Charging Ahead on the Road to Zero Emissions

Richard Baker, CEO of GeoSpock

The UK transport sector contributes more to carbon emissions than any other. It’s therefore no surprise that the government is encouraging more people to switch to electric vehicles (EVs). In February, the UK government brought forward their ban on new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars from 2040 to 2035, paving the way for greater adoption of hybrids and EVs that run on cleaner energy.  

However, it is not that simple – the EV transition strategy lacks a few crucial pieces. 

Deloitte has estimated that the global EV market will reach a tipping point by 2022, when the cost of ownership of an electric vehicle will be on par with the internal combustion engine (ICE). Unfortunately, it could also result in a supply gap of almost 14 million EVs in 2030, undermining government efforts.  

The aim is clear – moving toward the electrification of the private and public road transport sectors. However, there’s still a long way to go and many things to consider.

Complexities of a national charging infrastructure 

In January 2020, a new Ipsos Global study revealed that consumers ranked the location and availability of charging stations as one of the biggest barriers to EV adoption. To address this, the Conservative government made a £500 million election commitment to expand the ‘fast-charging network’. This could lead to a substantial improvement from the 15,500 chargers / 26,500 plugs which are present, according to Zapmap. However, compare that to the 8,400 fuel stations and 68,000 pumps currently in the UK, and we have a better understanding of the current situation.

If we accept that the number of charging stations has to increase, and that the government is reacting, we must consider their location. Choosing the best sites are complex due to competing factors such as local grid constraints and EV ownership density. Unlike traditional refilling at petrol stations, it’s not a one-size-fits-all system. The type of charge point best suited to each location will depend on the profile of each area and the driving habits of EV users within it.  

The wide range of charging speeds, and potentially long recharge times, means EV charging infrastructure needs to fit alongside existing driving behaviours and activities. If, for example, the majority of EV drivers prefer to charge up their vehicles while they do Saturday’s shopping in a particular district, then that is vital data for charge point locations.  

Charge points as data goldmines 

Operational data on charging – such as time of day, charge duration, the amount of power delivered and what type of connector was used – is now collected in conjunction with commercial data related to payment methods and transaction amounts. In addition, modern EVs are far more digitally enabled than traditional vehicles, constantly recording high volumes of additional spatial data during the day. 

Taking into account all the different variables makes it a delicate balancing act to decide what the demands are for drivers – whether visiting any given neighbourhood supermarket or central business district car park now, or in the future. That’s where the power of geospatial data will help. This can highlight unique usage patterns in specific areas and shed light on which is the best route to take when it comes to EV infrastructure investment. Once you have a clear picture of charging use and behaviour in a particular location, you can remove a lot of the guesswork from charging infrastructure decisions. 

The “overpowered” elephant in the room  

We are in the energy age – every nation is looking to fill the void left by fossil fuels and make efficient, future-proof decisions. As EVs become more widespread, electrical demand will grow and, on current estimations, outstrip the capacity of local power grids. This in turn will force EV charging networks to compete with each other in infrastructure projects for electricity. 

There is also concern over electrifying public transport. UK buses and trains are due a complete overhaul, purely from an efficiency standpoint. Factor in electrification, and the public transport network needs huge and ongoing investment if it is to meet modern and future demands. 

The UK government has set bold and welcome plans for EVs. It is the first step in making the UK transport industry fit for purpose. However, simply banning or phasing out old, inefficient vehicles and expecting private companies to develop new technology to fill the void will not suffice. 

We need to make decisions that will benefit us, not just for the here and now, but for the unforeseeable future. Building charging points is to be lauded, but what happens if the technology is made redundant, or if public habits change? Instead, the government must look to invest in data, creating a holistic transport hub to understand activity and trends in the industry. Only then can we make informed, real-time decisions and ensure the national move to electrification is moving forward in the most efficient and flexible way possible.