EV charging infrastructure

With tanker driver shortages in September and October 2021 resulting in queues for petrol and diesel, thoughts have turned inevitably to those vehicles seemingly immune to the problem; battery electric vehicles (BEVs). 

Whilst internal combustion engines vehicles require liquid fossil fuels, BEVs run on electricity from the mains. Presently less than 2% of the national grid operates the UK’s transport fleet. This is of course set to change as petrol and diesel internal combustion engines (ICEs) are phased out from 2030 with plug in hybrids (PHEVs) following them out by 2035.

Images © Alan Asbury

The UK national grid has been on a route to decarbonisation for many years with significant inroads made to coal reduction and the expansion of wind and solar implementation. Naturally, where renewable energy can be linked to EV charging stations, significant benefits will ensue.

There are sites around the country already considering BEVs as a battery storage opportunity in situations where there are agreed parking periods in place.

The UK charging infrastructure looks impressive on the Apps that promote them. However, there are areas that need to improve if we are to mainstream this technology alongside hydrogen vehicles and car share as the routes to future mobility. Whilst as a recipient of government funding, Milton Keynes has excellent infrastructure and sensible incentives to encourage BEV users to depart form charge points once they have charged their vehicles. By forsaking any plans to make a profit out of this, Milton Keynes have invested in ensuring that the electric vehicle charging points (EVCPs) they have, are comprehensively maintained throughout their operational life. By contrast, areas in Cornwall that have some of the largest volumes of renewable energy generation in the country have a limited amount of charging infrastructure and the points that are in place are currently not well maintained. Drivers need to be confident that if undertaking a long-distance journey, the infrastructure en-route will be operational. Failure to act will have significantly adverse effects on tourism in the area as BEV drivers will be reluctant to travel and ICE divers will continue to worsen air quality in this pristine part of the Country.

For most BEV drivers, most charging takes place on the driveway at home. Topping the battery up when it has discharged below 80% is good practice and planning routes that exceed the natural range of your vehicle means that getting a feeling of range anxiety should be a rare or non-existent event. A 7kW charger installed on a single-phase supply in the home after the Government grant will typically cost less than £500.

Images © Alan Asbury

The cost to charge depends on the price you pay for your electricity and if you have a day/night or EV tariff and can charge late at night. Naturally, if your property has renewable electricity such as a solar PV array on the roof, then the vehicle may benefit, at least indirectly form this. Typically, a BEV will drive for as little as £0.035/mile which compares very favourably against even the most efficient of ICEs at around £0.11/mile.

When the driver is away from home, options for charging depend on several things. If they are away for the night, they may be able to park on a slow (3kW) or fast (7kW) charging bay, perhaps at a hotel to be fully charged in the morning. If stopping for a meeting or audit, they may be able to fully charge up on a fast charger (7kW) in the space of 3-4 hours. For this type of charge point, the drivers own cable is required. If this does not come with the vehicle, it will need to be purchased.

There are charge points offering power for free and these include Pod Point at over 200 Tesco stores and certain BP Pulse stations (where subscribed).

It is always important to confirm your charge and be sure you have disconnected when finished to avoid any possible overstay fines. Remember also that while the car is locked, your charge cable is likely to be locked to the car too. See also: https://ecotechdaily.net/author/craigjtoddgmail-com/

On a home charger, it will generally not be possible to charge the vehicle until it is locked. This is not always the case with service station rapid chargers and care should be taken in this respect if leaving the vehicle for any reason.

Where there is a need to keep moving, rapid chargers (43kW+) are sited at all motorway services and at many other sites besides. These chargers can take the vehicle from near empty to 80% charged in around 40 minutes.

At present, the siting of these rapid chargers is dependent on the electricity infrastructure nearby. 43kW rapid chargers may be inputting 100 amps into the vehicle as they start charging, dropping down as the battery fills up. Where the spare supply capacity is sufficient for only say 3 rapid charge points, plans to extend rely on the availability of power at local sub stations and the cost of infrastructural improvements. Rapid chargers have tethered cables so no need to carry one to use these.

It is noticeable that on certain motorways, several rapid chargers have been upgraded from 43kW to 120kW. Whilst this enhances the charging experience to a limited extent, in some cases, due to limited site capacity, it has led to the reduction in the actual number of chargers. This in many ways is a negative move. 

Until more charger hubs exist that can charge up to 36 cars at a time, there will be periods when drivers must wait longer than it takes to drink a cup of coffee.

Images © Alan Asbury

While rapid chargers are sometime necessary and very convenient, they do come at a cost, and this must be remembered. Whilst most people are paying daytime electricity rates at home of less than £0.16/kWh, rapid chargers will typically cost twice this and in some cases as much as £0.69/kWh. Drivers are paying for convenience and security and as such, this will inevitably be less than a tank of petrol or diesel. While BEV ownership remains with early adopters, courtesy and patience abound at rapid charging stations. As BEV ownership begins to mainstream, without a more solid infrastructure, the kind of behaviour recently seen at some petrol stations may occur.

The siting of EV chargers needs to take account of various things, not least, footfall, transport access, parking availability, site capacity, likely duration of stay cable routing, trenching conditions and services and access to plant room.

As the range of BEVs continues to grow, range anxiety becomes less of an issue. Where a driver cannot plug in at home or work or at nearby public charging infrastructure, BEV ownership may remain challenging.

The difficulty in charging a BEV and having the correct App or RFID card available is beginning to diminish as more and more sites will now accept users as a guest with a credit or debit card.

In this case, users are simply debited via their bank accounts and there is no need to carry cards, access Apps or ensure there is local Wi-Fi availability.

BEVs have become a real opportunity for Company fleets. The Benefit in Kind (BIK) rates, currently 1% for a BEV, compare very favourably against other vehicles including PHEVs. As company fleets embrace the technology, they will invest in their own EVCPs (still eligible for government grants), and this will further extend the availability of public charging infrastructure for non-company users.

Alan Asbury is Technical Director a CLS Energy Ltd https://clsenergy.com/fleet  and provides energy and fuel saving advice to transport fleet from cars to commercial vans, HGVs, ships, and aircraft. He can be contacted at alan.asbury@clsenergy.com