Momentum is gathering behind the switch to electric vehicles, but there are concerning disparities in chargepoint coverage. Huw Morris reports
Until last year, Ajai Ahluwalia faced a common dilemma. A resident of the south London borough of Lambeth, he is a driver who worries about the environment – but switching to an electric vehicle (EV) was out of the question.
“Living in a home without off-street parking makes this difficult,” he says. “The nearest chargers were a 15-minute walk away and it wasn’t guaranteed that I would be able to get a spot – this was a real nuisance, and I am sure it puts a lot of local people off making the switch.”
Plenty to gain
Under a deal with Lambeth Council and EV charging specialist Connected Kerb, Ahluwalia has now taken the plunge.
The project comprises 22 on-street EV chargers across 11 council estates to provide easy access to public charging, even for those without off-street parking. It forms part of the council’s wider strategy of working with multiple operators to install over 200 chargepoints.
Around a third of Lambeth’s residents live on council estates, with most lacking off-street parking. This forces a large proportion of drivers to rely on public EV charging infrastructure.
“People think EVs are the preserve of a fortunate few with detached houses and driveways, but this couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Connected Kerb chief executive Chris Pateman-Jones. “With running costs much lower than petrol and diesel cars, all communities, regardless of where they live, their social background or whether they have a driveway or not, have lots to gain.
“Unfortunately, some communities are being failed by a classic chicken and egg scenario. Without high EV adoption, chargepoint operators won’t build public charging, and without reliable charging, why would anyone go electric?”
“Without high EV adoption, chargepoint operators won’t build public charging, and without reliable charging, why would anyone go electric?”
A postcode lottery
Research published by Connected Kerb, with insight from experts at EY, UK Power Networks, Motability and the Mitie Group, reveals that EV registrations are exploding in the UK – up 154% in the year to February 2022, compared to 2021. They are expected to outstrip diesel and hybrid sales by the end of this year.
However, public charging is not keeping up, with the chargepoint-to-car ratio deteriorating by 31% in 2020 alone. This puts the UK’s ratio (16:1) behind other countries such as South Korea (3:1), the Netherlands (5:1), France (10:1), Belgium and Japan (both 13:1). It is estimated that the number of chargepoints will need to increase 10-fold by 2030 to cater for new EV drivers.
The transition to EVs is exposing disparities across communities. People in urban centres, high-rise flats and social housing estates are significantly less likely to have a private driveway, making it difficult to install a home chargepoint.
Not surprisingly, households that have access to a driveway make up 80% of EV owners, with the remaining 20% owned by those in houses or flats with no access to off-street parking, according to the Government Office for Science. At the same time, these communities have the most to gain from a clean transport revolution due to their exposure to the highest levels of toxic exhaust emissions and poorer air quality.
The Competition and Markets Authority warned last year of a “postcode lottery” in the UK’s EV charging network, amid major inequalities of chargepoint access. It forecasted that around eight million homes will have an EV by 2030 but will be unable to charge it at home.
The UK installs around 7,000 EV chargepoints a year, and moves are under way across Whitehall and the private sector to scale this up. The government has decided that all new homes and workplaces built in England from 2022 must have EV chargepoints as standard.
This will apply to new residential, office and retail development, as well as renovations where there are 10 or more parking spaces. The government expects this mandate to propel the installation of up to 145,000 EV chargepoints a year until 2030 – when the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales is enforced. Whitehall has also unveiled a EV infrastructure strategy to hit the target (see ‘The UK government’s EV strategy’, left).
Momentum is gathering elsewhere, too. In March, Innovation Gateway launched an initiative to share best practice on rolling out EV infrastructure, with Tesco, NatWest Group, LeasePlan UK, Defra and the Environment Agency spearheading the drive. EV charging business BP Pulse is investing £1bn in the UK over the next decade in a drive to roll out more rapid and ultra-fast chargers while expanding products and services to fleet and home users. This will triple the number of public chargepoints in the company’s network and accelerate the roll-out of 300kW and 150kW ultra-fast chargepoints, which give EVs power for up to 100 miles of range in 10 minutes.
“We’re investing to build a world-class network,” says senior vice president Richard Bartlett. “This allows us to deliver more high-speed charging in dedicated hubs and on existing fuel and convenience sites, more home charging services, and crucial enhancements to our digital technology that will make charging fast, easy and reliable.”
For Ahluwalia, the difference is palpable. “I’ve spoken to neighbours who have made the switch to an EV because of the chargers going in and they are reassured they can easily charge outside their flat. The more boroughs and estates this type of project can happen in, the better.”
The UK government’s EV strategy
By 2030, the government expects the number of public chargepoints in the UK to have increased from 29,600 today to 300,000. This is almost five times the number of fuel pumps currently available to drivers. It is also launching the Local EV Infrastructure Fund this spring for local authorities to bid for a share of £450m with which they can plan and deliver public charging infrastructure.
To speed up the roll-out of 6,000 rapid chargepoints across England’s motorways and major A-roads by 2035, the government will also consult on a Rapid Charging Fund between this winter and the spring of 2023.
Motorists without their own driveways and garages, as well as small businesses and charities, will be able to apply for financial support for chargepoints.
The strategy also envisages at least six ultra-rapid open-access chargepoints of 150kW–350kW at every motorway service area in England.
The government has pledged to work with Ofgem to encourage off-peak charging and keep connection costs low, with an electricity networks strategic framework to be published this year. It is also proposing new legislation to enable drivers to access open data and real-time information about public chargepoints, a single pricing metric of pence per kWh, and all public rapid chargepoints of 50kW and above to meet 99% minimum reliability standards by the end of 2023 to combat ‘range anxiety’ – the fear of driving an EV and running out of power.
The best and worst places for electric chargepoints
Milton Keynes is the best area in the UK to own an EV, according to CarGuide.co.uk, which analysed the number of chargepoints on the ZapMap app and Office for National Statistics data. It has 137.3 chargepoints per 100,000 people, while Coventry lies second, with 127.8. Brighton is third, with 117.9.
Bolton is the worst area to own an EV, with 8.3 chargepoints per 100,000 people, followed by Walsall, with 8.4, and Southend-on-Sea, which has 9.8.
“Creating a charging infrastructure sufficient to keep up with EV demand will likely prove challenging, given that sales have exceeded many expectations,” says CarGuide founder Olli Astley.
Huw Morris is a freelance writer.