Electric vehicle charging needs to get street smart

Alok Dubey, UK Country Manager at Monta, discusses grants that can help landlords’ future-proof their properties with EV charge points.

There is no doubt about the growing popularity of EVs in the UK as the cost of fossil fuels mounts and concerns grow over the environmental impact of diesel and petrol cars. A recent survey commissioned by Bridgestone found that 67% of motorists planned to switch to electric cars. The two most popular factors driving the change were the environmental benefits of EVs (56%) and cost savings on fuel bills (47%).

There were caveats however, with 74% expressing concerns over the cost of buying an EV, 66% worried about charge point infrastructure and 29% anxious about the range of EVs.

The issue of charge points is exacerbated by the high number of people that can’t charge their vehicles overnight at home. It is estimated 6.6 million homes (25% of UK households) have no way to charge EVs because they don’t have access to off-street parking.

In any case, the UK is struggling to ensure there will be enough charge points to support the expected increase in EV ownership. More than 190,000 EVs were registered in the UK last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and the forecast is for over 280,000 in 2022. But there were only around 25,000 charge points in the UK in 2021.

To give you an idea of the scale of what is required, it is predicted that up to 480,000 charge points will be needed by 2030. Last year, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) concluded a study into the EV charging market and called for action “to address the postcode lottery in electric vehicle charging as we approach the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030”.

So what options are there for prospective EV owners that don’t have their own driveway?

Some owners may be lucky enough to live in a local authority area that has installed or is planning to install large numbers of on-street charge points. At present, the numbers are quite limited. According to UK government figures, 2,641 public charging devices have been installed across local authorities in the UK as of 1 April 2022 with funding from the On-Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS). Funding has been awarded for an additional 8,415 ORCS charging points for the future.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request from 2021 found more than half of 216 local authorities, covering around 60% of the UK population, had not invested in EV infrastructure in the past 12 months. The geographical area that has the most EV charging points is Greater London with 10800, followed by the South-East with 4059 and Scotland with 2993.

The CMA has stated that local authorities “need to play a much more active role in rolling-out charging and maximising competition by actively overseeing the market to ensure high quality, affordable charging for local residents.”

Under ORCS, local authorities that install charge points in locally owned car parks need to explain why they are not being installed in residential streets and they must be accessible 24/7. Local residents must be able to access the car park for free between 6pm and 8am.

Charge point providers such as Connected Kerb, ubitricity and char.gy are also engaging with local authorities to provide on-street charge points. Connected Kerb has struck deals with a range of councils to install its charge points, including West Sussex, Kent, Glasgow City, East Lothian and Hackney. Ubitricity and char.gy have also engaged with councils to provide on-street charge points that are integrated into their existing street lamp posts.

On-street charging points provide a number of benefits to EV owners. They are nearer to home so owners don’t have the inconvenience of driving to another location to charge their EVs. They also don’t have to wait while the EV is charging because they can leave it on the street overnight.

The government believes the provision of on-street charge points will play a significant role in persuading drivers to switch to EVs. Research conducted for the Department for Transport (DFT) into the behaviour of drivers without access to off-street parking found that “near-home charging was most appealing and desired as the primary charging solution in future”. This is hardly surprising when 79% of non-EV drivers without access to off-street parking reported they were able to park less than two minutes walk from home and 73% said they ‘always’ or ‘usually find it easy to park’.

In March 2022, the DfT’s UK electric vehicle infrastructure strategy pledged “to transform local on-street charging by putting an obligation on local authorities (subject to consultation) to develop and implement local charging strategies to plan for the transition to a zero emission vehicle fleet”. It outlined plans to use a £500m local infrastructure support programme “to drive innovative new approaches to deploying local charge points at scale”.

Public charge points can also be found in a range of other locations, including petrol station forecourts, community facilities, gyms, supermarket car-parks and tourist attractions. But there are a number of issues that can deter or frustrate EV drivers. For instance, will the charge point be functioning when they want to use it, will it be unoccupied, how much will it cost and what payment method will it require?

The DfT strategy paper found that EV drivers using public charge points often experienced “poor customer service, opaque or excessive charging costs, poor reliability and complex access regimes involving numerous apps and smartcards”. In 2021, only 9% of public charge points had contactless bank account payment.

The DfT has committed to work with industry and introduce legislation “to open up data so that drivers can access real time information about charge points across the public network, rely on the public charge point network with improved reliability, compare prices, and pay for their charging easily, whoever the charge point provider”.

ORCS stipulates all charge points funded under the scheme must have a minimum payment method, defined as “a non-proprietary, non-phone payment method, such as contactless”.

Workplace charging is another option for EV drivers that don’t have access to off-street parking at home. The UK government is seeking to boost the installation of charging infrastructure at workplaces with a voucher-based scheme covering up to 75% of the total cost of purchase and installation of EV charge points. The Workplace Charging Scheme provides £350 per socket with a maximum of 40 sockets per applicant. Workplace charge points are very convenient for employees because they can charge their EVs during the course of their normal working day.

It is clear that there are challenges for EV owners that do not have access to off-street parking, but efforts are now underway to address those issues with the government’s plans to ramp up the UK’s charging infrastructure. Taking charge points to the street is the best way to ensure a large cohort of drivers don’t get stuck in the slow lane as EV adoption accelerates.