Electric Cars

Charging Infrastructure – a review

By Nat Barnes


When it comes to driving an electric car, if you read and believed the mainstream press, you could be forgiven for thinking that the UK’s EV charging infrastructure was in turmoil.

The reality, of course, is a very different matter. Earlier this year, the government unveiled a plan for the UK to have 300,000 public EV charging points by 2030 with £1.6 billion of funding to make future charging as easy as filling up a petrol or diesel car.

That’s great news of course, but what about if you’re charging an electric car right now? Well, as of April 2022, according to the website Zap Map, there are 19,707 charging locations across the UK and 31,507 charging points. In fact, April itself was a record month with a 35 per cent increase in new chargers compared to 2021.

And what’s more, the number of chargers is going up every day along with regular announcements from private companies (as well as that government announcement) about new charging points or plans. At the end of March, BP Pulse announced a £1 billion investment in its EV charging infrastructure over the next ten years, trebling its number of charging points by 2030.

Last month, Gridserve opened its latest electric forecourt in Norwich with 36 EV chargers in one location, 22 of which are ultra high-power 350kW chargers – enough to add 100 miles of range to an EV in just five minutes. Again, that site is part of Gridserve’s £1 billion investment into its own charging network. If nothing else, the EV charging network certainly isn’t short of investment.

It doesn’t take MENSA membership to realise that those figures and the well-publicised media stories don’t match, so what’s going on? Let’s look at the facts. First things first, let’s be honest. Are there broken EV chargers out there? Yes, there are, but it’s not as many as you might think. An investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme earlier this year found that just 5.2 per cent of public EV chargers were broken – that’s one in every twenty charges.

With more chargers being added, obviously that percentage of broken ones is dropping all the time, but that isn’t much help if it’s the actual one you want to charge at. And that’s even less help if you’re in a hurry and on the way to an important meeting/ first date/ your wedding (delete as applicable). Any regular EV drivers will know that it’s always best to stop and charge before you actually have to.

That’s assuming you have to charge at all. It’s estimated that currently around 80 per cent of all EV charging happens either at home or at work, so it’s not beyond doubt that you could only very rarely have to depend on a public charger at all, unless you’re regularly doing long journeys.

So given that, then why all the negativity? Beyond the traditional “bad news sells papers, good news doesn’t”, it’s often because those journalists writing the pieces aren’t usually everyday EV drivers, they’re merely often trying an electric car out for the first time for a story.

Anyone who has driven an electric car would freely admit that the initial learning curve can be a steep one as you get used to driving an EV and also the vagaries of the charging network itself. But they would also admit that, even with just a little familiarity, it gets considerably easier.

So these negative pieces are often written by those who have never driven an EV before, probably won’t again for some time and therefore often can’t – or won’t – see beyond that initial learning phase. They almost certainly won’t have a charging point at home and probably haven’t even heard of Zap Map to easily find out about charging points, either.

As we said earlier, we’d be the first to admit that the charging network still isn’t perfect. Some of the older legacy chargers have yet to be replaced and so remain either faulty or difficult to use without an individual account. But, the reality is that the vast majority have and are changing, plus often have contactless payment functionality and are easier to find and use than ever before.

It’s not just at specific charging locations either. In 2021, Shell announced a plan to install 50,000 on-street EV charging posts in the UK by the end of 2025 and many local councils are looking at numerous other on-street charging solutions for those without off-street parking.

So, the moral of the story is to take those scare-mongering mainstream stories with a large pinch of salt and look at the wider, real-world picture of both public and private charging. Even better, you don’t need to take our word for it, just listen to those of current EV drivers. A recent survey by Zap Map found that that 91 per cent of drivers of electric and plug-in hybrid cars said they would not swap back to a petrol or diesel car. Can all those drivers really be wrong?

Interested in finding out more?