While the difficulties faced by those with mobility impairments in electric vehicle (EV) charging have begun to be recognised, chargepoint design innovation to solve these challenges is still in early stages.
That was the finding of the Equal EV report, commissioned by SSEN and produced by the Energy Systems Catapult. It looked at the viability of technology to remove barriers for people with disabilities and vulnerabilities such as high levels of anxiety, with the difficulties of the latter of these not yet widely recognised according to the report.
It referenced previous research done in phase one of the project into the challenges faced by disabled drivers, which found accessibility concerns included the weight of cables, height of charging stations and suitability of parking arrangements, while there were concerns relating to becoming vulnerable if their EV runs out of charge.
The report found that there is considerable potential to improve chargepoint design to make charging more accessible to users with mobility impairments, but that innovations remain largely at the trial/pilot stage.
Additionally, inductive charging would considerably reduce the difficulties experienced by members of both vulnerable groups when charging both at home and at public charging locations, however this technology is not yet deployed on a wide scale.
Workshops with members of the vulnerable groups generated 44 ideas for mitigating pain points, identifying that the main role a distribution network operator (DNO) such as SSEN can plays via their Priority Services Registers (PSRs), specifically in ensuring that their personal mobility is not compromised by inability to charge their EV during power cuts.
Although people with mobility impairments can join the PSR now, there is not a PSR category for those with high levels of anxiety or other mental health issues. As such, creating new PSR categories for those with mental health difficulties should be a priority for DNOs, the report said.
A further 71 ideas were generated by the project for ways that the DNO could improve the potential for members of the vulnerable groups to engage in using EVs. Three of these were explored in more depth, the first being setting up a community of first responders.
This would have the potential to help 870 EV drivers with mobility impairments and 1,835 EV drivers with high levels of anxiety in the Southern DNO Region (SEPD) by the early 2030s, with low costs estimated for both variants of the concept.
One variant is that first responders outside the powercut area provide PSR members with access to their home EV chargers, while the other is that first responders provide other support such as making shopping trips on behalf of EV drivers on the PSR.
The second idea explored in more detail is enabling PSR households to use vehicle-to-home to provide back-up power for their dwelling during a power cut, which the report said could help around 6,090 EV drivers with mobility impairments and 1,835 EV drivers with high levels of anxiety in the SEPD area by the early 2030s.
For this idea, costs are also expected to be low in the early years, though they do rise to medium by the early 2030s as EV uptake increases.
The last idea explored in more depth was to provide a temporary EV charging service during power cuts, which the report said could help around 870 EV drivers with mobility impairments and 1,835 EV drivers with high levels of anxiety in the SEPD area by the early 2030s. Costs are estimated to be fairly low for this concept.
Lisa Doogan, head of customer service and stakeholder strategy at SSEN said: “This essential project has given us vital insights into how we can help ensure that the transition to electrified transport is smart and fair for all our 3.8 million customers.
"We do not believe that groups of people should be excluded from new technology or services because their needs are different."
SSEN added that it welcomes the government’s recognition of the need to ensure chargepoints are inclusively designed and its commitment to publish standards for charging infrastructure by summer 2022.
Indeed, in 2021 the Department for Transport and disability charity Motability commissioned the British Standards Institute to develop new accessibility standards for EV charging.
The full Equal EV report can be found here.