Report: UK needs to install five times as many EV charging points to meet climate goals

In recent years, an average 7,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging points have been installed annually across the UK. But that rate will need to increase to 35,000 per year.

6.5% of cars registered in the UK in 2020 were fully electric, according to the SMMT. But range anxiety and charging point access remain major deterrents for motorists

6.5% of cars registered in the UK in 2020 were fully electric, according to the SMMT. But range anxiety and charging point access remain major deterrents for motorists

That is according to a new policy briefing from Policy Exchange, developed to help the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for BEIS to work with industry and local authorities to prepare for the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales.

Entitled ‘Charging Up’, the document warns that the government’s approach to rolling out charging infrastructure in the past has been too slow and that progress between regions has been mixed at best. Rural areas are generally lagging behind towns and cities, the report states, noting that this is inconsistent with the Conservative Party’s commitment to “levelling up” all regions.

The Government used the 2020 Budget to announce an ambition that no EV driver should be more than 30 miles away from a rapid, publicly accessible charging point at any time – an ambition it backed with £500m for fast-charging networks.

Policy Connect’s recommendations for delivering against this vision include launching competitive tenders for charging point networks in areas that are underserved, complete with a minimum annual revenue guarantee for owners and operators. Tenders for motorway service areas should have a fast-charging requirement and should be paired with the solutions needed to improve the grid, like onsite battery storage.

The organisation is also calling for the creation of dedicated “Chargepoint Teams” in local authorities, after previous research found that many councils lack the in-house knowledge and access to finance needed to roll out infrastructure.

Should the government fail to change its approach, some areas could become “EV charging blackspots”. This would be detrimental to businesses looking to electrify their fleets, individuals looking to travel more sustainably and, ultimately, the UK’s progress towards its net-zero goal. Transport is notably the most emitting sector in the UK.

Aside from the number of charging points, ‘Charging Up’ also conveys concerns around the user experience for EV chargers. It recommends that the government introduces a maximum price charge to mitigate the risk of “local monopolies” – situations in which one operator charges excessively high prices simply because it is the only option in a region. It also called for more to be done to improve interoperability and levels of reliability. For example, the government could support a universal app for payment and penalise charging point operators for leaving points out of service for too long.

“We’re recommending a new system for the Government to support chargepoint installations,” lead report author Ed Birkett said. “This uses a similar approach to the UK’s successful auctions for offshore wind farms, which involved the Government procuring wind capacity but the delivery was all on the private sector side. That meant companies competing to produce cheaper and more innovative technologies, which has made us a world leader in wind technology.

“If the Government gets this right, then EVs can be a practical choice for drivers right across the UK. We’re concerned about patchy deployment of chargepoints, which runs against the Government’s plans for Levelling Up and a strong and connected Union.”

Transport transition

Under Theresa May, the UK Government had initially introduced the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales with a 2040 deadline. Following criticism from green groups, including its own Committee on Climate Change, over the policy’s alignment with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target, Boris Johnson moved in February 2020 to alter the deadline to 2035.

A further alteration was confirmed in late 2020, with the publication of Johnson’s Ten Point Plan for the green recovery.

Proponents of the accelerated phase-out included green campaign groups and businesses with large fleets, including Royal Mail and Tesco. For the latter, the date provided certainty around investment decisions for transitioning fleets.

Some carmakers and trade bodies, however, have argued that the industry needs more support to change designs and manufacturing equipment; to pivot the skills pipeline and to ensure EVs have adequate infrastructure.

The Government’s answer to these overcoming these concerns and inspiring other nations to follow suit is the ‘Zero Emission Vehicle Transition Council’ – a body which convenes ministers specialising in transport, business and the environment from 12 nations alongside representatives from the car sector. The Council will meet in the lead-up to COP26 to develop national emissions targets for transport specifically, or national goals for zero-emission vehicle adoption, along with supporting measures.

Sarah George


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