Forget range worries, fear of charging is the new hurdle for electric cars

Electric CUV car in a city. Electric car charging, font view. Vector flat style illustration

We’ve got a power struggle (Image: Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Electric car sales are booming, but access to public chargers is declining, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) warns. Twelve months ago, it is said, there was one charger for every 16 plug-in cars – now there is only one for every 32 cars.

Mike Hawes, the trade body’s chief executive, said the solution is for the UK government to put in place a charging infrastructure mandate, similar to the mandate automakers face, of what percentage of their car sales must be electric from 2024.

It’s easy to see how the problem arose. There are now 140 EV models, with another 55 coming this year – and every sixth new car sold is electric, says Hawes.

For vans, it’s now one in 28. South Korean automaker Kia has gone from electric models accounting for 1% of its total UK car sales in 2019 to 20% in 2022. BMW doubled its sales of electric cars worldwide last year.

According to Transport Secretary Trudy Harrison, the number of public charging points in the UK increased by 37% last year, with around 600 added each month. She says that while public chargers are important, the government expects most people to use home charging as the main method because it’s cheap and convenient.

For a third of drivewayless homes, charging station grants will be refocused on drivers living in rental apartments and apartment blocks.

But Robert Llewellyn, the Red Dwarf actor and host of the YouTube electric car series Fully Charged, warns that supply doesn’t always match demand.

“There is no question that there is growing frustration with the availability of fast chargers,” he says. “We are seeing queues for the first time as the number of electric cars driven has increased dramatically and the number of new chargers has not increased at the same time.”

But, he adds, things are getting better. “There are big charging stations that are either being built or are already opening and they give so much more confidence than an isolated charger in a parking lot next to the toilets with no lights, which is really hard to find.”

For example, in the UK there are dedicated ‘electric charging stations’ such as Gridserve’s in Braintree, Essex, which can charge 36 cars at a time.

EDITORIAL USE ONLY Vehicles being charged outside the newly opened GRIDSERVE, the UK's first electric charging station, Essex.

Is this Essex Gridserve ‘electric forecourt’ the future? (Credit Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

Charging worries could keep people from going electric (Image: Getty Images / Image Source)

Charging worries could keep people from going electric (Image: Getty Images / Image Source)

Another problem is the uneven distribution of chargers. BMW’s Thomas Becker says there is a “massive concentration of infrastructure” in London, with one public charging station for every nine cars, compared to one for every 55 in north-west England.

“Not enough charging points” is one of the top concerns about electric cars in the UK, according to a public opinion tracker run by the Department for Transport. Other polls have reported similar attitudes.

The? found that 33% of people in the UK expressed concern about a lack of charging points for long journeys and 29% were concerned about a lack of charging points close to where they live.

So would setting targets for the ratio of chargers to cars help? Maybe. People who work in charging networks, unlike car manufacturers, have often told me that they don’t want any further government intervention because of course they will match supply with demand.

Meanwhile, public chargers in the UK – and elsewhere – are becoming increasingly powerful. This means they can charge car batteries faster and each charger can power more vehicles every day.

“Numbers like the number of EVs per charger don’t tell us much,” says Zap-Map’s Melanie Shufflebotham, who tracks charge points. “Not all charging stations are the same. They serve different purposes and it is unhelpful to compare a lantern charger rated at five kilowatts, suitable for overnight charging, with a 100-kilowatt ultra-fast charger, which can add about 100 miles in 15 minutes.’

According to Zap-Map, the UK has around 500 megawatts of electricity capacity on the public grid – enough to support 420,000 electric vehicles. Ultrafast charging infrastructure is growing fast, up 60% over the past year, says Shufflebotham. So what next?

Katie Black of the government’s Office for Zero Emissions Vehicles believes government plans will remove some of the barriers for people who have not switched to electric cars.

BP, which owns the UK’s largest public charging network, announced in March that it will spend £1billion over ten years to “significantly increase” the number of super-fast charging points from the UK’s 8,000.

Adding to the prospects for new charger-to-car targets, Hawes says, “I think we’ll wait and see.”

Ask Cazoo’s car doctor: automotive editor Phil Tromans

Should I change my electricity tariff if I buy an electric car?

MB6H9N energy monitor (smart meter) in the kitchen of a UK home

It might make sense (Credits: Alamy Stock Photo)

If you buy an electric car and have a home charger installed, you don’t need to change your electricity tariff, but it can make financial sense to do so.

If your current tariff allows you to pay the same price for electricity every time of the day, you can save money by switching to an off-peak or savings tariff by charging your car with cheap electricity while you sleep.

However, it can mean that you end up paying more for the electricity you use during the day, so it pays to do the math carefully and look for the best deal.

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Justin Scacco

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