This week, there have been calls for significant changes to the public EV charging infrastructure roll out in the UK.
Which? rightly states that public charging should be simple, reliable, totally open-access, and meet the needs of the drivers first and foremost. They report that 15% of EV charging occurs on the public network, reflecting the high number of current EV drivers who can charge from home. While the use of public charging is likely to increase, the ability to ‘refuel’ at home or work highlights a fundamental difference between EVs and petrol and diesel vehicles.
In future, EV drivers will be served by a mixture of home, workplace, slower public, faster public and super-fast public charging. They will choose based on access to home charging, journey length, and needs at that moment in time (e.g. proximity, amenities, charging speed). For the same driver this is likely to mean using a range of different charger speeds and locations at different times.
Given the still relatively small number of EVs compared to traditional vehicles, it is unclear right now how many of each of these types of charging, and in what locations, will be needed and used by EV drivers. EV driving comes with associated behavioural changes that are still maturing at a population level.
Some of the commentary this week, then, that EV charging points are unequally distributed regionally and are being outstripped by EV sales, is flawed.
The statement that EV chargers are unevenly distributed is a bit like saying that hospital beds are unevenly distributed: you need context and the underlying data, i.e. population numbers for hospital beds, rather than geographic surface area.
There are more EVs generally and higher demand where the public chargers are being installed. Data on EV locations can’t readily be obtained from registrations as many are registered with leasing companies or company head offices. Charge point operators (CPOs) can see where the car numbers and need is greatest from usage levels. At present, there are quite a few regions where public chargers are only used a handful of times per day, and others where there are undoubtedly insufficient public chargers for demand.
A further issue with taking regional disparities at face value is that it ignores the fact that many EV owners in more rural or suburban areas are more able to charge at home. Urban dwellers and others without the benefit of off-street parking do need public charging. In short, there is no magic ratio of chargers to cars that is “enough”, it will depend on the individual characteristics of the region.
Notwithstanding this, Osprey acknowledges we do need more public charging, and we and other CPOs are installing chargers throughout the UK, investing hundreds of millions of pounds of private money. Blanket government regulation will not be helpful. There are relatively straightforward things the government could do to help and which don’t need more valuable public money: mandating live charger availability data, wayleave powers for CPOs, planning guidelines promoting public charging, and the ability to install more lighting at sites to name a few.
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