Theoretically then, we’re already nearly halfway there, even though slower chargers will need replacing and the geographic imbalance must be addressed (for example, Greater London has 26% of chargers, while Wales has just 3%, says Zap-Map).
But public charging is already frustrating many users. “How the hell are we expected to get to carbon neutral when the charging network is so random, inconsistent and generally awful to use?” tweeted Conor Twomey, head of UK public relations for Mitsubishi, maker of the country’s best-selling plug-in hybrid, the Outlander PHEV.
A snapshot provided by ZapMap for 29 May showed that almost a quarter of chargers were out of service. Of those, 7.5% were flagged up with a problem while 16% were not communicating their status, leading Zap-Map to assume they were not working.
The sheer number of charger providers is one problem. Zap-Map lists more than 50, each with their own network and, sometimes, their own monopoly of a location. Ecotricity, for example, signed exclusive agreements with motorway service station operators such as Welcome Break, but has been singled out multiple times for the poor reliability of its chargers. The alternative is off-motorway stops, usually in places without the variety of shopping and eating choices motorway services offer. Ecotricity declined to comment.
Even if the charger is working, you then have to figure out how to use them. Some of the blame can be pinned on the car manufacturers themselves for not agreeing on a standard charging protocol, resulting in different connectors for different charging systems. CCS (combined charging system, so called because it combines AC and DC charging in a single plug) is becoming more popular, but the dominant connector is still the Japanese-developed Chademo DC system used by both the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi Outlander.
But perhaps the biggest stumbling block to usability is payment. To foster loyalty, a charger provider might require you to become a member and pay a monthly fee in return for cheaper charging. That might work fine if you stay in that network but, with more than 50 charger operators, it’s almost impossible.