Electric vehicle charging – are electric vehicles finally charging ahead?

Energy and Power August 11, 2021

By Ian Wickett, Associate Director, Transport Planning

If you’ve watched any TV adverts lately, you may have noticed that many of the big car manufacturers are now promoting electric and hybrid vehicles over and above their diesel and petrol counterparts. Year-on-year sales for electric and hybrid vehicles are growing fast and last year they accounted for over 10% of all new car sales. This trend is set to continue, which is great news for reducing our carbon emissions. But are we really ready for more electric vehicles (EV) on our roads, and how will we charge them all?

RSK’s webinar series COP26: Green Dialogues will be looking at the questions are being raised about the practicalities and challenges that the shift to EVs will bring.

Advances in technology have already started to address initial fears over the range of EVs, with new models boasting the ability to cover stretches of over 200 miles, a journey very few would want to take without a break.

The next big challenge is how people will be able to charge their zero-emissions car. Of course, it’s easy enough if you have a driveway or garage, but what if you live in a terraced house or an apartment? Or what if you’re renting and the landlord won’t provide a charging point? There are practical issues to resolve here: having cables trailing across the pavement is not going to be acceptable or safe, even more so if you’re parked some way down the road from your property.

There are some solutions already available, such as charging points in lamp posts, while others such as wireless charging from under the road surface are being developed. However, as with many questions around EVs, perhaps we are coming at this from the wrong angle…if we were converting from electricity to petrol, would we be questioning how the petrol companies would supply fuel to every individual house? Perhaps home charging isn’t where we need to be focusing, especially as the vast majority of car journeys cover less than 20 miles. Most people don’t refuel their cars with petrol or diesel every day, so why would they need to charge an EV every day?

Customer cost and convenience are the key players here and it will be interesting to see how charging patterns emerge in response to these. Many new-build properties now include EV charging points, but points are also being installed at petrol stations and across the country in car parks at supermarkets, retail parks and business parks. In fact, there are some 42,000 charging points at 15,500 locations across the country and demand is set to rise. Both options are likely to be necessary to meet growing demand and achieve the shift to EVs that is needed.

It will initially be more expensive to charge an EV at a public point rather than at home, but once there is a good network of charging points, competition should push profit margins down to minimal levels, as it currently does for petrol. Nevertheless, EV charging is still significantly cheaper than petrol for driving the same distance, even if using public chargers.

In terms of convenience, the time needed to recharge is also decreasing. A full recharge at home using a 3-kW or 7-kW charger might take most of the night, but ultra-rapid chargers will have a rating in excess of 100 kW and can charge 80% of your battery in just 20 minutes. With ever-evolving battery technology, it is possible to charge an EV with sufficient range for your daily journey in just a few minutes, no longer than you might spend at a traditional petrol pump, offering the same convenience but at a fraction of the cost.

The cost of owning an EV over a few years including maintenance costs is already comparable to owning a petrol-fuelled car and the cost of the vehicle alone is predicted to be the same as early as 2024, leaving little choice for new buyers. No wonder then that electric vehicle sales are up. To make sure our transport choices accelerate the zero-emissions transition, we must ensure sufficient infrastructure is invested in and developed to keep up with demand.