Keeping ahead of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure curve
There’s a 21st century take on the old saying “If you throw a rock in the air you will hit someone guilty.” The 2023 version is if you read an intelligent transport or smart traffic management publication (digital or print) you’ll not be far from an article about the challenges of EV infrastructure. There are some fascinating and knowledgeable editorials to be read but with every challenge there must be a solution – or at least an attempt at creating one.
Dr Emily Gould, Interim Project Director of AMEY’s Intelligent Mobility division, spoke to Intertraffic with the emphasis of the conversation on how local authorities can seek to overcome the difficulties of implementing workable EV chargepoint installation programmes.
Intertraffic: Dr Gould, what do you see as being the main challenges and issues facing local authorities when they are looking at installing EV infrastructure for the growing number of electric vehicles? This is not just referring to privately owned EVs, but also the cities’ own EV fleets
Dr Emily Gould (EG): In terms of challenges, a key one that we often find with local authorities particularly is around funding and understanding the commercial models of EV charging, and how to engage with the market. Over the last 10 years or so there's been a real focus for local authorities on on-street charging due to Government funding that has been available, however that isn't always the right solution for driver’s needs. Opportunities with the private sector can provide alternative models, but the operators obviously want the high footfall areas so that they are more likely to get a quicker return on investment. Although this can be detrimental to the overall network the positive side of that is that they will, typically, provide rapid or ultra-rapid chargers that target a different sort of travel pattern, a different type of driver behaviour and a different charging experience.
A key challenge that we often find with local authorities in particular is around funding and understanding the commercial models of EV charging
Intertraffic: How does that process tend to play out?
EG: For certain locations, the private sector will often offer to cover the costs of the installation, the upgrade of a substation, and of the equipment and the ongoing maintenance of the infrastructure. This can help to address strategic locations, however, we often find with local authorities that a key objective to the deployment of infrastructure is around accessibility and ensuring transport equity so that people have options and can afford to transition to electric vehicles. To achieve the 2030/2035 targets there needs not to be a barrier to either accessing charging or paying the price of charging.
An example of a current barrier are drivers who don't have access to off-street parking as they are almost penalised by the fact that they need to use either on-street charging or rapid chargepoints. Some operators have now introduced dynamic pricing to address rising energy costs but if authorities worked with operators this mechanism could also be used to encourage and incentivise certain travel behaviours.
Intertraffic: This is undoubtedly a worldwide issue that has had its fair share of media coverage, but what are some of the solutions? What is readily available and what is on the horizon?
EG: This is where the focus has to be on the strategic deployment of charging infrastructure. It’s of paramount importance to understand user needs in terms of where they are travelling, how they are travelling and how we, and they, anticipate they will charge. We take a data led approach and advise on the most appropriate technology and location to meet users needs that will also meet government objectives. Typically, the objectives of our clients are focused on decarbonisation, modal shift, economic regeneration and accessibility – these are worldwide issues that the strategic deployment of electric vehicle chargepoints needs to be considered as part of an integrated transport network.
The objectives of our clients are focused on decarbonisation, modal shift, economic regeneration and accessibility
Intertraffic: Can you explain how that process works?
EG: We use three core types of data: transport, demographic and people movement. We analyse this data to then propose to the local authorities a network of chargepoints that can be developed over time, delivered through a range of commercial models. We are always trying to encourage a data-led approach so that you can really understand the movements of drivers in order to make an informed decision of how best to deploy infrastructure that supports a more integrated transport network. We also consider the role of behaviour change and awareness in the transition to electric vehicles. This can then have a much greater societal impact and help achieve broader objectives linked to net zero.
Intertraffic: This sounds like a very well thought-out and logical approach but as the much talked-about 2035 deadline for the end of ICE-powered cars edges ever nearer, are local authorities in a position to meet that ambitious target with sufficient chargers to meet the intended demand?
EG: I drive an EV so this affects me – there are regular instances when I need to charge my car where unfortunately the charger isn’t working or there’s a queue. As you say, if the targets are going to be met then there needs to be a serious ramp-up of infrastructure. There are various funds available to support authorities in doing that, for instance in the UK there is the Local EV Infrastructure (LEVI) Fund to provide capital and capability funding to support delivery, however I think there needs to be more collaboration between the public and private sector to achieve the level of infrastructure needed to support the transition that will be taking place over the next ten years.
There are different considerations for fleet vehicle charging than for personal vehicles, and fleet vehicles are a key market to address if we are going to meet the 2035 targets. Public charging is not so relevant if you have large depots where the EVs are returned at night and can safely charge overnight in a depot, but when fleet vehicles need to charge on the public network they do have different requirements: for instance, they may have equipment in the vehicle, so security and lighting is more important, the vehicles may be larger than typical bays or the chargepoints aren’t in accessible locations to vans in a car park. These factors can lead to downtime and ultimately impact the total cost of ownership and how it stacks up for the business. There's various elements to the commercial fleet adoption of electric vehicles which aren’t necessarily supported through the deployment of infrastructure at the moment.
If the targets are going to be met then there needs to be a serious ramp-up of infrastructure. There are various funds available to support authorities in doing that
Intertraffic: A worst-case scenario question to end with: what happens if the 2035 target isn’t met?
EG: It’s a good question! The reason we have those targets in the first place is to get to net zero and ultimately try to mitigate impacts of climate change. The ‘doomsday’ answer would be that if we don’t meet the target it’s going to make it much more difficult for future generations. On a more practical level, an immediate impact would be that if it becomes regulation, not only will OEMs be penalised but also businesses and private drivers will start to be penalised through more aggressive road user charging and taxation.