1. Home
  2. EV Charging
  3. Switch to electric cars hit by ‘poor’ charging infrastructure
Switch to electric cars hit by ‘poor’ charging infrastructure

Switch to electric cars hit by ‘poor’ charging infrastructure


Difficulties with recharging on long journeys one of biggest barriers

To test the UK’s readiness for electric vehicles, David Wright, chief electricity engineer at National Grid, sent some colleagues on a 565-mile round trip from the utility’s offices in Wokingham, Berkshire, to Teesside.

The goal was to see how easy it was to make a long journey using the UK’s vehicle charging network, which varies greatly in speed, accessibility and location.

“Nine hours of driving, four hours of charge,” Mr Wright recounted of the journey at a BP conference on electric vehicles in London last month.

Parliament’s business, energy and industrial strategy select committee has described Britain’s charging infrastructure as “poor” and “lacking in size and geographical coverage”, and experts say this is one of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in the UK.

Energy network operators, charging companies and motoring associations warn that questions over where and how quickly drivers will be able to charge their vehicles, and how much investment is needed in energy grids to support vehicle charging must be considered with far greater urgency if Britain wants to meet accelerated targets to decarbonise its economy.

Last month the Committee on Climate Change, a government advisory body, recommended bringing forward a 2040 deadline to end the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars to 2035 “at the latest” as part of a wider target to cut the country’s net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

Theresa May is hoping to put the net-zero target into law before she leaves office in July, although Philip Hammond, the chancellor, has warned that the transition will cost the UK over £1tn, and entail a total ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2050, along with a tenfold increase in electric charging points.

Sales of electric-only vehicles have grown rapidly in the UK — they were up 63 per cent in April compared with the same time last year — but still represent only 0.9 per cent of new car sales, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

A government poll of driving licence holders in 2016 showed the main factor deterring people from buying an electric vehicle was concern about recharging their battery. Cost was also a consideration, and was cited as the main deal breaker in a recent survey by the AA motoring organisation. However, the sticker price of electric vehicles is expected to reach parity with diesel and petrol cars by the middle of the next decade.

Reassuring drivers that they will be able to charge their car quickly, and when they need to, will take longer.

For drivers with access to off-street parking, most charging is likely to be done at home, according to Regen, a not-for-profit group. But for the estimated 30-40 per cent who do not have easy access at home, and for drivers travelling long distances, charging options are less predictable.

Solutions may include charging at work, using public kerbside charge points, charging at a petrol station or supermarket, using high-powered chargers at motorway service stations or even wireless charging, which has been trialled with buses in Milton Keynes.

“The [current] charging infrastructure, you can make it work . . . but if we want this to really take off we need big charging infrastructure,” said Dustin Benton, policy director at the Green Alliance, a think-tank.

Vehicle charging on the UK’s motorway network is dominated by Ecotricity, a start-up that has installed 300 chargers but faced poor consumer reviews. Last week Dutch company Fastned opened a new superfast 350kW EV fast-charging station in Sunderland — although there are currently no cars sold in the UK that can use it — and is planning five more 50kW charging points in the area.

Other companies have also begun to show interest in charging infrastructure. Both BP and Shell have invested in charging companies and are rolling out chargers at petrol station forecourts, while Tesla, the electric vehicle manufacturer, has its own network of superchargers, although these cannot be accessed by other car users. But companies are reluctant to invest too fast for fear of ending up with stranded assets.

“We don’t know yet . . . what people really want to do in terms of charging,” Richard McMahon, of Warwick university, told the BP conference.

There are also questions surrounding the capacity of electricity grids to accommodate demand for powerful fast chargers, and whether investment will be required by network companies — which could push up energy bills for consumers.

“People talk about connecting these ultra fast chargers at strategic locations and various destination points [but] they potentially put a lot of local strain into the [electricity] distribution system and what we need to do is to start putting investment into that distribution system to allow it to cope with that,” said Keith Anderson, chief executive of Scottish Power, which owns electricity networks in parts of Scotland, Wales and north-west England.

Graeme Cooper, project director for electric vehicles at National Grid, said a “really grown up discussion” is needed between the energy industry, transport sector, government and Ofgem around the type of investment that will be required, as upgrades to the grid cannot be left to market forces.

Mr Cooper said they should identify “least regret” investments, such as powerful chargers on motorways, so further uptake of electric vehicles can be supported without risking costly stranded assets.

Even if the charging network was dramatically improved, an accelerated 2035 target could come as a shock for vehicle manufacturers. They would rather phase in a transition to recoup their investments on older engine technology.

“2035 is a stretch,” said Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT.

“We’re an industry built over 120 years of internal combustion, and shifting to a technology that’s not relatively new but is a fundamental turning point for the industry.”

Additional reporting by Chris Tighe

Source: ft
Anand Gupta Editor - EQ Int'l Media Network


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *