The rising challenge of electric vehicle charging in the UK

Posted on 28 February 2022

​The UK Government has already allocated over £1 billion towards accelerating the rollout of EV charging infrastructure, but there is a mounting challenge concerning the provision of public charging points to meet rising demands. In the next few weeks, the UK Government plans to release an infrastructure strategy detailing how the nation intends to meet this growing trend of electric vehicle owners. The core focus of the report will be on how people will charge their vehicles and aim to address concerns related to motorway charging services and on-street charging facilities.

The UK currently has one of the highest public charging points to battery vehicle ratios, with only Japan, China and South Korea higher than the UK. There are about 50,000 public chargers in residential streets, shopping centres and motorway/petrol service stations. Forecasts suggest the number of electric vehicles will rise to 7 million by 2030, after the government phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles. The EV industry is warning that the rollout of new chargers is not keeping pace with the rise of new vehicles. EV numbers increased to 400,000 between 2019 and 2021 but the number of public charging points increased at a much lower level. Industry groups are concerned that this is having a direct impact on customer confidence, with issues concerning vehicle range being replaced with anxieties related to charging availability. There are many calculations attempting to determine how many chargers will be required in the UK, so the new infrastructure report may struggle to include exact numbers, despite calls from industry members to add binding targets. Many people will be reluctant to purchase an electric vehicle until they see a clear improvement in charging infrastructure.

Slow charging systems will be vital for many EV customers depending on residential, on-street charging facilities. Off-street chargers can be installed quite easily on driveways. However, 40% of vehicle owners who lack a driveway will need access to on-street chargers and installing these systems can be more complicated. Local councils must approve planning for each unit or allow a private company to construct and install the cabling. With budgets reducing and a reluctance to decrease public parking spaces, the rollout has been relatively slow.

Planning officials confirm that the requirement for the local authority is the biggest challenge in the rollout of on-street charging facilities. Rapid charging systems, which are generally situated at petrol stations and shopping centres, will become more important, especially if on-street charging fails to grow as expected.

The UK automotive industry predicts that one in five cars on our roads, approximately 7 million vehicles will be electric by 2030. In 2021 the SMMT suggested that 2.3 million chargers would be required to meet the rising demand for electric vehicles. While the numbers may be lower, EV sales are rising each year, and changes need to be made to the current network. Industry representatives admit that for the EV industry to continue growing, particularly with homeowners lacking a driveway, developing charging infrastructure needs to happen much quicker.

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