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Preparing for the future: The long road ahead for the EV rollout

Image: WPD

Recently, there have been a number of high-profile reports released on the rollout of electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK, ahead of the government’s proposed 2030 end sale date of new petrol and diesel cars. The most recent of these is the Competition Market Authorities’ (CMA) final report from its market study into the supply of charging for EVs. The report is wide ranging and looks at the measures needed to implement a national EV charging network and the current barriers to EV take-up. There is set to be an increase in EV sales, as a result of the government’s recent benefit in kind changes for company car drivers. These will promote new EV sales and in turn create a second hand market in 3 or 4 years, increasing the number of vehicles on our roads.

However, the CMA makes clear that consumers will only feel empowered to switch to EVs if they know that charging is convenient, straightforward and inexpensive. These clear recommendations align with our position at Western Power Distribution (WPD) in the latest version of our EV Strategy which outlines how we are preparing our network for the millions of EV drivers who will want to charge their EVs at a time and place to suit them.

A key recommendation of the CMA that we agree with at WPD is for the UK government to set out an ambitious National Strategy for EV chargepoint deployment between now and 2030. Currently, there are a number of net zero targets in circulation that exist without the necessary support of an exact pathway that outlines the path government will go down. This runs the risk of the industry developing higher capacity than is required, with the infrastructure in the future not fulfilling its intended purpose.

A national EV strategy that defines the scale of deployment is crucial, as it will allow distribution network operators (DNOs) like WPD to forecast demand and subsequently, encourage them to make early investments in the electricity network. Overall, there will always be a degree of unpredictability when it comes to forecasting EV chargers because we don’t know the degree of behavioural change and technological innovation that will occur over the next ten years. However, a national strategy would limit the impact of these uncertainties giving consumers and industry bodies more confidence in the EV charging sector as a whole.

Another issue identified by the CMA report is that the rollout by local authorities (LAs) of on-street charging is currently too slow. Currently, only 60% of car owners have access to an off-street parking location suitable for charging, the other 40% will rely solely upon public or destination provision. To ensure access to public charging, the CMA recommends that the government defines a clear role for LAs in managing the charging rollout in their area and also provide funding for the expertise needed to facilitate this.

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee’s recent findings from their inquiry into zero emission vehicles aligned with this, as they also urged the government to provide more financial and technical assistance for LAs in this area. Currently, many LAs are still drafting their EV infrastructure strategies which has delayed progress and resulted in a third of the available grant funding being unspent. DNOs can play a crucial role in this area by working with LAs by providing the technical expertise and efficiency that we can provide in delivering chargepoint installations at scale and speed.

Ensuring access to rapid chargers on our road networks is another challenge that needs to be overcome. The government’s £950 million Rapid Charging Fund will obviously be a key factor in facilitating the EV rapid charging network across England’s motorways and A-roads. The fund will support private investment at sites where connections are typically expensive and commercially non-viable. We’d welcome the fund being rolled out as quickly as possible to help meet the charging demands of the future.

There needs to be mass deployment of EV chargers at service stations as this will enable simultaneous charging by multiple customers when undertaking long journeys. At WPD we are working hard to solve this issue. Our Take Charge Project is a 6-month trial of a brand-new standardised package solution for delivering large scale capacity to service stations. The solution will be specifically tailored towards the requirements of the new rapid chargers and will provide 20MVA of capacity, enabling rapid chargers to be connected more easily, and at a lower cost to operators.

DNOs will play a vital role in the UK’s transition to EVs due to the need for a smart flexible network. This will be spearheaded by investment in innovative solutions to develop a network that supports EV charging across the country. The CMA and Transport Select Committee Reports show that there is still work to be done to get the UK ready for the mass adoption of EVs, however WPD will be working to ensure that its network is ready.

Paul Jewell's photo

Paul Jewell DSO development manager, WPD


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