“It has been left for the market to decide”: Planning and Expanding EV Infrastructure

By - World Infrastructure Journal

“It has been left for the market to decide”: Planning and Expanding EV Infrastructure

The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) are due to invest £300 million in an effort to triple the number of ultra-rapid charging points for electric vehicles – a timely announcement given growing concerns with the practicalities of owning an electric vehicle (EV).

The £300 million is set to build 3,550 ports – 1,800 at motorway service points and another 1,750 in town and city centres. However, while the plans are certainly a step in the right direction for a nation that is attempting to ban the sale of new diesel and petroleum cars by 2030 (and phase out hybrid cars 5 years after that), more will have to be done to create the infrastructure necessary to support the British public as it shifts towards primarily using electric vehicles.

As a report released last week from the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) detailed, only 11 per cent of the new cars registered on British roads last year qualified as “ultra-low emission cars. ” At the current rate of uptake, Britain has no hopes of reaching its 2030 targets for vehicles, nor its Net-Zero 2050 goals. While the proposed solution from both the private and public sectors seems to be to simply push ahead (with the hopes that eventually the British public will be forced to make the change), the current state of affairs shows little sign of changing unless there is a shift in Britain’s approach to EVs and the central government takes a greater role in the planning and commissioning of the country’s electric vehicle infrastructure.

As John Collingridge, in The Financial Times pointed out, the inconvenience and confusion created by a spotty network of charging stations that are sometimes only compatible with certain vehicles has made journeys in EVs a “nerve-wracking” experience. The solution would appear to be simply creating more charging points, however given the current approach to EV infrastructure that is not necessarily true. As it stands, private developers are often devising and planning EV infrastructure largely unsupervised. This means that rather than being incentivised to create charging stations that are convenient to users, the creators of different charging networks are being encouraged to try and target the most popular areas. As a result, smaller city centres and rural areas find themselves under-served, and potential users of EVs find themselves discouraged.

Even more concerning, however, is the fact that mollifying the broader impacts of shifting from a petroleum- and diesel-driven transport sector to one supported by battery and hydrogen does not seem to be a pressing concern to those in government (or the private developers who are largely building the infrastructure). Besides the fact there has been a lack of cross-party co-operation (and continuity between governments) on such a significant societal shift, there also appears to be a real lack of thought for how the impact will be felt like cities such as Aberdeen and Birmingham where industry is reliant on the petroleum-powered vehicle. On top of that, one of Britain’s largest sources of clean and reliable energy (the nuclear sector) is disappearing from the grid as more and more plants are set to be such down by EDF.

As Collingridge put it, reaching Net-Zero and changing the way British people drive are things that require “detailed, multi-decade planning. ”  Ofgem Chief Executive Jonathan Brearley claimed the investment in charging stations would “support the rapid take-up of electric vehicles which will be vital if Britain is to hit its climate change targets". However, this will not be enough to ensure Britain will not miss out on the estimated £700bn it could make through decarbonisation and growing trade (according to the CBI) unless it signals a changing approach to EV infrastructure.

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