Demand for electric vehicles shows no signs of slowing down, but can vehicle charging infrastructure match its pace?
With the UK registering its one millionth EV registration during September, Cox Automotive has highlighted the importance of rapidly scaling up infrastructure in the seventh issue of its quarterly AutoFocus automotive insight update.
Within the document, Tom Callow, Head of External Affairs at myenergi, and Philip Nothard, Insight and Strategy Director at Cox Automotive, discuss the inevitability of the mass adoption of electric vehicles and the evolution of infrastructure that is required to keep up.
Nothard summarised the current state of play: “We’re entering a new period of automotive reform, where electric vehicles are becoming a reality for a lot of drivers in the UK. Rather than questioning ‘if’ they will invest in EVs, drivers are considering ‘when’ and how the market will support their individual charging needs on a daily basis. The latter point is essential if the UK is to meet its electrification aims.”

Electric vehicle charging will remain a mixed economy

EV infrastructure has historically struggled to keep up with the burgeoning demand. Fortunately, the UK is making strides in this area, as Callow explained: “EV charging is and will remain, a mixed economy of various formats and solutions supporting a wide range of diverse requirements. Unlike the refuelling of petrol and diesel cars, which must necessarily take place in a regulated and dedicated location (i.e., a petrol forecourt), vehicle charging is comparatively unlimited in its potential to be more distributed in terms of location, format, and delivery.”
Charging behaviour can be vastly different for electric vehicles in a variety of ways. In contrast, refuelling behaviour for ICE cars is similar, regardless of mileage, when you consider both require short visits to the same type of place (a forecourt) with the fuel delivered at a similar speed. EV charging is dependent upon the location of the driver’s home, workplace, or current whereabouts, along with how it can be charged.
“On average, EV owners will not need to charge daily, as most new electric cars can handle around ten days of average use on a single charge. However, for higher mileage drivers, they will need to charge more often, which shouldn’t be a problem for anyone with off-street parking since even the largest of electric car batteries will be fully or virtually fully charged with an overnight 12-hour charge on a standard 7.4kW home charge point,” added Callow.

High-mileage drivers remain unaffected

The public charging network is not without its challenges, with higher mileage drivers affected if they are unable to access a reliable regular nearby charge point for overnight charging or gain sufficient mileage on shorter but faster top-ups using ultra-rapid chargers.
Yet Field Dynamics, one of the companies with the best data in this area, suggests that about 5% of EV drivers by 2030 will be high-mileage drivers who park on the street, a small proportion of the overall population.
Charging options are expected to include on-street residential charging, off-street ultra-rapid charging hubs and potential ‘community charging’ allowing drivers use of a home charge point belonging to someone in the local area.

Consumers want charging choices

Not every charging option will work for every driver and vehicle; having a plethora of solutions available will be critical in supporting mass adoption and allowing drivers to choose the best option to suit them. Choice also benefits the grid since a bias towards either end of the charging spectrum could cause problems. For example, if everyone was to charge at home, the inconsistency between frequency, duration and time of day could prove problematic for power supply. Equally, if all-electric vehicles depended upon public charge points, the network would be unable to cope, especially if there was a bias towards faster charging.
Tom commented: “Having rapid and ultra-rapid charging taking place during the day, before the evening peak, and smart home charging happening overnight (when there has historically been a surplus of renewable energy with insufficient demand to keep it running) feels like a healthy balance.”
A mixed economy of charging delivers strong competition for providers, ensuring customers have a choice when it comes to the cost of charging. While some companies may be willing to pay higher prices for faster charging for their fleets and company car drivers, some private drivers may be more price-conscious and seek out lower cost – potentially even free-to-use – public charge points.

'Hybrid’ charging model

Gloomy headlines threatening rapid charging costs are slightly misleading since most EV drivers using public charge points are likely to engage in a blend of charging behaviour – ‘hybrid’ charging, rather than relying on one form of public charging alone.
Nothard adds: “Looking ahead to 2030 and beyond, this varied landscape will persist. By then, several million-home charging points will be installed and several hundred thousand public charging points. And let’s not forget workplace charging. For many drivers, their workplace could become their most regular charging location and another important part of the mixed economy of EV charging.”