Ed Birkett

Head of Energy and Environment (2020 - 2022) Read Full Bio

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“Electric petrol stations” are important, but don’t forget “slow” chargepoints.

Jan 18, 2022



Last week (Thursday 13th January), a new electric vehicle charging hub opened in London, replacing an existing petrol station. Ultra-rapid charging hubs like this will be extremely important to support EV drivers who need to charge up quickly on the move.

However, the Government must not overlook the role of “slow” chargepoints (circa 5kW). These chargepoints take several hours to an electric vehicle (EV), but can be installed cheaply in homes and businesses, often without requiring expensive new electricity cables or digging up roads.

Many private companies are installing “ultra-rapid” chargepoints without public money.

The new charging hub in Fulham has nine “ultra-rapid” 175kW chargers that can charge a typical EV (60 kWh) by 50% in just 10 or 15 minutes. The upcoming (but delayed) EV Charging Strategy is expected to include Government support for rapid-charging hubs at key locations, particularly Motorway Service Areas – the Government has already promised £950million to upgrade the electricity network at these locations.

In a report last year, Charging Up, Policy Exchange found that the number of ultra-rapid chargepoints in the UK needs to increase from around 1,500 in 2020 to around 6,000 by 2030 – a rate of approximately 500 ultra-rapid chargepoints per year. Privately-owned chargepoint operators are broadly on track to hit this target, with around 300 high-powered chargepoints per year installed between 2018 and 2020. Some of these chargepoints receive public money, but many do not, suggesting that many companies see a business model for ultra-rapid chargepoints.

The Government should therefore only support ultra-rapid chargepoints in areas that are underserved or likely to pose particular challenges. Motorway Service Areas meet these criteria, as they are often remote and require a large number of chargepoints, which means that expensive new power cables and substations are likely to be needed.

“Slow” chargepoints are typically cheaper.

Alongside ultra-rapid chargepoints, there is also an important role for “slow” chargepoints, which are typically used to charge cars overnight or by drivers parking near offices during the day.

The main advantage of slow chargepoints is that they are usually cheaper. Slow chargepoints often reuse existing electricity infrastructure, so operators can charge lower prices.

Because they don’t need to be close to existing high-voltage electricity cables, slow chargepoints can be rolled out almost anywhere – across London, over 1,000 slow chargepoints have already been installed on lampposts.

In research for our report, we found that slow chargepoints need to be installed five times faster than the current rate, with around 500,000 required by the 2030s, compared to around 50,000 today.

In some locations, slow chargepoints are not financially viable because there aren’t enough EV owners locally. There is an argument for the Government to fund chargepoints in the most underserved areas – this will help to overcome the chicken-and-egg problem, with drivers only wanting to buy EVs once they know there are enough chargepoints nearby.

Alongside financial support, the Government also needs to reduce other barriers to installing slow chargepoints, including a lack of dedicated staff in local councils to process applications from chargepoints operators.

The EV Infrastructure Strategy must bring forward a mix of chargepoints.

As EVs become widespread, drivers will need a range of charging options. Drivers who can charge at home will do so, benefitting from cheaper electricity overnight. For drivers who can’t charge at home, the public charging network will be critical.

Ultra-rapid charging hubs, like the new one in Fulham, are critically important to give drivers confidence that they can have a “petrol-like” experience when they need it. However, we must not forget the role of slow chargepoints, a concept that is unfamiliar to drivers of petrol and diesel vehicles but valuable and affordable for EV owners.

Again, Fulham offers a vision of the future. Right next to the new charging hub, there’s a humble slow chargepoint connected to a lamppost – charging up at this lamppost may be slow, but it is 50% cheaper and so offers a valuable service for local residents.

A lamppost chargepoint in Fulham, next door to the new ultra-rapid charging hub.

Ed Birkett

Head of Energy and Environment (2020 - 2022) Read Full Bio

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