Electric vehicle charging infrastructure policy is stifling adoption: a UK case study

By Joshua Gordon

 

For over a century the internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle has dominated the automotive marketplace, and despite the introduction of electric vehicles (EVs), their adoption remains painfully slow: EV market share in the UK currently stands at 1.7% of the total vehicle stock. A recent survey conducted by the UK Department of Transport found that cost, range anxiety, and unproven technology were significant barriers to adoption. However, the number one factor deterring drivers away from EVs is the ability to recharge.

 

Innovation Observatory recently spoke with Keith Johnson, the CEO at Urban Electric to discuss the common barriers with EV charging infrastructure in the UK today. Keith was previously the Manager Director at GoinGreen who brought to market the G-Wiz and has over 16 years of experience working in e-mobility and charging networks.

The problem

The UK Government has focused on policy to enhance public and private charging infrastructure. Financial incentives are available to encourage EV drivers with access to off-street parking to install home-charging units. Local councils have access to funding to install on-street EV chargers. The former has been successful, the latter has so far failed.

 

“Historically, public charging infrastructure development has not been demand led, it has been at the discretion of local councils, and this doesn’t always meet with the needs of drivers because chargers are located in the wrong location, or have not been properly maintained,” explains Keith. “Today we are seeing an emphasis on creating ultra-fast charging hubs and replicating the petrol station model with the electric equivalent.”

 

Over the next ten years, only 8% of charging will be serviced by public infrastructure, meaning it will only contribute to a small portion of charging. The world’s largest EV trial confirms that 87% of EV drivers charge at home. However, current home-charging solutions can only accommodate drivers with access to off-street parking.

Drivers want to charge at home

Charging at home is the preferred choice for EV drivers. However, 43% of households do not have access to off-street parking. In London, this is as high as 70%. Providing access to on-street charging solutions to drivers is the Achilles heel of the EV industry.

Oxford case study: on-street parking statistics

  • 28% live in terraced houses
  • 75% of respondents park their car on the street
  • 74% want to charge at home

Source:  Go Ultra Low Oxford Survey

 

The UEone pop-up charger develop by Urban Electric is claimed as the first workable solution to serve on-street parking drivers in residential parking zones. “The retractable charger is installed underground, therefore, is out-of-site when not in use, this is important as local authorities are increasingly trying to make sure that the urban environment is clean and not cluttered, which is an issue with current street chargers,” Keith Johnson, CEO of Urban Electric said.

 

Lamp-post charging is a notable exception. Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council in collaboration with OVO Energy and Ubitricity have turned 50 lamp posts into EV charging points. However, lamp post charging does not provide certainty of access, because of the shortage of suitable lamp posts and the likelihood of conventional vehicles being parked in the way.

 

Earlier this year, Oxford became the first city in the world to trial Urban Electric’s pop-up charger. “We will install 10-20 chargers on a residential street at a time, free of charge to the council. Creating an oversupply is crucial in providing a certainty of availability, and as EV adoption increases, we will simply install more chargers,” says Keith.

 

Looking ahead, the prospect of inductive or wireless charging will increase access to charging, allowing vehicles to charge as they drive. The technology is already live in Milton Keyes, where Arriva operates a fleet of eight electric buses that charge inductively while stationary at bus stops. Furthermore, BMW recently launched its own wireless charging system for passenger vehicles.

 

Earlier this month, the Department of Transport published its Road to Zero Strategy and pledged funds of £40m to develop and trial low-cost wireless charging and on-street charging solutions, recognising the need for more innovative solutions to EV charging.

Can the grid cope?

More EVs means further stress on the electricity grid. According to the National Grid, EVs will generate an extra 18GW of demand by 2050, the equivalent of about 30% of today’s peak demand. Investment in electricity infrastructure will be needed. However, technology in demand-side management has emerged as a crucial component of mitigation.

 

Electricity demand generally peaks during day-time hours. Smart charging and time-of-use incentives are in development to avoid simultaneous EV charging at peak times. From a driver perspective, the most convenient time to charge is when the vehicle is idle for a period of longer than four hours, which is most reliably overnight.

 

On balance, charging overnight uses less carbon-intensive electricity, and because demand is low, electricity is cheaper. Octopus Energy recently launched the first-ever EV specific tariff that will provide customers with four hours per night of electricity at 5p/kWh, on average, this is 25 percent cheaper than the standard Economy 7-night tariffs. Energy suppliers see the need to develop mitigating strategies that assist with grid management.

Final thoughts

In the UK, the availability of EV charging infrastructure remains one of the critical constraints for drivers. A large proportion of the population particularly in urban areas do not have access to off-street parking. A significant test for the industry is developing easy access on-street charging provisions. Urban Electric’s UEone pop-up charger is one solution, but there is undoubtedly an appetite for more. What drivers seek is easy access to charge at home.

 

[First image licensed to Ingram Image]

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