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The UK government announced on Sunday night it would boost electric car charging, and tossed out a figure of “another 145,000 new charging points” to be expected as a result of new regulations to ensure chargers are built in to all new houses and offices. These are likely to be private charging points in houses or offices, rather than public charging points that increase the ease with which EV drivers can refuel.

Electric cars are said to be one of the key weapons in the fight against climate change. Yet many hybrids give out more harmful emissions than the latest diesel models, a documentary on Channel 4 tonight (Monday 21st Nov) has learned.

Meanwhile, the opportunities presented by the shift to electric vehicles (and the threats to the exchequer’s revenue from petrol tax) are still obscure and there is little consensus on policy or technology for delivering the EV revolution. The Transport and Energy ministries are on hard with ample amount of cash to “seed the market,” without actually knowing what the market is, or what it will be in 20 years time.

Apple recently announced it will start selling self-driving vehicles in 2025, and its shares shot to new heights as a result. Imagine a world in 20 years time where very few city dwellers bother to own a car, and taxis are almost extinct. Our streets are no longer clogged with parked cars, because they are always in use, or stored in out of town locations. No time is spent looking for a parking space, and as a result traffic flows 25% more quickly.

That is one possible future for the cars, but what about the car chargers? Decisions made now will either accelerate the switch to cleaner cheaper transport for all, or condemn the country to the slow lane for decades.

The C4 documentary says there are about 26,000 chargers at present in the UK, and found on a single day in September that 10% of the fastest chargers are not functioning at any given time. These “rapid charging points” are normally at motorway service stations and typically cost £6.50 for a 30 min ~ 90 mile – charge.

The presenter of the documentary Morland Sanders called for better provision of chargers in remote rural areas which are currently under-represented in the national rollout. “Better provision in rural areas is vital. That charger on a remote A-road may only receive a handful of visits per day, but it could be the only connector for a considerable distance and therefore essential for those using it,” said Sanders.

There are apps that allow the owners of private charging points to offer their front drives for sale to the highest bidder. This may lead to micro-garages in suburban streets all over the country, but if that si what car drtivers want, ten we had better recognise that now, and mnot when we have built up an expensive, government subsidized network of commercial chargers in the wrong places. the apps also tell us where the nearest chargers are, and whether they are in use at the moment, but by the time we arrive at them, others car may have taken the space. And the biggest issue of all is still that currently drivers of combustion engines can fill up 300 miles worth in under 5 minutes.

A government report (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/electric-vehicle-charging-market-study-final-report/final-report) has called for the number of chargers to be increased to between 250,000 and 450,000 by 2030, which imply a rate of 25-50,000 new chargers per year – probably unachievable due to the level of planning permission and local consultation required. It took 10 ears to reach the present total, although that is no guide to the future. Some of the existing chargers were funded by the government and local councils. But the majority were provided by more than 60 different private companies.

In the last year, charging points have increased by approximately 40% but the number of EVs has more than doubled and is likely to do so again this year.

Meanwhile Shell announced over the summer it would be rolling out 50,000 car chargers by 2025, which it anticipates will be one third of the total market.

The current number of chargers represents about one charger for every 15 fully electric cars, (IE excluding hybrids) assuming that all charging points are working.

According to international benchmarks, there should be one charger per 10-15 cars, but this is not a national figure – it is a local requirement – or else the same old problem of range anxiety occurs whenever a driver leaves a well-served area, like London, and travels to a badly served area – almost everywhere away from motorways or our larger cities.

In response to the Dispatches findings the Department for Transport said:

“We want to make charging an electric vehicle as easy and accessible as refuelling a petrol or diesel car. That’s why the Government has just committed £620 million to support the transition to electric vehicles on top of the £1.9bn from Spending Review 2020.”

But where is that money going exactly, and how much of it is finding its way into the pockets of Shell, which announced last week it was removing its split-nationality status and becoming a UK -only company? Shell did not respond to questions about remote rural car charging, but said it was offering financial support to local councils to speed up the installation of on-street chargers nationwide.

The Truth About Electric Cars: Dispatches is on Channel 4 on Monday 22nd Nov at 8:30pm

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