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09 October 2018 3 min read

Rapid charging infrastructure in the UK: is policy support needed?

Natalie Bird

Natalie Bird
Manager | Energy, utilities and resources

There are a number of reasons that electric vehicles (EVs) have not yet reached mass-market adoption, key ones being high upfront cost, and anxiety around range and access to charging. The government’s Plug-In Grant scheme is designed to address the first of these, and funds are available for public charging infrastructure. But is a more focused intervention required to deliver a fuller rapid charge point network in the UK?

Indications from Baringa’s consumer research “Is the UK ready for electric cars?” suggest that the lack of public charging is a barrier today. 46% of respondents are put off buying an electric car because of a perception that there is not a public charge point near enough to their home. 13 minutes is the maximum amount of time respondents, on average, say they would be willing to wait for a full charge – less than a quarter of the time it would typically take today. Rapid public charging is essential for longer journeys that exceed battery range, and is a possible solution for those without access to off-street parking (alongside slower on-street charging points). The question is whether it will develop organically, or if intervention is required.
 
The barriers that a rapid charge point network developer may face are:

  • Location (identifying sites and negotiating land rights). At present, rapid charge points are typically located at service stations, however, they could be installed at other locations, such as taxi ranks, provided there is demand and grid capacity.  Challenges may be particularly acute in urban areas that could target those without off-street parking.  
  • Utilisation (developing a commercially viable business model given the risk involved). The business model for public charging involves substantial utilisation risk, especially in the early stages of market development.  However, a range of models are developing, including:
    • ​Charge point network operators reducing risk through holding a base of customers on monthly / annual subscriptions 
    • Energy suppliers using involvement with low emissions vehicles to improve their brand
    • Power developers exploring charge points as an add-on to a grid-scale battery business
    • Original Equipment Manufacturers installing the charge point network to support sales of their vehicles
    • Investors willing to take early utilisation risk to land preferred locations based on a longer term view of how the market will evolve
  • Network connection (dealing with the time, cost and potential network reinforcement). Grid connection costs for rapid chargers can be a significant part of the overall investment. These currently fall on developers.

Whilst we would expect that in the longer run the market would provide the appropriate infrastructure to meet the needs of EV drivers, there is evidence to suggest that better access can increase the pace of uptake.
Given the societal benefits associated with lower carbon emissions and improved air quality, there could be grounds for policy intervention.  This could aim to de-risk early investments to accelerate deployment of rapid chargers (e.g. some socialisation of connection costs as happens in some parts of the US), and support innovation to identify optimal solutions for the third of drivers without off-street parking (e.g. exploring rapid re-charging hubs alongside on-street infrastructure), particularly as this is focused in urban areas with most to gain from an electric transition.
 
In summary, carefully considered interventions that could accelerate rapid charging deployment without unduly dampening competitive forces and market incentives could lead to overall societal benefits if they successfully accelerate EV uptake.