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  • Writer's pictureHersh Thaker

Response to Electric Vehicle Rapid Charging Policy Paper

Focus on motorway charging is welcome but is the Electric Highway network hindering progress?

The government has set out its vision paper[1] on what it wants to see from a national rapid charging network with a particular focus on motorway locations. This vision paper is part of the government consultation to bring forward the end of diesel and petrol cars from 2040 to 2035 or even earlier[2].


Ambitions include:


· “By 2023, we aim to have at least 6 high powered, open access chargepoints (150 - 350 kilowatt capable) at motorway service areas in England, with some larger sites having as many as 10-12. We are confident this will be more than enough to meet demand from electric vehicles by this date. These high powered chargepoints are able to charge up to 3 times faster than most of the charge points currently in place, and can deliver around 120-145 miles of range in just 15 minutes for a typical electric vehicle.


· By 2030, we expect the network to be extensive and ready for more people to benefit from the switch to electric cars. We are planning for there to be around 2,500 high powered chargepoints across England’s motorways and major A roads.


· By 2035 we expect around 6,000 high powered chargepoints across England’s motorways and major A roads.”

The vision is ambitious and shows consistency in intent with the latest spring budget where they already introduced a £500 million rapid charger fund[3] to be made available over the next 5 years. Part of this budget would be made available to help businesses fund the expensive but important grid upgrades to cater for high power charge points. However, despite the best intent and vision, what seems to be lacking is a clear plan of action on how the government intends to meet its vision for motorway rapid charging.


Charging at motorway services today is dominated by the “Electric Highway” network, which has monopolised UK service locations with a footprint of around 300 chargers. The Electric Highway network is operated by Ecotricity and was very much a pioneer of rapid charging when it started in 2011. Although the early network was set up in partnership with Nissan to largely cater for the Nissan Leaf[4], they deserve a lot of credit for the early risks they took to give people confidence to purchase an EV. The first mover advantage meant Ecotricity secured long term contracts with service station operators Moto, Welcome Break and Road Chef which become a barrier to entry for competitors. Herein lies the problem if the government wants to meet its 2023 vision highlighted above.


Motorway refuelling is generally an emergency sale, where people only ‘fill up’ if they really need it. Hence, the infrastructure simply has to work. The problem today is that the Electric Highway network is outdated, underinvested in and therefore a real blocker to progress of motorway charging in the UK. You don’t have to scroll down very far on any EV forum on Facebook to understand the deep frustration drivers have with the network. Frustration might be tolerated by current early adopters but as we move up the adoption curve and EV sales continue to boom[5], we cannot afford to allow our motorway infrastructure to be left so neglected.


Today, drivers have an increasingly diverse range of electric vehicle models to choose from. Most of them are using the CCS charging standard and can cater for charging speeds over 50kw. On all counts it leaves the electric highway network lagging behind rapid charging competitors in terms of reliability, charging speeds and availability of connectors. Therefore, although I applaud this vision paper for its ambition along with the consultation process underway to bring forward the diesel and petrol ban forward to 2035 or earlier, something must give on our motorway services if we have any chance of meeting this target. In my view, Ecotricity need to either invest in the technology and infrastructure to cater for the needs of motorway rapid charging or they must be forced to make way for competitors that can.



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