In this article, we look at the different types and locations of EV charging in the UK, plus the challenges and legislation relating to it.
How Many Electric Cars In The UK?
By the end of August 2021, there were more than 600,000 plug-in vehicles, and nearly 300,000 BEVs (Battery-Powered Electric Vehicles) and 300,000 PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) registered in the UK. Electric vehicles are often simply referred to as EVs.
Electronic vehicles contain batteries that need charging. Although hybrid EVs are powered by an internal combustion engine and electric motor (which uses energy stored in batteries), they can’t be plugged in to charge the battery (the engine and regenerative braking charge the battery).
For normal EVs, three main types of charging are available (rapid, fast, and slow). These represent the power outputs (measured in kilowatts kW) and charging speeds. Each charger type has a different type of connector for low or high-power use, and for AC or DC charging.
Rapid chargers, using tethered cables, are the fastest way to charge an EV, and they supply high power as direct or alternating current (DC or AC). Typically (depending on the model), rapid charging can recharge EV batteries to 80 per cent in around 20 minutes. Types of rapid chargers include rapid DC chargers (providing power at 50 kW/125A, ultra-rapid DC chargers providing power at 100 kW or more, Tesla’s own Supercharger network providing rapid DC charging (using the Tesla Type 2 connector or a Tesla CCS connector) up to 150 kW, and rapid AC chargers providing power at 43 kW.
Fast chargers (mostly AC charging) can typically recharge an EV with a 40-kWh battery in 4-6 hours using a 7-kW charger, or in 1-2 hours using a 22-kW charger. Most fast chargers are 7 kW and untethered (a cable that is not permanently fixed to the charge point connects the EV with the charge point). Some home and workplace units have cables attached.
Slow chargers are mostly untethered, and a 3-kW unit typically takes 6-12 hours to fully charge a car battery.
Different Connectors for Charging
Connectors (to the car from the charging point) differ depending on the charger type (socket) and the vehicle’s inlet port. For example, rapid chargers use CHAdeMO, CCS (Combined Charging Standard) or Type 2 connectors, whereas fast and slow units tend to use Type 2, Type 1, Commando, or 3-pin plug outlets.
The choices of where EV owners can charge their vehicles include vary. For example, there are 20+ EV charging networks are currently available in the UK. Examples of these networks include the ESB Energy public network (rapid charge points, London, and Coventry plus charge points for taxi drivers), Osprey (formerly Engenie) with its UK-wide network of rapid chargers, and bp pulse (formerly Polar) which is one of the UK’s largest public charging networks.
EV charger types and their location typically include:
– Rapid chargers, which can be found (typically) at motorway services and near main travel routes.
– Fast chargers, found (typically) at car parks, supermarkets, and leisure centres.
– Slow Charging points are mainly used outside private homes (for charging overnight), at workplaces, and in some other public places. Slow public chargers tend to be older devices.
Different networks offer different payment methods for using their chargers. Payment methods include Zap-Pay (an app-based, pay-as-you-go credit or debit card system), contactless credit or debit card payments, MFG app contactless payments, subscription memberships, and more.
Most Use Public Chargers
A Zap-Map survey (of 2,200 people) found that 90 per cent use public chargers when they’re out. Supermarkets are the most popular public charging place (48 per cent of respondents), followed by motorway service stations (47 per cent) and public car parks (32 per cent).
Ultra-Rapid Charging Point Growth
Recent figures have also shown a growth in ultra-rapid charge points with 16 per cent of EV owners now using them. This trend has been helped by more cars being able to take higher charge rates as well as an almost doubling of the number of ultra-rapid charge points available.
The UK Law
In the UK, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (AEV Act), was essentially designed to ensure that the UK’s infrastructure and insurance system could cope with the large-scale switch from petrol/diesel to electronic vehicles. Whereas the first part of the Act is mainly concerned with how insurers deal with claims related to operating EVs in automated technology mode and keeping the software up to date, the second part deals with the EV charging infrastructure (availability, compatibility vehicle types, reliability standards and standardising how they are paid for).
In 2019, the UK government held a consultation with stakeholders in response to the introduction of the Act. Some of the key points in the responses include:
– The time of day at which Electric Vehicle (EV) charging occurs could have significant implications for the electricity system. With more people getting home charging points, this could lead to most EVs being charged at peak times (between 5pm and 7pm), this could mean that greater investment is needed in the charging networks, and in and in electricity generation capacity to meet increased demand.
– Shifting EV charging to a different time of day (e.g., overnight) when there is lower demand on the electricity system, or to times of high renewable energy generation, could help reduce the need for costly electricity network reinforcement to meet increased demand, and could give consumers savings on their energy bills.
– The AEV Act 2018 gives the UK Government powers through secondary legislation to mandate that all EV charge points sold and installed in the UK have smart functionality and meet minimum device-level requirements.
Due to the increased demand and possible disruptive effect on the UK energy supply from EV owners all charging their cars at the same time, there have been concerns that new EV chargers could be preset to turn off for nine hours a day, and automatically set to not function at ‘peak times.’ However, public chargers and rapid chargers (e.g., on motorways) are exempt from peak times. Smart charge points may, however, come pre-set to prevent automatic charging during peak times (8 am to 11 am, 4 pm to 10 pm weekdays) but the legislation specifies time windows instead of an off-peak period.
Although the UK government requires smart EV charger makers to include a function that randomly delays the start time of any load control action (to delay EV charging when there is grid instability), they have also said that users should be allowed to override this delay function.
New Build Homes and Offices Must Include EV Chargers
One of the big challenges to getting people to buy an EV vehicle is whether they can have charging points available at home (or at work). The UK government is therefore introducing legislation later this year that will require all newly built homes and offices in England to feature EV chargers.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Having a charging network that is widespread, effective, easy, and cheap to use, and having home and/or office charging points as well as public charging points are of major importance in influencing more people to make the switch to EV ownership. There is, however, still some confusion in the marketplace about charging options which is one of the reasons why The Department for Transport (DfT) has introduced contactless payment at charge points, forcing operators to provide a 24/7 call helpline for drivers and making location data, power rating and price information more accessible, with the hope of reassuring motorists that charging EV’s can be easier than refuelling with petrol or diesel. Also, the government needs to be able to ensure that the energy infrastructure is capable of dealing with the demands of EV charging (e.g. home charging) on a large scale, and that this will not disrupt/destabilise the grid, especially at peak times, hence the government’s consultation. This is a challenge that must be tackled soon due to legislation coming in to require all new homes and offices to have a charging point. The EV charging network market is also likely to expand, thereby providing more new opportunities for energy companies and charging network suppliers. How the situation is balanced and managed as EV ownership takes off is a critical matter for government, businesses, and individuals over the next few years.