UK’s patchy charge point network must be addressed for net zero, government told
The UK needs many more charge points and the current gaps in on-street and motorway charging must be addressed to ensure the UK’s network is ready for the 2030 ICE ban.
The comments come from the Competitions & Markets Authority (CMA), which has also launched competition enforcement action into long-term exclusive arrangements at motorway service stations.
The UK has around 25,000 charge points currently and forecasts suggest more than 10 times this amount will be needed by 2030. Research for the SMMT published last month claims that 2.3 million charge points need to be set up in the next decade, in order to ensure the UK can successfully transition to a net zero economy.
But they will also be needed in more strategic locations. Whilst the roll-out of charging at locations like shopping centres, workplaces and people’s private parking is advancing well, the CMA says it’s particularly concerned about the choice and availability of charge points at motorway service stations and rural area, as well as on-street charging deployment by local authorities.
The competition regulator says access to charge points can be a ‘postcode lottery’ – the number of total public charge points per head in Yorkshire and the Humber is a quarter of those in London.
It’s also launched a competition law investigation into long-term exclusive arrangements between the Electric Highway network and three motorway service operators: Moto, Roadchef and Extra. Currently, the Electric Highway provides 80% of all charge points at motorway service stations (excluding Tesla charge points) and its long-term exclusive arrangements, which last between 10-15 years, cover around two-thirds of motorway service stations.
The CMA has set out four principles to ensure that charging is as simple as filling up with petrol or diesel: working charge points must be easy to find, charging must be simple and quick to pay for, the cost of charging must be clear, and charging must be accessible to all types of EVs.
Other key recommendations are that the UK government sets out an ambitious national strategy for rolling out EV charging between now and 2030, and that energy regulators should also ensure that it’s quicker and cheaper to connect new charge points.
The CMA also says the devolved governments must support local authorities to boost roll-out of on-street charging and that the UK government attaches conditions to its £950m Rapid Charging Fund – intended to future-proof grid capacity for motorways – to open up competition so that drivers have a choice of charging provider at each service station.
And it calls for the establishment of a public body with monitoring the sector as it develops, in order to ensure charging is as simple as filling up at a petrol station.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Electric vehicles play a critical role in meeting Net Zero but the challenges with creating an entirely new charging network should not be underestimated. Some areas of the roll-out are going well and the UK’s network is growing – but it’s clear that other parts, like charging at motorway service stations and on-street, have much bigger hurdles to overcome.
“There needs to be action now to address the postcode lottery in electric vehicle charging as we approach the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.”
The industry reaction
British Gas, which has committed to electrify its commercial fleet by 2025, welcomed the comments. Americo Lenza, portfolio director, said: “As sales of electric vehicles continue to rise each month, charging infrastructure and energy systems will need to be upgraded to cope with the demand and support drivers.
“While inroads have been made to install charge points at home, work and leisure destinations, we need to see an accelerated roll-out of on-street charging to support the widespread adoption of EVs. Our research shows that 83% of UK motorists agree that it’s easier for drivers with a driveway to switch to electric vehicles – it’s unfair that those without one risk missing out on the electric revolution.”
The RAC meanwhile had its own recommendations. Director of electric vehicles Sarah Winward-Kotecha said: “While there is still some way to go before rapid charge points are as commonplace as fuel pumps, things are changing fast. There is a huge amount of investment taking place, particularly at motorways where older chargers are now being replaced with the latest technology which offers much faster charging. We’d also like to see motorway provision supplemented by many more ‘regional hubs’ that give those in towns and cities, especially those for whom charging at home isn’t an option, easy access to rapid charging.”
And the AA agreed that ease of use needs to be a priority for charge points.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, commented: “Concerns regarding the availability and reliability of the public charging network continue to be one of the top three barriers to electric vehicle adoption. Boosting confidence here will go a long way to accelerate the uptake of electric cars.
“Drivers want charge points to be as simple as possible to use. Having multiple membership cards and apps makes the process of recharging needlessly complex and confusing. While new charge points will allow people to use a credit or debit card, we desperately need the existing network to be upgraded to allow drivers to easily use as many charge points as possible.”
But Adrian Keen, CEO of InstaVolt, said the private sector should be allowed to step up to fill the gap.
“We recognise the urgent need to address charge point disparities in the UK, but we must get the balance right between Government intervention and allowing the private sector to continue the incredible work that has been underway these past three years where we have seen the quality of the networks improve greatly. It is up to businesses in the charging network sector to ramp up efforts to meet the government’s targets through growth, innovation and creativity,” he commented.
InstaVolt is rapidly rolling out its next work, with plans for 5,000 chargers to be installed by 2025.
“Our strategy is for nationwide growth to ensure all areas of the country have access to reliable charging, not simply targeting highly populated, affluent and roadside locations. This is key to giving drivers the confidence they need to switch to EV and ensure we can remain on track with our 2030 targets,” Keen finished.