Currently reading: Analysis: Who will charge our electric vehicles?
Our report looks at who will expand UK’s EV charging network
Julian Rendell
News
4 mins read
6 December 2019

Growth in the UK’s public electric car charger network will come from dedicated charger companies, utilities and the government, rather than car makers, an Autocar investigation has concluded.

Apart from the Ionity rapid-charging network, which is funded by a consortium of nine car makers, very few if any of the 60-plus car brands operating in the UK are funding charging infrastructure to speed up the adoption of electric cars. “We consider it is up to private network operators and the government,” said the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

At the recent launch of the Peugeot e-208, Carlos Tavares, boss of the PSA Group that owns Peugeot, made it clear that PSA does not see charging networks as a core business, even though uptake of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) like the e-208 might be held back by buyers’ concern over public charging networks.

A recent survey by Autocar sibling title What Car? linked buyers’ caution to buying BEVs to sparse charging networks, alongside range anxiety and a shortage of affordable models.

A PSA Group UK spokesman confirmed that Tavares’ view is also policy for its UK subsidiary, Vauxhall, whose Corsa-e will be launched in April 2020.

The same goes for PSA’s UK sales operations for Peugeot, Citroën and DS, also with new EVs due in 2020 and ’21. “This is a business decision because there are companies already in the infrastructure area better placed to supply that service,” said the spokesman.

UK car market leader Ford is taking a different approach as a founding partner in Ionity, which this year opened its first 350kW fast-charge sites in the UK as part of a Europe-wide plan to mirror the Tesla Supercharger network.

Ionity’s other partners are Volkswagen, Hyundai and Kia, plus premium market leaders Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Mini and Porsche. Progress isn’t happening overnight, but Ionity now has three sites operating in the UK, with a fourth being built.

Electric car pioneer Renault has steered clear of investing in public charging, although, like all car makers with a BEV in its range, it has a preferred supplier of 7kW home chargers and exploits the commercial potential of RFID cards, which process the payments of Zoe drivers using public chargers.

Nissan, also a BEV pioneer, took a significant step in 2012 as a co-funder of the Ecotricity 50kW fast-charging network, now up to 300 charging points. But that marked the limit of its public charging investment and now Ecotricity is struggling to deliver a reliable service.

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Of course, Ionity can’t do all the heavy lifting itself and its planned UK network of 40 fast-charging sites, equivalent to about 160 individual 350kW chargers, will make only a small dent in the future requirement for a widespread UK fast-charger network.

In fact, Ben Lane, co-founder of the online Zap Map service, which helps drivers locate the UK’s 26,000 public chargers, believes it’s too late for car makers to enter that market.

Lane said: “There are already so many well-established charger businesses operating in the UK, and we are now seeing oil companies moving in as they see their petrol and diesel business dying away, that it’s hard to see a role for OEMs [car makers] in charging.”

Estimates vary as to how much the public charging network needs to expand, but ambitious government targets for “50% to 75%” of UK new cars sales to be BEVs or plug-in hybrids by 2030 suggest a significant expansion. Last week, the government released a ‘league table’ of the number of electric car chargers by local authority and London is dominating. The government is urging local authorities elsewhere to take advantage of a £5 million grant to install chargers. More than 100 local authorities have fewer than 10 public charging devices per 100,000 people.

There are around 3000 fast chargers – defined as 100kW upwards – in the UK already. This type of charger can top up a 90kW battery in 45 minutes. How many are needed in the next decade is a moot point because so many unknowns make accurate forecasts tricky.

Although one recent study suggested a tenfold increase to 30,000, BP Chargemaster believes the right size might be in the “low tens of thousands”.

Companies like BP Chargemaster, Pod Point, Genie Point, Shell and Instavolt are almost certainly the future for UK public rapid charging, occasionally drawing on government help where the business case is weak. But it’s unlikely car makers will feature. They’ll be too busy creating the next generation of BEVs.

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31

6 December 2019

 Charging points aren't going to overnight pop up at the corner of every street in the country, it's going to take time, maybe five ten years before decent convient coverage, and EV cars should be more efficient too, Ev's might not be the solution in all parts of the country, what about people who live in rural areas, or on the Islands of our coast?, I can't see how that benefits the islanders or a charge provider?

6 December 2019
Peter Cavellini wrote:

 Charging points aren't going to overnight pop up at the corner of every street in the country, it's going to take time, maybe five ten years before decent convient coverage, and EV cars should be more efficient too, Ev's might not be the solution in all parts of the country, what about people who live in rural areas, or on the Islands of our coast?, I can't see how that benefits the islanders or a charge provider?

Take a look at Zap-Map. There are charging locations on all the populated islands, and on the mainland as rurally the furthest tips of Scotland.

Admittedly, *rapid* chargers get increasingly rare the more rural you look, and will probably need supporting by the government or a car manufacturer to make them financially viable.

6 December 2019
Peter Cavellini wrote:

 Charging points aren't going to overnight pop up at the corner of every street in the country, it's going to take time, maybe five ten years before decent convient coverage, and EV cars should be more efficient too, Ev's might not be the solution in all parts of the country, what about people who live in rural areas, or on the Islands of our coast?, I can't see how that benefits the islanders or a charge provider?

The longest journey on Lewis the largest minor island in the UK is 85 miles. Space is generally not at a premium so charging off road isn't an issure for virtually all owners. Petrol is normaly very expensive on an island as it must be brought in via tanker/ferry.

Electric cars make more sense on an island than pretty much anywhere else.

6 December 2019

it won't go to the places where there's no people. They could stick to engines, but run on ethanol and biodiesel. electric doesn't have to replace everything

7 December 2019

There are multiple charge points in most buildings in the UK. Scotland has more public chargepoints per head of population in remote areas than rUK, powered by mostly "green" energy. Highlands & Islands have plenty of public chargers for tourists & residents alike. 

6 December 2019
Good to see some decent analysis on this subject. But a couple of corrections...

Autocar wrote:

There are around 3000 fast chargers – defined as 100kW upwards – in the UK already. This type of charger can top up a 90kW battery in 45 minutes. How many are needed in the next decade is a moot point because so many unknowns make accurate forecasts tricky.

- There are only 14 non-Tesla locations in the UK with connectors rated 100 kilowatts or higher. The "around 3000" figure looks like it refers to the number of 50kW+ rapid charging devices.

- "Fast charging" usually refers to a midpoint between slow 2-3kW charging (what you get out of the mains or a basic wallbox) and the 50kW+ of a rapid charger. Typically they are 7-22kW - a good figure for shopping centres, multiplexes and supermarkets.

- The paragraph doesn't differentiate kilowatts (kW, a unit of power) and kilowatt-hours (kWh, a unit of energy). A lot of people make this mistake, but it's a very fundamental thing for an automotive journalist to get wrong. kW is the rating of a car's charging speed or motor output (although you'd normally use bhp for the latter); kWh is the storage capacity of the car's battery.

...And the article does manage to completely step around the elephant in the room - that Tesla is a manufacturer that's built their own network, and it's become the company's most important selling point. Superchargers aren't exactly all over the place, but are widespread enough that anyone who can charge from home can get anywhere in the country.

And most importantly, unlike third-party operations (I'm looking at you Ecotricity), they haven't saved money by using cheap, unreliable charging units deployed in small numbers per site. It's the dependability of the Supercharger network that puts it in another league to anything else. This is what other networks need to emulate.

There's no point in the government investing in the network unless they mandate a minimum level of reliability, and/or a minimum number of rapid charging units at major locations. We need more stations like Superchargers, and less like Ecotricity.

Also, the rollout of 100kW+ chargers needs to accelerate. 50kW is no longer the norm for the latest cars.

7 December 2019

 . . . .  knows what they are taking about, as the journalist clearly didn't.  For example the crucial difference between 'Rapid' charging and 'Fast' charging.

If you set the threshold at 150KW the number of non-Tesla chargers in the UK is even lower than the 14 in Vertigo's comment.  Zap-map is almost prohibitively difficult to use and often inaccurate as well.

7 December 2019

 . . . .  knows what they are taking about, as the journalist clearly didn't.  For example the crucial difference between 'Rapid' charging and 'Fast' charging.

If you set the threshold at 150KW the number of non-Tesla chargers in the UK is even lower than the 14 in Vertigo's comment.  Zap-map is almost prohibitively difficult to use and often inaccurate as well.

6 December 2019
Classic chicken and the egg situation. No one wants to fund and maintain lots of chargers not used enough to be economic and people are reluctant to buy EVs until they know they can charge quickly everywhere.

The answer is not nationalisation but it will need the government to fund the infrastructure initially, I would place one big contract with a lone supplier via tender to build a network which belongs to the state and the running of which could be awarded every few years by tender.
Left to the market, areas where a charger is desperately needed but does not earn enough to justify it will be ignored. Like the royal mail charter that requires it to deliver everywhere even some places at a loss - balanced by the income from more profitable areas, this sort of government contract is the only way it will ever meet any target for an EV future. Make the network and manufacturers will respond and give us the cars.

6 December 2019

It's not just the amount of charging sites that is the problem, it's the different providers.

With petrol, even though the suppliers are different, the delivery method is exactly the same and universal. You can pull in to any petrol station, regardless of brand and get fuel from the pump. Plus, the whole process takes less than 10 minutes to get a 600 mile range in some cars.

With these charging stations, because they are unmanned, you need an RFID card to activate the charger (which don't always work anyway) and each provider has it's own RFID card scheme. Until you can pull in, plug in, charge to 200 miles range and be on your way in under 10 minutes, at any station (regardless of who runs it) without having to worry about whether the charger works, whether you have the right card or if your car has the correct port and adapter, BEVs are a complete non-starter for most people. Especially outside of big cities. 

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