Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a weekly British EV newsletter.
In today’s edition… as much of the UK suffers a drought, data I’ve analysed suggests we might soon have a dry spell for public EV chargers.
Further down… some personal news from me, InstaVolt raises its prices (for the fourth time), and the most popular chargers in England.
As ever, if you have any thoughts or feedback, please do drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply reply to this email.
Should we prepare for a public charger drought?
As the UK continues to swelter in never-ending heat, most of the country is officially suffering a drought. The result has been new guidance from water companies to curb unnecessary usage, from hosepipe bans to four-minute showers.
Many people are rather upset by these measures, with some blaming suppliers for having spent years pocketing profits rather than investing in infrastructure – which is leaking up to 2.4 billion litres each day.
This made me think of our EV charging infrastructure.
In the past few years, since the government introduced the 2030 ban, thousands of households have made the switch to fully electric cars. And as the price of fuel hovers under £2 a litre, this has further accelerated.
But, are EV chargers keeping up?
In my view… no. Looking at the charts compiled below, it seems we could soon reach a breaking point where the number of EVs far outweighs the number of public chargers - which currently sits at over 32,000.
These charts use data from both the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and the Department for Transport. The first one (below) shows the number of battery EVs in the UK (that is, fully electrics) versus the total number of chargepoints since 2019. As you can see, since the 2030 ban was announced at the end of 2020, EV growth has rocketed forward.
This surge is following the typical ‘S’ growth curve that new technology goes through as adoption widens. It has gone against the grain in the motor industry, as while sales for internal combustions have fallen, EVs have continued to grow month-on-month.
Now, those 520,000+ fully electric car owners in the UK may not necessarily present a ‘drought’ risk, as they may all have home chargers. However, you only need to consider data from New Automotive last month, which found 1 in 2 new cars registered in London were EVs, to realise this assumption is probably false.
Whatever the situation, it’s critical we have a strong public charging network for those third of people without a driveway and for those making longer journeys. The worst thing that could happen for the UK’s EV transition is that queues for chargepoints become regular. Having to wait to recharge on the go is one thing for people to overcome, but the prospect of queuing will drive people mad.
There is already evidence to suggest chargers, especially rapid chargers, are becoming busier. I’ve read several comments online, in forums and on Zap-Map that suggest the possibility of queuing for a charger is to be expected. This will not help us win the EV argument and will only entrench people’s anxiety and dislike of EVs.
The data suggests we should expect chargers to get busier too. According to my analysis, in the past two years, the number of EVs for each chargepoint has doubled. For rapid chargers, which people may use on longer trips, there are currently 85 EVs to each installed device – compared to 40 EVs per rapid device two years ago. The chart below highlights this growing chargepoint gap.
I find these statistics worrying. As while we’re not currently seeing stories of long EV queues – as no doubt the MailOnline would cover this in a heartbeat – I think it’s honest to say we may not be far away.
These figures also don’t even consider regional disparities – which are massive. London, for example, hosts a third of all devices in the UK. Meanwhile, some parts of the UK remain plugless deserts.
Take Cornwall, which sees millions of tourists visit annually on top of the 500,000 residents; it only has three ultra-rapid sites (100kW). That’s a total of 12 chargers and three of those are currently reported broken.
So, what’s the solution?
While there are soft solutions, like sharing home chargers, going by my third chart (below), which shows how many new BEVs are hitting the road per chargepoint installed each quarter, I would suggest the simple truth is the rollout pace needs to hugely increase – as the dial isn’t moving.
Obviously, calling for a faster rollout is easier said than done. As my analysis of charging networks showed a few weeks ago, good reliability is just as important as having the device installed. However, it seems increasingly evident that the government’s approach of leaving its ambition to be “market-led” may not be working.
While I know companies like BP and Shell are investing billions already, I do wonder if given their vast energy profits they should have an even greater responsibility in bridging this gap.
It’s not just down to large companies, though. The government (and new Conservative leader) must retake the reins in delivering this transition. As shown by that first chart, the cat is out of the bag and there is too much invested for this to fall by the wayside.
Much like with our water supply, we cannot allow ourselves to drift into an EV charger drought due to complacency.
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In the last week…
PERSONAL NEWS: As many readers know, my day job is in communications, and I’m pleased to say I’ve recently joined the PR agency Pagefield as a Senior Consultant. The even better news? This newsletter will continue as it has done since January 2021 reporting on the ins and outs of this industry. So please do continue to get in touch with your EV news and views – I always enjoy hearing from people whether they are businesses, drivers, or fellow communicators. Likewise, if you do want to chat about ways of working together, do reach out! The best way to contact me is simply by replying to this email. Thank you for your continued support!
IN THE PRESS: Speaking of personal news, did you see the recent edition of Autocar? It was great to see analysis from The Fast Charge on reliability highlighted in Jim Holder’s recent ‘inside the industry’ column for the magazine. You can read it online here.
NEW TREND: Right, that’s the end of personal stuff. And on that note, I missed this a couple of weeks ago but, over in Japan, Nissan announced recently it would be letting drivers rent its EVs for several years instead of buying them. The aim of this move is so Nissan can preserve the metals used to make the cars. This follows a similar move Ford quietly made earlier this year in the US, saying its EVs cannot be purchased at the end of a lease. An interesting trend.
NEW FUNDING: On the topic of minerals, not long on the tail of the UK’s critical mineral strategy, over in Hungary the world’s largest battery manufacturer, China’s CATL, has completed a deal to build a new €7.3bn factory. This is CATL’s second European site (they are building another in Germany) and will supply Europe’s carmakers. This announcement comes ahead of a directive (that the UK is signed up to) that from 1 January 2024 cars in Europe need to be made with 50% battery materials sourced from the EU or UK to be free from tariffs. Read more.
NO FUNDING: As China continue to surge forward to dominate the EV race, Jasper Jolly at The Guardian has found that Britishvolt, the UK’s current one hope for its own gigafactory, is on “life support”, according to internal documents at the firm. It seems as they wait for a new round of funding, the company has tried to cut costs, including severely limited construction until February. Now, the cynic in me thinks ‘oh no, what luck for these funding woes to leak in a Tory leadership election between two candidates vying for the red wall’. However, at the same time, I’m sure delivering this project is a real sinkhole for cash. Read more.
HIGH PRICING: On the topic of costs, for the fourth time in 9 months, InstaVolt, one the UK’s largest rapid charging networks, has increased prices to 66p per kWh – that’s a 15% rise since May, and 65% since November 2021. As they often do, InstaVolt has called on the VAT rate at public charging to be reduced to 5% from 20%. However, even then the cost would still be 58p per kWh – higher than the previous rate of 57p per kWh up to yesterday. InstaVolt has 830 chargers in its network and is hugely popular with EV drivers for its reliability. But, even advocates are getting frustrated with these rises now. Andrew Till, the EV blogger, tweeted, “Love you guys but this is getting ridiculous.” Read more. As a reminder, a few weeks ago I pondered how we could keep charging cheap in future.
POPULAR STATION: Zap-Map has revealed the most popular EV chargers in the UK – based on analysing 1.6 million charging sessions. No surprise, they are all locations of multiple rapid chargers. The top five are: GRIDSERVE’s hub in Rugby; GRIDSERVE’s hub in Exeter; MFG EV Power’s station in Newington; BP Pulse’s site off the A4 (just down the road from me and I can attest to its popularity, especially with taxi and private hire vehicles), and GRIDSERVE’s Braintree forecourt. Read more.
BIG NEWS: Citroen UK announced yesterday it is to provide 16 electric vans to the Big Issue Group as part of a three-year partnership. The Big Issue, an important publication in the UK that supports vulnerably housed and homeless people, has a special edition out now about the partnership, so make sure you buy one from a vendor!
NERDY DISAGREEMENT: The ICAEW, an influential accountancy body, has published a blog suggesting HMRC’s guidance on reimbursement of electricity costs for charging company-provided EVs does ‘not reflect the law’. It’s a bit technical but I believe what they are saying is, HMRC believes there is tax liability where an employer reimburses employees for the cost of charging an EV that can be used privately. But the accountants disagree. The ICAEW has said they are in discussions with HMRC on this, so perhaps watch out for an updated note on GOV.UK in due course. Read the blog.
SAVE THE DATE (1): If it’s not in your diary already, here’s your reminder that World EV Day is on 9 September. Often the day sees lots of e-mobility announcements, so best to get planning now.
SAVE THE DATE (2): The Financial Times is bringing back its very popular Future of the Car summit from 8-10 May in 2023. Though it’s a long way away, now is the time to get in touch about sponsorship and speaker opportunities. As a reminder, this year’s event saw Elon Musk as the keynote speaker. See more info.
By Tom Riley
I was impressed to Ionity had a queue manager at the Gretna chargers the weekend before last. Sadly they were needed as when we left there were 5 cars in the queue.