FeatureThe EV Powered Interview

Zap-Map: In Charge

Melanie Shufflebotham, co-founder of the UK’s leading EV chargepoint mapping service, Zap-Map, discusses the landscape of electric vehicle charging in the UK, the challenges it faces, and what the future of charging may look like.

What is the story behind Zap-Map?

Zap-Map started with me and my co-founder, Ben Lane. We had another website, nextgreencar.com, which was really all about finding a low emission car. From that we were looking all sorts of different cars and in around 2012, we realised that electric cars were really going to be the winners.

We thought, at that point, the electric car drivers out there, how are they going to be able to find charging points? So we started by adding around 700 public charge points at that point into a spreadsheet and popped it up in a Google map within our website. Over the next couple of years, it became the most popular page on the website.

People started emailing us and saying we need an app and we thought “ohh we’re on to something here.” At the same time, the number of EV’s that were being sold in the market were going up as well. The market was growing, there were more and more people getting EV’s, so then we thought, we need to create a brand and set Zap-Map free.

How have you seen the electric vehicle charging industry change since you founded Zap-Map?

There’s been an absolute massive change. I think at the beginning, the people who had these were real pioneers and then became early adopters. So they were very knowledgeable and happy to do a lot of research and think thinking about things before going on a journey.

The majority of cars had much lower range so public charging was very, very important. There were also a lot less chargers. In some places there were no chargers at all. Ecotricity started rolling out their charge points along the motorway network, which was, I think, a very significant moment. Now, there are charge points across the whole country.

We’ve got the whole range of charge points, from the very low powered charge points on streets all the way up to the high-powered 350-kilowatt charge points. The people have changed so now it’s moved on from the very early adopters to maybe the early mass market where people want to buy an electric car.

They know all the advantages and want to get in and they want to just start to charge and start to use it. That means that everything needs to be a lot more simple. We need to have clearer language and everything needs to just work. I think those are probably the main the main changes.

What does the landscape of electric vehicle charging look like in the UK at the moment?

In 2023, we’ve seen that installations have really picked up pace. On average, over the last five months, we’ve had an average of around 1,600 new chargers installed and that’s compared to the same time last year, where around 900 a month were installed, so you can see that’s a big shift up.

Within that, the main thrust of the installations has been on ultra-rapid, 100 kilowatt or more chargers which is really great to see because that is the most visible area and the area where people can see the charge points and it makes a big difference to people. We’ve also seen a big increase in the number of charging hubs.

I looked at the numbers and there’s now 140 charging hubs with more than more than six rapid or ultra-rapid chargers, and then an additional 60 or so from Tesla. That’s that’s a significant increase from last year.

Is the UK too obsessed with targets for EV adoption and charging infrastructure?

I think the whole topic of targets is interesting. That target of having six rapid or ultra-rapid charge points at every single motorway services is clearly really important for the infrastructure. That is something that I would like to see happen. We know that there are some challenges in terms of installing these.

The will is there and I think the money is there, but there are some issues with getting the right connections so that these charge points can be installed. I think the flip side of that is that some motorway service stations, there are many more than six already. In the areas of high demand, you’ve got some some charge locations which have got 12-24 chargers already installed. I think also you’re finding that the motorway service is just one place to charge, but the number I was saying before i.e 140 charging hubs, very, very few of those are on the motorway service areas.

They might be just off on a road, they might be near a large town, so the charge point operators, if they’re not able to necessarily to install at the motorway service areas because of the contracts that are in place, they are finding locations just off the main routes and people are going to them.

Are there enough charging solutions for everyone? What do you say to the people with no off-street charging options?

There’s at least three different types of charging. There’s on-route charging which is very high profile and what EV drivers want. They want reliable chargers. They want more than one charger in a location, so they could be confident of a charge. They want it to be as high speed as possible and they want it to be near the key journey route, and I feel quite confident that that’s being installed at a decent rate. Then right at the other end of the scale, home charging.

When we survey our Zap-Map users, 84% of our users have home charging so they are happily charging at home and we think that those 600,000 home chargers can be a huge resource for community charging, sharing those charges with others, those people who don’t have off-street parking.

In the middle, there are all these destination chargers, which actually is the biggest category and they are at car parks and attractions, at B&B’s, at hotels and out of the 40,000 devices that are on Zap-Map, at least 20,000 we would categorise as destination chargers. For me, these are more about having the opportunity to have a charger to top up wherever you go.

We’ve currently got just under 800,000 electric car drivers on the road now. There are 30 million drivers out there and by 2030, when the ban comes in, there’ll be 10 million electric cars on the road. Even by 2030, there will be 20 million cars out there, which will, overtime, go electric.

Everyone will be going electric in the next seven years. Obviously, I’d love that to happen as quickly as possible, and it’s to me it’s a no brainer for people who’ve got off street parking for the reasons we know. For those people who don’t have off street parking. I think it is a little bit more of a decision.

I would say firstly, is there charging available in your area? Either community charging or local charging that is suitable for you? Or can you influence your local authority to start providing some charging? And what is your appetite to do that charging? I think it is less clear cut. If you haven’t got off street charging, there’s lots of solutions out there, but as an individual, you need to be up for it.

What does the EV industry need in order to accelerate the rollout of electric vehicle charging?

With on-route chargers, when I talk to the charger point operators, most of them say “we’ve got the money, we’ve got the business model, we just want to move faster.” That, typically, is what the charge point operators are saying. I think it is all about those logistical things. On the other side, at the other end, I think it is more about local authorities engaging.

When you look at various studies with local authorities, some of them are really powering ahead and others are maybe not engaged, and there are probably understandable reasons for that. Independent of that, it is important for all local authorities to start to engage in this and start building up expertise so that they can have a plan for their for their local community.

What trends do you see coming into the electric vehicle charging sector?

Number one, I see it continuing to shift towards hubs and ultra-rapid charging. In the not too distant future, 350-kilowatt chargers will be the standard chargers that are implemented. At the moment, very few cars can actually charge at that rate, but I think as batteries develop, I think that will be great. I think there’s going to be a whole load of information and market developments around pricing.

At the moment, all people are talking about is that there’s not enough charges. Soon, people will be saying there’s so many chargers and then it will be a different game. It’ll be about finding the cheapest, the greenest and people will be able to choose between all these different chargers. I also like the idea of having more facility for booking; I think that’s really important, particularly for fleets who have particular time constraints and they want to get to places at a particular time. I don’t see that all chargers will be bookable, but potentially if you’ve got a hub of ultra-rapid chargers, imagine if two or three or five of those were bookable and then the rest were coming in and out.

The other thing that I hope will happen is around pricing. At the moment, there is this disparity between the pricing of electricity at home and pricing of electricity on the on the public network. The people who have off-street parking not only benefit from the convenience of having charging at home and being able to link into their solar panels if they’re lucky enough to have installed solar panels, but they also have a cheaper electricity price because the VAT is only 5%, whereas when you get onto the public network, that is a 20% VAT rate.

I would like to see that equalised because I think when we move into the mass market, we need to make sure that electric cars are affordable, cheap to run and it doesn’t become the preserve of people who have got high income.

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