Electric vehicles hit record sales in the UK and US in the first quarter of the year, but wide-ranging challenges could derail the industry’s recent gains.
Bucking a lockdown-driven slump in sales, battery EV and plug-in hybrid EV registrations rose 82%, year-on-year, in the first quarter. By contrast, total car registrations were down 12%, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
BEVs and PHEVs took a combined market share of 13.9% in March, almost double its market share in March 2020. Growth was partly driven by the number of available EV models in the UK, which has risen from 72 to 116 in the last year.
The US has seen similar growth with EVs, HEVs and PHEVs up 80.8% in Q1, according to Cox Automotive. EV sales were just under 100,000 in the first quarter, a new record for the country.
Switching to electric vehicles plays a key role in net-zero targets, and in the UK the government has set a goal to end pure petrol and diesel car sales by 2030. However, retaining recent momentum will require significant infrastructure investment.
What property has to do
Nearly half of drivers say they aren’t considering EVs because there aren’t enough – or convenient – charging points, according to the SMMT. About a third are put off by EVs because they don’t have a place to install a charging point.
If the UK is going to make a switch away from petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, the trade association has estimated the country will need more than 2.7m charging points by the end of the decade. That equates to roughly 700 public charging points per day between now and then, while the current installation rate is about 42 per day.
Funding the expansion, the SMMT has estimated, would cost about £17.6bn.
Charging points have become more common in new office developments, while supermarkets have committed to installing them at locations across the country. However, the SMMT’s forecast for charging point demand in supermarkets alone is 361,000 by 2030. Pledges such as Tesco’s to install 2,400 charging points, while useful, represent a fraction of the need.
Last year, EV charging point locator Zap-Map reported that just 170 new devices with 1,096 connectors had been installed in supermarkets across the UK in the previous 12 months.
If the UK is to hit its 2030 EV target – which will also require 455,000 charging points in workplaces – developers and landlords will need to integrate an EV strategy into their projects, and do so across the country.
Craig Morley, energy manager at Bruntwood, says: “The majority of EV charging points are currently in the south of the country. By working to spread them more evenly around the rest of the UK, towns and cities can attract much-needed people and investment that will be crucial to the levelling-up agenda and the bounce back from the pandemic.”
Bruntwood has started installing smart EV charging points at its buildings in and around Greater Manchester as part of a wider EV trial in partnership with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
Available to Bruntwood customers and the wider public, the charging points will operate and charge vehicles while monitoring the buildings’ electrical draw to ensure network and building supplies are not affected.
The hope is that the trial will allow for public use of charging infrastructure when it isn’t in use by the building, which would help meet demand from drivers who cannot charge their cars at home.
Morley says: “The role of the property industry will be central to the success of sustainability going forward but the responsibilities for investing, developing and rolling out EV infrastructure needs to be spread evenly between businesses and the public sector.”
Oxford leads the way
Energy Superhub Oxford – a consortium led by Oxford City Council and Pivot Power – is building an 8km EV network cable that will connect directly to the National Grid’s extra-high voltage system. By bypassing low voltage local distribution networks, the EV cable will provide up to 25MW (local connections might be able to reach a fifth of that), which is enough power for more than 100 ultra-rapid chargers.
The network, which runs from Redbridge Park and Ride to the transmission grid at Cowley substation, has potential to be expanded and tapped into by local businesses.
Tina Mould, Oxford City Council’s lead for ESO, says: “You could stop in a bus depot and put in a substation, and then put in electric charging at a bus station, or if there was a commercial building that had loads of fleets, you could potentially do the same there.”
Another cable could then be installed from the new substation, stretching the network further out – potentially all the way around Oxford, Mould says. “That’s the beauty of it. You can still split the cable and it can go further.” The limiting factor is cost.
ESO’s goal is to open the network up to other businesses, and it has asked for expressions of interest from other potential users.
While local authorities can provide guidance on what infrastructure is needed where and how to meet the demands of different demographics in an area, rolling out that infrastructure will have to be a collective effort between the public sector, landlords with the space on which to develop and charging point operators.
Mould says: “There’s big responsibility, I think, on the shoulders of everybody involved in this to really up their game and make sure that the kit that goes in is really good and is performing really well – and that we get a really good reputation for having good quality infrastructure.”