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Electric vehicle charging market 'unlikely to deliver' alone claims National Grid

Image: Motorway.

National Grid's Belinda Littleton claims high costs and "low hanging fruit" elsewhere has left a gap in the charging market at motorway services. Image: Phil Dolby/Flickr.

The electric vehicle (EV) charging market is “unlikely to deliver” the charging infrastructure needed in the UK to accommodate predicted take-up, according to National Grid’s strategy and corporate development lead for EVs.

Speaking on the first day of the EV Infrastructure Summit, hosted by Current±’s publisher Solar Media, Belinda Littleton claimed that a gap in the market had emerged for super and ultra-fast charging infrastructure offering between 120-350kW speeds.

"You need multiple fast chargers…to serve everybody's needs [as] it won't take much to deter people. We see more clearly that ultra-rapid charging is needed at volume and scale from early on in the roll-out,” she said.

"We've identified a gap in really fast charging, ideally 350kW where you could charge instantly from 10% to 80% in five minutes. There's no government support for this."

As a result of the support already on offer in the home, workplace and slower destination charging sectors of the infrastructure market, Littleton said providers were aiming at the “low-hanging fruit” in the first stages of rolling out their hardware.

She continued: "Over the last few months we've been working in particular with the motorway service station owners to look at the power capacity on their sites and it's clear that under any potential scenario, the majority of these service stations are going to be capacity constrained.

“That means they will need some form of reinforcement of their power connection before 2030 if they are going to deliver an adequate service for future EV users.

“If we were to proactively deliver a future-proofed connection in motorway service stations, the associated costs are often likely to be a deterrent in the market and we would more likely see coverage focused on low cost sites with available capacity in high volume areas and leaving those on the outskirts still worried about range.”

“We don't think that the market will deliver."

National Grid has calculated that a ‘future-proofed’ grid connection at a motorway service area, where 5-15 chargers will be needed by 2030 to avoid queues, is likely to cost in the range of £8-20 million, with an average of £10-12 million. With other costs to be added, such as hardware, land and rent, Littleton claimed that the existing private market will not seek to deliver in these locations.

“We don't think that the market will deliver. Although the market is beginning to play in the motorway rapid chargers, it's unlikely that it can deliver the most cost-effective GB [Great Britain] solution in a timely way without assistance, and we don't think they'll go to the right locations," she said.

The former PwC consultant and Ofgem economist went on to call for “targeted government intervention” to meet these challenges in a timely manner to ensure the UK’s fast-charging infrastructure is in place before EVs become a mass market.

"If we are truly going to eliminate range anxiety we need to ensure we have charging infrastructure in place along the motorway network by the mid-2020s, before that mass uptake. We need a proactive approach to building EV rapid network infrastructure and government intervention that will both stimulate industry and the market and also protect consumers around Great Britain,” Littleton concluded.

Paying to solve range anxiety

Her words come months after National Grid’s project lead Graeme Cooper revealed that the transmission system operator was scouting 50 motorway service locations to deliver ultra-fast charging connections and eliminate range anxiety for 95% of GB’s potential EV drivers.

Littleton updated attendees to the EV Infrastructure Summit and said that the locations had been identified and were currently being reviewed for the potential of creating pilots to test the viability of investment.

How these sites would be paid for continues to be a point of concern for some, with Ofgem’s deputy director for the energy system transition, Andrew Burgess – also in attendance this morning – previously stating that the cost of such work should not be “unduly” placed on consumers who don't have EVs.

The most likely source of government support for these installations is the upcoming Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund, which will soon launch a Request for Proposals from private sector fund managers who could deliver half the total £400 million previously pledged by the chancellor Philip Hammond.

Speaking alongside Littleton this morning was Rosalind Marshall, head of infrastructure at the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, who explained: “This will be managed and invested [in] but on a commercial basis by private sector partners and essentially aims to unite interests and encourage more providers to enter and expand the market."

Despite Littleton’s claims against the private sector, motorways have been served since 2011 by fast EV charging via Ecotricity’s Electric Highway.

Other private sector providers have begun to emerge offering faster charging, not least Pivot Power which is planning to develop a network of battery storage-supported rapid charging, with plans for up to 100 transmission system-connected chargers at each location.

The UK’s largest EV charging supplier Chargemaster, which was last week bought by BP with plans to accelerate the roll out of charge points in the coming years, has previously stated that a government fund would “skew the market” as the private sector “is doing just fine”.

However, he conceded that cash was needed to support the cost of connections which Littleton expects to be mainly to the transmission system as it will be able to provide the capacity needed while avoiding potential upgrade requirements to the local distribution networks.

Similar suggestions have previously prompted calls from trade union GMB that National Grid was seeking deploying “a Trojan horse” for “extra taxpayer cash to pay for the new infrastructure”, although these claims have been questioned.

The EV Infrastructure Summit is underway at the America Square Conference Centre in London. Day tickets are still available, and more information can be found here.


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