Meera Vadher is a Director at Flint Global. She was until recently Special Adviser to the Transport Secretary and before that, Chief of Staff to Mayor Andy Street.
Love them or loath them, Electric Vehicles (EVs) are booming. EV sales were the auto sector’s standout success last year. More EVs were sold than the previous five years combined, and 2022 is set to be the year EVs outsell diesel cars.
Fears about fuel resilience and the rising cost of petrol and diesel will lead to more families taking the plunge, perhaps sooner than envisaged.
Greater EV adoption means we reduce our energy vulnerability. But this is not a quick fix given only two per cent of cars in the UK are electric or hybrid (as of December 2021).
The long-awaited UK electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure strategy, the Government’s plan for building the infrastructure around future EV demand projections, with a view of encouraging consumers to buy in confidence that there will be adequate chargepoints for all, was released late last month.
The Government accepts that the pace of electric vehicle infrastructure deployment is too slow. By 2030 ten million vehicles, a quarter of all cars and vans, will need to be zero emission at the tailpipe to meet national climate commitments. The Government wants to increase the number of chargepoints tenfold to 300,000.
The solution? Three broad solutions are offered: invest in the strategic road network, develop and implement local strategies, and implement consumer-focused reforms.
Of the three, the most impactful will be the local measures, as they will force local authorities to have a plan; £1.6bn of funding is confirmed, but largely from existing sources. The Treasury is holding its line of not announcing funding outside of set-piece Treasury events.
The key tools to achieve this ambitious target are the £950m Rapid Charging Fund, a newly announced £450m Local EV Infrastructure Fund, and upcoming legislation to regulate chargepoints, driving the shift towards open data and contactless payment.
However, this does not mean Government can start rolling out more chargepoints from now. There is much more detailed work to do ahead of implementation, and we won’t see a material shift in installation pace until at least mid-2023.
Deploying funding on the Strategic Road Network
The Government has previously said that there would be at least six, but up to nine, ultra-rapid chargepoints per motorway service area. The strategy takes this further, pushing for more than 12 of these chargepoints at some sites.
Significantly, there is going to be further consultation on mandating that service area operators and large fuel retailers must meet minimum chargepoint numbers at specific sites.
We can expect this consultation fairly soon as the Government will be keen to get any legislation passed in the next session of Parliament, which starts after the Queen’s Speech on 10 May (popcorn ready).
However, the £950m Rapid Charging Fund itself will not go live until 2023 because of the further consultation, much later than expected. The next few months will be used to flesh out the details between departments, where there is likely some disagreement on what the best use of the fund is.
Local Charging Strategies
The Government says it is going to legislate for a statutory obligation on Local Authorities to develop and implement local charging strategies. They will also be responsible for planning for the electrification of fleets and the development of new commercial models.
The strategy points to the potential to consolidate charging funds for greater transparency and clarity for investors and operators.
This part of the strategy is important given the criticism that the Government has received for spatial disparities in EV charging infrastructure. By giving LAs new duties, the Government can assess progress and determine future funding on their successful delivery.
Expect some shaming of (Labour-led) councils in future Transport Orals, and talk of Levelling Up vehicle electrification.
Of the total £1.6bn allocated to EV infrastructure under this Government, around £500m will be used for local charging infrastructure.
Of that, £450m of that is for local charging schemes and £50m is reserved for helping Local Authorities properly resource themselves to develop their plans – much needed in many areas of the country that have not been able to take advantage of previous funding schemes because of capacity constraints.
The Government will introduce legislation to regulate the chargepoint market. This will ensure there is open data, price transparency, payment methods (contactless) and reliability.
The upcoming legislation is also expected to cover minimum standards and a requirement for all chargers to be smart. Chargepoints will need to meet 99 per cent reliability standards by the end of 2023, putting pressure on providers to ensure chargepoints are regularly maintained and upgraded.
EV drivers are constantly frustrated by the different payment mechanisms and apps required on different charge points, let alone when chargepoints are out of use. Moving to a contactless, easier to understand pricing system, where you know the chargepoint is going to be working, should help debunk range anxiety and ease-of-use fears.
Gaps and opportunities
There are still some gaps and opportunities for the Government to simplify delivery. For example, instead of announcing planning reform for chargepoints, it has committed to exploring options for introducing a unified consent process, including a process for obtaining planning permission and highways consent simultaneously.
The strategy does not focus on the future of motoring taxes, or on the issue of electricity supply.
Given the recent headlines about automotive supply chain issues exacerbating issues in domestic car production, it is easy to forget about the long-term need to build more chargepoints. The Government has stayed true to its word by publishing this strategy, albeit delayed, and its aim to reach 300,000 public chargepoints by 2030, despite the wider issues in the sector.
It is clear from the Prime Minister’s comments on the strategy and the narrative surrounding it that the focus on net zero going forward will be hinged on the simple message of “driv[ing] down our dependence on external energy supplies”.
For those who say that Net Zero is dead, it’s not. It’s just having a makeover.