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Five Challenges Facing the Public Charging Network

Which are the challenges for charging infrastructure for EV's in the public network?
Charging stations in a parking lot at the city.
© Wired

A comprehensive and reliable public charging infrastructure serves as the key element for a successful transition to an electric fleet for many organizations. While some can manage effectively through depot or home charging, or a combination of both, this approach may not be viable for all.

This is often due to the need for workplace charging, or the fact that some drivers lack off-road parking for installing their home wall box.

Additionally, a rapid charging network plays a critical role for company vehicle drivers undertaking longer journeys who require on-the-go charging.

However, while the public infrastructure is expanding, it still has a long road ahead before it can fully accommodate mass EV adoption. In this section, we will explore the challenges faced by public infrastructure and the initiatives aimed at resolving them in the United Kingdom.

Challenge No. 1: Number of Charging Points

Predictions regarding the required number of public EV charge points in the UK to support mass vehicle electrification display significant disparities. However, according to the UK government’s ‘Taking Charge: The EVs Infrastructure Strategy’ report, a minimum of 300,000 such points will be needed by 2030.

As of the end of May 2022, Zap-Map reports that there were slightly over 32,000 devices encompassing nearly 54,000 connectors. Among these, 1,658 are classified as ultra-rapid chargers, while 4,200 are categorized as rapid devices, amounting to a combined total of 12,881 connectors.

Kevin Welstead, the sector director of EV at SSE Enterprise Utilities, characterizes the progress required by 2030 – when the sale of new conventional petrol- or diesel-powered vehicles will cease – as an arduous endeavor. He compares the situation to the approach taken with fiber broadband deployment, emphasizing the need to ensure a robust backbone of EV charging infrastructure by 2030.

Conversely, the public charge point operator Liberty Charge believes that the government’s commitment of nearly £1.5 billion for rapid and transit charge points across the UK only covers half of the expected cost to install the targeted 300,000 public chargers.

Map of the United Kingdom with a lot of pins, showcasing the amount of charging stations available in the country United Kingdom’s charging points. Elektrek (2022)

Challenge No. 2: Geographical Distribution of Charge Points

A crucial challenge to overcome is the substantial regional imbalances in the deployment of EV charge points. Government statistics exemplify this contrast: in London, there are 80 public charging devices per 100,000 of the population, while in Yorkshire and the Humber, the figure stands at 20.

According to Simon McGlone, senior planning and strategy officer at ‘Transport for the North’, the northern region features approximately 28 charge points per 100,000 population, slightly below the national average of 34.

To address this issue, ‘Transport for the North’ has initiated a regional steering group that brings together various stakeholders and energy sector organizations.

To bridge this gap, the government is leveraging its £500 million local infrastructure support program, encompassing the £450 million ‘Local EV Infrastructure’ (LEVI) fund and the ‘On-street Residential ChargePoint Scheme’. These initiatives are aimed at fostering innovative strategies to deploy local charging points on a larger scale.

Electric car charging Electric car charging. Unsplash (2018)

Challenge No. 3: Achieving the Optimal Balance

A significant challenge arises in achieving the optimal mix of EV charging solutions. While the government anticipates that the majority of EV drivers will primarily charge their vehicles at home overnight, the importance of public charge points remains twofold: facilitating long-distance journeys and catering to individuals lacking off-street parking options.

To enhance charging availability, the government has committed £500 million, with a substantial portion directed towards the £450 million ‘Local EV Infrastructure’ (LEVI) fund, aimed at improving on-street charging accessibility.

Furthermore, the government is poised to mandate local authorities, pending consultation, to formulate and execute local charging strategies. These strategies should delineate how to provide affordable and convenient charging solutions for residents, businesses (including fleets), and visitors. An equally crucial aspect is ensuring that these solutions do not lead to disruptions on pavements, which could potentially discourage pedestrian activities like walking and cycling.

Bikes parked in street in London Bikes parked in the pedestrian of a street in London. Unsplash (2021)

Challenge No. 4: Complex Planning Considerations

Planning arrangements to install public charge points can also be complex. Infrastructure installers often encounter the need for multiple permissions, consents, and licenses for their initiatives. This complexity not only prolongs deployment timelines but can also lead to increased costs and, in some cases, hinder the installation of charge points altogether.

Addressing these challenges, the government outlines in its ‘Taking Charge’ strategy its intention to tackle the barriers impeding the private sector’s rollout of charge points.

As part of its strategy, the government intends to streamline the process of ‘Traffic Regulation Orders,’ a crucial step in the installation of on-street charge points. The aim is to make this process more straightforward, thereby facilitating the deployment of charging infrastructure.

An electric bus being charged in a charging station Electric bus charging. Alliance for an Energy Efficient Economy (2022)

Challenge No. 5: Ensuring Reliable Usage

The government is committed to realizing a vision where charging an EV is as effortless as refueling a conventional gasoline or diesel car.

Outlined in the ‘Taking Charge’ strategy, the government plans to introduce legislation during the upcoming summer to enhance the public’s experience when using charge points.

Central to this initiative is collaboration with the industry to unlock data accessibility. This will empower drivers with real-time information about charge points across the public network. Such access will enable users to assess reliability, compare prices, and conveniently make payments for charging, irrespective of the network provider.

Addressing accessibility, the government is committed to making public charge points more accommodating for disabled users. In collaboration with Mutability, it will work towards this goal. Additionally, the government has enlisted the ‘British Standards Institute’ (BSI) to develop accessible charging standards, thereby ensuring that EV charging infrastructure is inclusive and user-friendly.

Electric vehicle charging in a charging point Charging point. Unsplash (2021)

In summary, the growing popularity of EVs presents significant challenges for the public charging network. While efforts are underway to expand and improve the charging infrastructure, the need for increased investment, coordination, and standardization remains a priority.

Furthermore, addressing technical and operational challenges is crucial to ensure an efficient and seamless charging experience for users.

As the demand for EVs continues to rise, it is essential that governments, businesses, and communities collaborate to overcome these challenges and facilitate a successful transition to more sustainable E-Mobility.

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