  • The private sector will make a difference

One thing I do agree with from this article is that if you compare local authority areas, there is definitely an uneven spread. The initial electric vehicle charging networks were developed thanks to grant funding with grants allocated through competitive bids. Some councils bid and were successful (in places where we have some very comprehensive networks), some councils bid and were unsuccessful, some councils didn’t apply at all. So yes, it has become an uneven landscape if we rely on the public sector.

However, like any market, now that we are beginning to see a demand, the private sector is stepping in. We’ve seen Shell and BP entering the market and supermarket chains installing rapid charge points for their customers. We’re also seeing the rise of more EV filling stations – which will make a real difference to drivers in the future.

Electric vehicle charging technology is changing fast. When we installed some of the first charge points in the UK, the most powerful charge points were 7kW. Nowadays, as technology changes (on both the cars and the charge points themselves), we are seeing 175kW charge points available. It’s not sensible or feasible to rush in to install charge points everywhere – what we need now is for the public and private sector to work together an build an infrastructure for the future.

Zero Carbon Futures is an electric vehicle consultancy specialising in the roll-out of charge point networks.

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