The changing face of electric Britain

Have you ever thought about buying an electric car? If you have, you are not alone. With COP26 on the horizon, talk about the climate emergency is in the news every day.

Buying an electric vehicle (EV) is one way to play our part in reducing carbon emissions. The rate of EV sales in the UK is growing rapidly. Last year saw the biggest annual increase, with more than 175,000 electric vehicles registered, a growth of 66% on 2019.

Britain is about to undergo an electric revolution. Just as the combustion engine changed our towns and cities, our familiar spaces will change again, to accommodate the new breed of vehicles.
If you are thinking about switching to an EV, no doubt you’ll have thought about where, and how, you’ll fill it up – with electricity. The dream of a net zero future, with more and more electric cars, hinges on our motorways and urban spaces having enough places to refuel.

The price of electric cars is becoming more affordable all the time. Increasing numbers of companies now own fleets of electric vehicles. But, for the whole country to move to EVs, we must have a coordinated network of public charging points.

Postcode lottery

Charging your electric car in Scotland is easy and cheap. ChargePlace Scotland runs the country’s public network of 1,500 charging points and for a modest sum you can buy a card giving you free charging. Drive elsewhere in the UK and you find a choice of providers, each with a different charge card and varying prices. This can be very frustrating, even for the committed EV owner.

According to Steve Bratt of Actuate UK, the voice of eight major UK engineering services trade bodies, “without an integrated plan to install a comprehensive charging network, customers will not make the necessary switch to EV. Drivers are understandably worried about being stranded without fuel. We must make the EV charging network a priority in the shift to fossil free motoring.”

Without the switch to EVs, the country will not reach it’s 2050 net zero target. This Spring, Germany committed to spend nearly £5 billion during the next three years to provide EV charging points at every petrol station. Their aim is to boost consumer demand for electric cars. The UK must step up to provide a similar infrastructure to demonstrate to the world we are serious about the switch to electric vehicles.

Adam Smith of NRT Eco, who installs EV charging points, says “we need more charging points in businesses and on the streets. If you go to your local petrol station, you are lucky if it has one electric point. If there is a car already fuelling, you could have up to an hour’s wait.”

Moves are afoot to develop all electric charging forecourts. Gridserve has built the first in Essex. It plans to build another 100 by the end of the decade. There are noises from some of the big forecourt names such as BP and Shell, that they too are making the switch to all electric forecourts.

You might be considering installing a EV charging point in your garage. Be warned it isn’t cheap – it could cost up to £14,000. The good news is it can be done quickly, with most installations taking less than a day. Government incentives for buying small electric cars were removed in March, although they are still in place for larger business vehicles, at least for the time being.

You might be wondering why it is so costly to install a domestic EV charging point. As with many new technologies there is more involved than at first glance. For example, the installer needs to see your ‘permission to park’ and check the amount of power available in your house. The installer may need to fit ‘load limiting’ equipment. This prevents power loss for normal household activities by limiting the car’s charging speed. The solution to cheaper and more readily available charging points is to make more of them public.

Small scale businesses, such as NRT Eco and Gridserve, are good news for EV owners. Actuate UK, however, is concerned about the many aspects of large-scale charging installation yet to be considered. While businesses may provide the charging stations, the surge in demand for electricity needs forethought. Renewable energy supplies almost half of the electricity needs in the UK, but more is needed. The solution to the charging surge is joined up thinking about energy storage. A system of minigrids with battery storage is one-way to capture electricity generated in homes and other small-scale ventures. This would generate enough electricity to power local charging points.

Electric Vehicle technology is developing apace. New EVs have a range of 400 miles before they need a recharge, like a petrol vehicle. The time taken for charging is getting shorter. But to reduce our carbon footprint we must also change our habits. Thinking ahead how we use our cars, charging the car overnight and noting charging stations before a long journey will become common place.

It is hard to visualise the future shape of our roads and service stations. And it may seem frustrating to make changes to our lifestyles. But what we all will welcome in the future is breathing cleaner air and hearing quieter roads.

When asked what he would say to world leaders at COP26, Adam Smith says “Give us a plan, not just promises – people need incentives to switch to an electric future”.

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