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EV charging infrastructure 'unattractive' and 'unsuitable' says RAC Foundation

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The government’s previous efforts to expand the number of publicly available electric vehicle chargers has resulted in a network that is “unattractive to use and is unsuitable for encouraging the next wave of EV [electric vehicle] customers”.

That is the view of the author of a new report from the RAC Foundation, which concluded that failures to address the practicalities of EV ownership could limit mass-market appeal and hamper the government’s plan to ban the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

The report claims that while most EV drivers (80%) have access to home charging, even more (93%) use the public charge point network (CPN). It adds that this CPN has been rolled out with government support in “quantity rather than quality”, with 13% of those at the UK's 4,476 public EV recharging sites out of action throughout June 2017.

In addition, the lack of standardisation of connectors and charging protocols has resulted in “a bewildering array of types of charge point, connectors and tariffs which is poorly presented to the public”.

This combination of low quality and disparate charging point locations is, the report claims, likely to lead to delays when refuelling as Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, explained.

“The danger is that the future of the electric car suffers the equivalent of bed blocking in the NHS, with queues of frustrated drivers stymied by the lack of adequate, widespread, reliable refuelling opportunities.

“We may be on the cusp of a motoring revolution, but step-changes in vehicle technology must be matched by equally big strides in our recharging infrastructure. A robust public charging network is critical for enticing people to go electric make the leap to ‘pure’ electric,” he said.

The RAC Foundation is therefore calling on the government to use its upcoming Automated and Electric Vehicle Bill to offer improved understanding of the types of charging required by both battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and match this to customer demand.

The report asks that the bill ensures for each rapid charge point installed at a motorway service area, three slow ones are also installed for use by plug-in hybrids, which cannot recharge at a rate faster than 3.6kw. It also suggests grants be offered for providers of charge points at motorway services areas who also put in energy storage units to ease the pressure on the existing power supply.

Other proposals include requiring charge point operators to cooperate on shared methods of payment and introducing time limits within which operators must fix faulty recharging equipment and fines for non-compliance.

Gooding added: “Almost every day companies are announcing their latest foray into the electric car market but the charging network threatens to be the weak link.

“Manufacturers can do much to make EVs attractive to a mass audience, but responsibility for getting the charging infrastructure ready lies largely in the public sphere.”

Taking a ‘forward view’

The RAC Foundation’s report follows a similar publication from the Renewable Energy Association (REA), which launched it Forward View report last week (28 September). It outlines the rapid pace of technological change expected up to the government’s ban on diesel and petrol car sales by 2040.

While it anticipates that much of the transition to a low carbon vehicle future will be led by consumer behaviour, the REA echo RAC’s views that government action to boost the number of publically accessible charge points will be needed.

It is therefore calling for government intervention in the form of consistent minimum quantity and specification for EV charging at all new supermarkets, car parks, and other retail outlets over a certain size, with planning to add further capacity later

It also suggests regulation to require the installation of three-phase electricity supply in all new homes and integrated charging into all residential developments; encouragement of the use of onsite renewables and energy storage at major charge stations to reduce grid stress; and the speedy enactment of the Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan launched by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy in July.

This included plans for standardised charge points to ensure they can be used for demand side response and vehicle-to-grid charging; additional funding for the design and manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles; and increasing consumer awareness of smart tariffs and market offerings

If such changes are implemented the REA believes that Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles could make up 50 per cent on new vehicle sales in the UK by 2025.

Matthew Trevaskis, head of electric vehicles at the REA, said: “It’s essential that government is factoring in this historic shift [to EVs] into new building regulations, infrastructure investment, and energy policy so that the transition is as smooth as possible and Britain benefits from its current leadership position.

“The 2040 ban was a useful first step, and what’s needed now is a clear national and regional charging strategy.”

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