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Accelerating the switch: How Local Authorities can provide a boost for electric vehicle infrastructure

Sweco authors: Tim Taylor & Steven Dijkstra-Downie

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) are becoming a popular choice for motorists as they consider making the switch from petrol and diesel cars for their next purchase, and the market for second-hand EVs is also growing, as more come onto the market. In the UK there was a 186% increase in BEV sales over the previous year accounting for 6.6% of all new vehicles sales. However, as of August 2021, there were just under 300,000 pure electric vehicles registered in the UK. So why has the adoption of EV’s slowed down…and what can we do collectively to speed it up again in the chase for Net Zero? 

Electric Vehicle Charger Infrastructure

Roadblocks to progress: why improve the UK’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure?

One factor restricting a rapid increase in EV sales is people’s perception of vehicle range, and in turn the perceived lack of available public chargers (although websites like A Better Routeplanner and Zap Map do a fantastic job of providing details of charger locations across the UK). Additionally, unless people live in homes with off-street parking and can install a home EV charger, then EV drivers have to rely solely on public chargers.

In 2020 the total number of public chargers was 17,034 AC fast chargers and 3,930 DC rapid chargers. This compares to 8,380 filling stations in the UK. Public EV chargers tend to be located in different places to filling stations, therefore people might not realise quite how many chargers are available, often in convenient locations. A few filling stations and service stations are now installing rapid chargers, but these tend to be at premium-rate tariffs, and few people wish to hang around at a filling station while they wait for their car to charge.

‘Range anxiety’ however does not reflect reality for most UK EV drivers. Few if any drivers actually run out of charge. The average distance travelled in the UK is 20 miles and with most vehicles having a full range capacity between 120 to 200 miles, charging is usually required only once a week unless undertaking longer journeys. With the range question addressed, the obstacle to adoption can indeed be pin-pointed as charger-point availability.

How local authorities can embrace emerging best practices for electric vehicle charging infrastructure

Local authorities can help increase charging infrastructure by either installing their own chargers or contracting this work to a major charging company. If done correctly, a growing number of charge points would provide many benefits to the councils as drivers will flock to their car parks to charge, possibly spending money in the local economy as they wait for their vehicles to obtain the required amount of charge.

Another difficulty with BEV charging infrastructure has been the wide variety and unfamiliarity with different charger brands. Some chargers have been poorly maintained over the last few years and have a long-winded procedure to activate the unit, making the driver set up a payment account on a mobile app first. This was especially true for the Electric Highway network installed at all major motorway services by Ecotricity. Last year, a new company called Gridserve took ownership of the Electricity Highway and replaced these old charger units with faster, reliable and more powerful units that accept contactless card payments – similar to companies like Instavolt and Osprey.

Charging types currently available:

Type Power Average Charge Time
Slow (AC) 3 to 5kW 20 hours from empty
Fast (AC) 7 to 22kW 4-8 hours from empty
Rapid (DC) 50kW 80% charge in 20-60 minutes
Ultra Rapid (DC)* 100kW and above 80% charge in 20 minutes or longer

*The majority of EVs have the ability to accept rapid DC charging. At present only a few premium EVs have charging capabilities above 100 kW DC.

Local authorities also need to better understand the charging times of vehicles in order to ensure that the correct chargers are put into place to supplement home charging. For example, a long stay car park where people leave vehicles for extended periods of time like hotels or commuter train stations will benefit from the installation of several slow or fast chargers. Whereas car parks where people commonly stop for one hour or less will be suitable for rapid charging and a few fast chargers for ‘splash-and-dash’ charging. These will include places like leisure centres, restaurants, and supermarkets. Ideally all towns need a mixture of both AC fast and DC rapid chargers to meet the on-going needs of the UK public.

LAs also need to make the locations of the charging spaces clear to both EV and internal combustion engine (ICE) drivers. Suitable parking fines and enforcement needs to be used to prevent ICE vehicles parking in EV charging bays (a process known as ICEing), and to stop EV drivers parking and not charging at chargers, or overstaying at rapid chargers. Parking tariffs also need to be clear so that the EV drivers are aware if they need to purchase parking tickets when charging.

  1. Ideally all towns need a mixture of both AC fast and DC rapid chargers.
  2. The location of the charging spaces must be clear to both EV and internal combustion engine (ICE) drivers alike.
  3. Suitable parking fines and enforcement needs to be issued for ICE vehicles parking in EV charging bays to stop the process known as ICEing.
  4. Parking tariffs also need to be clear so that the EV drivers are aware if they need to purchase parking tickets when charging.