Number of charging points isn’t the problem

Which comes first: the electric vehicles or the charging points? This is the central question addressed in a new report by T&E about public infrastructure for charging up e-vehicles, which adds weight to earlier studies showing it is not a lack of charging facilities that is stopping the take-up of e-vehicles but the lack of the vehicles themselves.

Plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport over the next 30 years depend heavily on a switch from fossil fuelled vehicles to electric propulsion, but the take-up of e-vehicles is still very slow. Carmakers have issued statements blaming the lack of charging infrastructure for the slow take-up, but are only offering few electric cars, which they don’t seriously advertise. And European policy-makers are not doing enough to help the transition to EVs, as there are still no binding targets for low and zero-emission vehicle sales.

In its latest analysis, T&E points out that the recommended density of public charging stations is one for every 10 e-vehicles, and the current coverage is one for every five vehicles. In addition, more e-vehicle owners are charging their vehicles at home or work, so there is less demand for charging in public places. Even in Norway, the world’s most mature EV market, the share of drivers relying on public charging dropped from 10% in 2014 to 2% in 2017.

T&E’s clean vehicles director Greg Archer said: ‘Carmakers are creating a smokescreen claiming there are insufficient recharging points in major markets, when the primary bottleneck in increasing sales of electric cars is the lack of cars to plug-in. It appears the biggest role public charging points have is a psychological one, in that drivers of petrol and diesel cars may be reluctant to switch to e-vehicles until they see as many charging points in the street as they currently see filling stations, but in practical terms that overlooks the viability of charging at home and work. The biggest role for public charging is to have fast charging points at motorway service stations.’

The European Parliament’s transport committee has called on the European Commission to introduce more efficient instruments such as binding and enforceable national targets for the deployment of charging infrastructures, and also says Europe needs ambitious post-2020 CO2 standards combined with incentives for zero-tailpipe-emission vehicles to spur electric vehicle sales.