What’s next for EV Charging in the UK?

Of the core goals ratified during the UN’s COP26 summit, achieving global net zero by 2050 has perhaps received the most attention, and mobility will serve as one of the key areas for change.

If the UK is to develop a truly sustainable transport system, it starts with electrification, and we’re already seeing progress. Popularity of electric vehicles is on the rise, with more electric car sales in 2021 than in the five years previous combined (DfT), and the government has already announced the end of new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030.

While encouraging for the UK’s environmental efforts, these factors naturally increase the pressure on the UK’s current EV charging infrastructure to keep up and provide a robust network that’s sufficient in supporting all of the UK’s 35.9 million road users in the future.

Tesla have now opened 15 of their UK Supercharger stations to non-Tesla vehicles (Which). A welcome change that will undoubtedly ease the pressure for now, with Tesla operating 12.3% of the UK’s 5860 rapid charging points, but a longer-term solution must be found as the demand and need for electric mobility grows.

In the wake of this, the UK Government has committed £1.6 billion in funding to grow the UK’s charging network to 300,000 public charge points by 2030, a tenfold increase. It’s also passing new laws requiring charge point operators to meet rigorous standards in regards to upkeep and usability, to remove key barriers to EV uptake.

It’s not all about capacity though. Careful consideration of the use-case should play a key role in decision-making when it comes to expanding the UK’s EV charging network. Home charge points – required by law to be fitted into every new build from June 2022 – don’t need to be rapid. The same can be said for units installed into entertainment centres like cinemas, restaurants and shopping centres. Charging up in 20 minutes may sound great, but if you’re not returning to the vehicle for several hours this is a huge waste of energy, costing more to the user and the planet.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Geospatial Commission has recently launched a new project exploring the use of location data to support planning and delivery of EV charge point installations, working closely with local authorities. What works in one part of the UK won’t necessarily work in another, and data lies at the heart of understanding the unique challenges different authorities will face in implementing their own EV charging rollouts.

Governments aren’t the only ones getting involved, with BP recently pledging a further £1 billion investment into its UK charging network, BP Pulse. This will triple its current roster of charge points by 2030. Its ultra-fast charging points are capable of providing up to 100 miles of range within 10 minutes of charging, and the energy supplier has also vowed to improve the technology of its existing network to improve reliability (Fleet World).

EV charging trends on the horizon

Mobility is going through a huge transition right now, the likes of which we haven’t seen for a very long time. While we’ve covered some of the stats around why the government as well as commercial giants are investing in the UK’s charging infrastructure, let’s take a deeper dive into some of the trends we could see in the future.

Roaming

When you need to fill up a petrol or diesel vehicle, do you need to check if you have an account with BP, Shell or one of their competitors? Of course not. But this scenario is still a significant battleground between EV charging operators.

EV customers all want roaming; the ability to use any charging station from any operator even if they’re only a customer of one. After all, charging access remains one of the biggest blockers to EV ownership reaching critical mass in the UK. Unfortunately, many operators are still trying to protect their own networks. This is leading to regional monopolies which keeps prices high, complicates the user experience and harms national efforts towards a workable solution for the wider population.

Roaming regulation at a government level appears to be the answer here, and the EU is already discussing its options. We all stand to benefit from this, so let’s hope we see stronger collaboration from this sector in the not-too-distant future.

Wireless charging

While we haven’t seen wireless charging take off in mobile phones yet, it might be mobility that beats them to the punch. It will likely be several years before this trend could become more mainstream, but we’re already seeing major manufacturers running commercial tests of the technology required.

Volvo have provided a small test fleet of XC40 cars to be used as taxis in Gothenburg, Sweden in a three-year trial (Fleet News). The vehicle makes use of 360-degree camera systems to line up with a charging pad below and initial stats suggest these chargers will also be around 4 times faster than a standard 11kW AC charger.

With live trials like this already taking place within the European continent, it can’t be long before the UK follows suit.

Surging energy costs

For the time being, energy costs are continuing to rise to levels unseen before and many UK charging operators are now taking the unenviable decision to pass this cost on to the consumer.

Instavolt have increased their price per kWh from 40p to 45p, BP from 23p to 32p (for subscribers), and Osprey from 36p to 40p (Autocar). While these rising costs are undesirable for both consumers and the prospect of a more sustainable transport system, it’s worth noting that prices are soaring across the entire energy landscape.

While the cost of fossil fuels will continue to rise as supply dwindles over the coming decades, technological improvements persist in finding ways to improve the efficiency of renewables which could drive a reversal of this trend in the future.

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