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EV’s in the UK: way to go?

Blue electric car being charged.
EV’s in the UK: way to go?
March 17, 2023

Kogenta visualisation of the month: UK EV charging infrastructure

In the UK, a ban on the sale of internal combustion-engined (ICE) vehicles will come into force in just 7 years time. But are we on course and on schedule for a smooth handover to all-electric transportation?

Ready to roll?

Although it will still be permissible to drive ICE vehicles after 2030, we are likely to see a substantial decline in sales as we run up to 2030, and it’s likely that all new vehicles bought in the UK in the two or three years before will be EVs – as is the intention of the policy.

It’s widely recognised however, that manufacturing, importing and selling EVs is one thing – but such vehicles also require a substantial supporting infrastructure, primarily of charging points that will support journeys of any significant distance from the vehicle’s home base.

The demand for charging will be considerable, not only as the number of EVs on the road continues to increase, but because the range of an EV will typically, for the foreseeable future at least, be much less than an equivalent petrol or diesel vehicle.

To some extent, this will be counterbalanced by the ability of many (though not all) consumers to charge their vehicles at home. On the debit side of the equation, however, vehicle throughput at any public charging station will be much slower than the current throughput of petrol and diesel vehicles, further increasing the demand for charging points.

Given how soon the change to EVs as primary personal transport will be upon us, we’ve taken a look at progress to date, in terms of current charge point infrastructure across the country, as well as the number of electric vehicles per geographic area; and have looked at how the UK compares with similarly ambitious economies.

Where are we now?

When we look at the spread and location of existing charging points we can see that, perhaps predictably, the concentration of availability is far greater around densely populated areas, and around areas of higher-than-average income. And up to a point this makes sense – this is where EVs are being bought in large numbers, and will very likely provide the quickest payback and highest return on investment. It’s the best capital strategy. We also need to recognise that there will be a particular demand for public charging in highly urbanised environments, where driveways are relatively scarce and home charging impractical.

But if the objective is to encourage the uptake of EVs across the country, then charging rollout cannot be left to simply evolve. In particular, nothing dissuades people from acquiring an EV more than ‘range anxiety’ – “will I make it to my destination?” – and this is likely to be less of an issue in cities and densely populated conurbations where a) there are already a high number of charging points and b) people tend to take shorter urban journeys.

As our mapping shows, however, there are large swathes of the country where charging opportunities are worryingly few – including, for example, Dartmoor, mid-Wales, Cumbria and the Scottish Highlands.

UK EV charging infrastructure Kogenta heatmap.Kogenta heatmap: UK charging infrastructure

If the UK is to encourage higher – and wider – uptake of EVs, it has to encourage the deployment of charging infrastructure in these more rural areas where journeys are longer and charging points fewer. So charging infrastructure providers, as well as consumers, need to be motivated to get on board.

Carrots as well as sticks

In countries like Norway, where ICE vehicle sales will be forbidden from 2025, just two years away, the carrot prevails over the stick. Yes, the ICE economy is already rapidly disappearing, so consumers will have to change eventually. But they are also motivated to do so by fiscal and legislative policy shifts which are designed to nudge consumers in the right direction rather than punish them for not doing so. These include:

  • Exempting electric vehicles from purchase taxes and value-added taxes (VAT) making them more affordable than ICE-powered cars.
  • Exempting EVs from toll roads and ferry fees, further reducing the cost of ownership.
  • Investing heavily in charging infrastructure, with over 10,000 charging stations across the country (for a population of 5.4m). The government has also funded the development of fast-charging stations along major highways.
  • Investment in electric buses and other forms of public transportation, reducing emissions and encouraging the switch to electric power through example.
  • Incentivising businesses to switch to EVs through reduced company car taxes and toll road exemptions for commercial EVs.
  • Running public awareness campaigns to promote the benefits of EVs and encourage more people to make the switch.

Left to its own devices, the market will not provide incentives like this, and will simply head for where the biggest margin and quickest payback is to be found. The message from Norway is that Governments need to actively participate to encourage EV uptake and a smooth conversion from ICE.

Are we nearly there yet?

The measures outlined above have been successful in encouraging the uptake of EVs in Norway, with electric cars already accounting for more than half of all new car sales in the country.

It has one of the highest densities of electric vehicle (EV) charging points in the world, with a wide network of charging stations that cover both urban and rural areas. According to the Norwegian EV Association, as of January 2022, there were over 11,000 public charging points across the country, including over 2,200 fast chargers.

The widespread availability of charging points has been a key factor in the growing success of electric vehicles in Norway. EV owners can easily find charging points in most areas of the country, which reduces range anxiety and makes EV ownership more attractive.

The Norwegian government has set a target of having 100,000 public charging points by 2025, a significant increase from the current number. In addition, many private companies and organisations offer charging stations for their employees and customers. Hotels, shopping centres, and restaurants have also installed charging stations to attract custom from EV owners. All of this is building momentum towards an all-electric vehicle economy.

In the UK, meanwhile, at the end of January 2023, there were 37,851 public electric vehicle charging points across 22,355 charging locations. This represents a 31% Y-O-Y increase in the total number of charging devices, so numbers are going up, and accelerating, but given the much higher population of the UK (67.9m vs 5.4m) rollout needs to be even more rapid.

To achieve a per capita number of charging points equivalent to Norway’s at ‘changeover’ (i.e. when ICE sales end), the UK would need 1.25m charging points, around a 30-fold increase on today’s numbers.

In addition, distribution needs to be considered, as charging connectors are far from evenly spread throughout the country. Greater London has the most EV charging points with 11,656, followed by the South East with around 5,000 – so not far short of 50% of all charging points in the UK are currently concentrated in London and the South East, while large areas of the UK have relatively few connectors. Wales, for example, has only 1,500 public charging connectors to cover a wide and often sparsely populated area.

There are some practical reasons for this – not least that home charging tends to be less viable in more densely populated areas – and this balance is likely to be redressed somewhat when charging points are deployed in greater numbers, but comprehensive universal provision is unlikely to be achieved solely through market forces.

Way to go

The UK has set itself ambitious targets for conversion away from the internal combustion engine. Comparison with Norway, however, a ‘market leader’ in the field, suggests that there is still much to do if a smooth changeover is to be achieved, and that much may need to be achieved through fiscal and legislative strategy.

This article utilises UK charging point statistics courtesy Zap-Map. Kogenta mapping is based on UK Government Department of Transport data.

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