There were few positives from 2020, but one of them was massive growth in the sales of electric vehicles. In the UK, all-electric cars went from 1.6% of the market in 2019 to 6.6% of the market in 2020, representing a near three-fold increase in sales volume. In Europe, the Volkswagen ID.3 and Tesla Model 3 were number one and two best-selling cars in December 2020 respectively, with only the fossil fuel Volkswagen Golf surpassing them. But the charging infrastructure to support all these new EVs isn’t keeping pace, and it could mean stretching the already insufficient charging infrastructure beyond breaking point.
To give you an idea of the problem, by the end of 2019 there were around 270,000 ultra-low emissions vehicles (which includes plug-in hybrids as well as battery electric vehicles) on UK roads, so the 108,205 BEVs sold in 2020 represents a 40% increase in numbers. According to Zap-Map, there were 29,492 public charging points in the UK by the end of 2019. By the end of 2020, this had increased to 36,567. That’s just 24% more.
A report in October 2020 by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association similarly showed that while sales of EVs had increased 110% over the previous three years in Europe, the number of public charging points had grown by just 58%. In the USA, there was a 13% growth in EV charging stations in 2019, whereas EV sales had increased by 80% in 2018, although unusually the growth has slowed for the time being in America, with just a 4% increase in 2020 compared to 2019, according to EV-Volumes. Most EV drivers, despite loving their cars, will tell you that the infrastructure is already inadequate with too few public chargers and many regularly out of service. This is only going to get worse if EV sales continue to outstrip charger installations by such huge margins.
The optimum scenario for owning an EV is to have a driveway and home charging. Anyone with this combination can leave their house with a full charge every day if they want to (although it’s not necessary) and only ever use a public charger occasionally, for longer journeys. In fact, research by street charger company Connected Kerb has revealed that 67% of EV owners wouldn’t have bought an EV if they didn’t have home charging to provide this capability.
But 62% of households in the UK don’t have access to a driveway where a charger could be installed. Some of these do have private parking, but it’s in a shared space, which would make installing a charger highly problematic. Many European countries have an even higher percentage of apartment block dwelling than the UK, and lots of villages with ancient narrow streets that only allow limited parking, making Europe potentially even worse. The USA is nowhere near as bad in this respect, with a 2017 figure from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy putting the proportion of homes with driveways at 63%. But that still leaves 37% relying entirely on public chargers if everyone switched to EVs.
The slow rollout of public chargers will make significant proportions of the population in the UK, Europe and the US very reluctant to adopt EVs. As the Connected Kerb research illustrates, which has been corroborated by a recent MIT report as well, charging at home, or at least near home where you park your car overnight, is the most important factor in convincing people that EVs are a viable option.
In the UK, the problem is that rollout of local street chargers to cater for those without driveways has been totally inadequate, and this looks likely to continue for years to come. In fact, a report by UK energy company Centrica, based on a series of freedom of information requests, revealed the bewildering fact that UK councils are only planning to install 35 chargers each by 2025, on average. This does vary across the country, with London and the South East faring better than other regions, but no councils in Northern Ireland were planning to install any chargers at all in the next four years.
There’s huge variation even across London. Overall, the UK capital is set to have the highest density of chargers by 2025, but this is led by Westminster, which plans to install 500 chargers per 100,000 people by 2025. Havering, in East London, has no chargers currently and no intention of installing any. Even neighboring locations vary immensely. Haringey in North London intends to install 111.7 chargers per 100,000 residents by 2025, but Barnet (which is right next door) only intends to install 5.6. This is despite Barnet having the second highest density of ULEV ownership in the UK, after Wandsworth.
Burgeoning EV sales could be a victim of their own success if the charging infrastructure doesn’t … [+] catch up soon. (Photo by Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Both these councils exist inside the infamous ULEZ extension. This new zone, set to come into force on 25th October 2021, will entail a £12.50 ($17) daily charge for driving more polluting cars, including most diesels manufactured before mid-2015. This is led by a drive for cleaner air in London, making a switch to zero-emission BEVs the ideal solution. But lots of London councils like Barnet simply haven’t put the infrastructure in to make this a viable option for most of their residents.
An adequate supply of street chargers is now becoming essential, particularly in the UK and Europe. The EV revolution is clearly coming if you look at sales volumes, particularly in the UK and Europe. But if the charging infrastructure doesn’t pick up, it could leave thousands of EV buyers angry and disillusioned. The solution doesn’t necessarily have to mean large governmental expenditure, because public charging can make money in the same way as domestic energy and communications supply. But it does need authorities to take the issue seriously and work with commercial organizations to roll out infrastructure, because they own and manage the public roads where people without driveways park. And they need to work fast, before the exponential growth in EV sales hits a brick wall created by this wholly inadequate public charging infrastructure.
Stuart Turley is President and CEO of Sandstone Group, a top energy data, and finance consultancy working with companies all throughout the energy value chain. Sandstone helps both small and large-cap energy companies to develop customized applications and manage data workflows/integration throughout the entire business. With experience in implementing enterprise networks, supercomputers, and cellular tower solutions, Sandstone has become a trusted source and advisor in this space. Stuart has led the “Total Corporate Digital Integration” platform at Sandstone and works with Sandstone clients to help integrate all aspects of modern digital business. He is also the Executive Publisher of www.energynewsbeat.com, the best source for 24/7 energy news coverage and is the Co-Host of the energy news video and Podcast Energy News Beat.
Stuart is on Board Member of ASN Productions, DI Communities
Stuart is guided by over 30 years of business management experience, having successfully built and help sell multiple small and medium businesses while consulting for numerous Fortune 500 companies. He holds a B.A in Business Administration from Oklahoma State and an MBA from Oklahoma City University.