UK 'well short' of motorway charging goals

Funding delays and grid connection issues hamper rollout on trunk road network

UK 'well short' of motorway charging goals
Services charging on the UK's M1 motorway

New research from UK automotive services company the RAC finds that the country's "government has fallen well short of its target of having six high-powered chargers at every motorway service area in England".

The research also finds that a previously promised government Rapid Charging Fund (RCF) is experiencing delays in its rollout and only began allocating monies in December. And it also has concerns over the impact of the struggles to get grid connections of sufficient capacity to these key locations.

"The government has not hit its target of having six or more rapid or ultra-rapid electric vehicle chargers at every motorway service area in England by the end of 2023," the RAC says.

Just 46 of 119 motorway services, or 39pc, have the target number of chargers above 50kW to serve the UK’s growing fleet of battery-electric vehicles — which should have exceeded the 1mn milestone by the end of 2023 — the RAC says.

"It is clear from our research that the government has fallen well short of its target of having six high-powered chargers at every motorway service area in England," says the RAC's Simon Williams. But he adds that "some very good progress has been made" since the RAC's last survey at the end of April — as four in ten services have now met or exceeded the target number of chargers, compared to 23pc in the previous survey.

Since April, a further 178 high-powered chargers have been installed at motorway services, meaning that there are in total just over 400 ultra-rapid chargers at services. These are spread out across 65 motorway stations, or 55pc of all sites.

But the government's goal of at least six rapid chargers at each of England's service stations means that a minimum of 714 chargers was targeted by the end of 2023.

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The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) regulator agreed in November that motorway charging was lagging behind government targets. In particular, it is worried about the hoarding of difficult-to-get grid capacity by early mover CPOs, limiting competition from rivals and ultimately diminishing the consumer experience.

"EV charging at motorway service area sites will be key to enabling the transition to EVs, to give drivers confidence on long distance journeys and alleviate ‘range anxiety’. However, our 2021 study found barriers to competition and investment in some parts of the charging sector — in particular, we highlighted concerns about very limited competition along motorways," the CMA wrote in an open letter.

This could be exacerbated by "some single CPOs applying for electricity grid capacity at motorway service area sites, with site operator consent, ahead of" the rollout of the £950mn ($1.2bn) RCF announced by the government in September 2021, the letter continues. This "may result in a small number of CPOs controlling access to electricity grid capacity at those motorway service area sites, which could limit competition from new entrants and lead to one or a few incumbent CPOs at motorway service area sites", the CMA cautions.

"There is undoubtedly an eagerness among charge point companies and motorway service operators to install these types of units but unfortunately, it is often the high-power cabling to the grid that is the major barrier which is out of their hands," the RAC's Williams agrees on the hurdle of grid connection.

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