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Electric car charging network grows 37% but North-South divide grows

The number of public charge points for electric vehicles grew 37 per cent last year, though a North-South divide is expanding in terms of which areas have the worst and best access to devices, according to fresh data published by the Department for Transport.

An additional 7,600 new charger installations have been added to the country’s network in the last 12 months, taking the total to 28,375 publicly-accessible plug-in points.

However, the data shows that London has benefitted from a much faster expansion of its charging infrastructure than any other region, with 102 devices per 100,000 of its population, while areas like the North West have just 24 per 100,000 people.

There are also growing concerns that infrastructure is failing to keep pace with the number of electric cars entering the road, with one new public devices added for every 24 zero-emission vehicle registered last year. 

The UK’s public charging network for electric cars is growing, but more so in some regions than others, with an expanding divide between the North and South

The data shows that of the 7,600 new devices added in 2021, some 1,276 were ‘rapid’ chargers, which offer the fastest charging speeds and therefore shortest sessions.

This was a growth of a third compared to the start of the previous year and takes the rapid network to 5,156 charge points – around 18 per cent of the UK’s total public charging infrastructure.  

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps celebrated the news in a Twitter post, stating: ‘As we head towards a cleaner transport future, we’re boosting green jobs & making the switch to EVs easier than ever before!’

This chart shows the growth in the UK's public charging infrastructure in the last 7 years. An additional 7,600 new charger installations have been added to the country's network

This chart shows the growth in the UK’s public charging infrastructure in the last 7 years. An additional 7,600 new charger installations have been added to the country’s network

This second graph shows the growth in 'rapid' devices, which offer the fastest charging speeds. Some 18% of the UK's total public network is these faster chargepoints, the DfT says

This second graph shows the growth in ‘rapid’ devices, which offer the fastest charging speeds. Some 18% of the UK’s total public network is these faster chargepoints, the DfT says

However, the official data shows there is growing disparity between the areas of the country with the best and worst access to public chargers.

Availability of devices in London grew significantly in 2021, up from 69 devices per 100,000 of population at the end of 2020 to 102 by the start of this year. 

It means the capital now has double the availability of public devices per inhabitants than the next best region, which is Scotland with 52 charge points per 100,000 of population. 

Scotland has the most rapid chargers, gulfing even London with 12.9 devices per 100,000 of population compared to the capital’s eight. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Northern Ireland has seen a far slower rate of expansion of its network, with public charge point numbers rising from 17 to just 18 per every 100,000 people in the previous 12 months. 

In terms of rapid devices, it has a mere 1.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. 

The DfT paper says the ‘uneven geographical distribution of charging devices’ is due to some UK local authorities bidding for government funding towards the installation of new charging devices and others failing to do so. 

It also added: ‘Most of the provision of this infrastructure has been market-led, with individual charging networks and other businesses (such as hotels) choosing where to install devices.’  

Availability of devices in London grew significantly in 2021, up from 69 devices per 100,000 of population at the end of 2020 to 102 by the start of this year

Availability of devices in London grew significantly in 2021, up from 69 devices per 100,000 of population at the end of 2020 to 102 by the start of this year

This data shows the number of total public charging devices in each region per 100k people. It shows that London is miles ahead of the rest of the country in terms of availability

This data shows the number of total public charging devices in each region per 100k people. It shows that London is miles ahead of the rest of the country in terms of availability

This chart shows only rapid device availability in each region, which shows that EV owners in Scotland have the best access to the fastest chargepoints. Northern Ireland lags far behind for both total and rapid device availability

This chart shows only rapid device availability in each region, which shows that EV owners in Scotland have the best access to the fastest chargepoints. Northern Ireland lags far behind for both total and rapid device availability 

Concerns grow for a lagging charging infrastructure 

The report comes after industry bosses this month warned MPs that there was a growing North-South divide in terms of electric vehicle uptake – with wealthier southern postcodes dominating where EVs are purchased – but also in terms of public charger availability. 

In the last year alone, 190,728 battery electric vehicles were registered in the UK. With 7,600 public chargers installed in the same 12 months, it means there is one charger per 25 electric models entering the road. In terms of rapid chargers, it is one new device for ever 150 EVs registered in 2021.

If you also include plug-in hybrid cars, the total of new vehicles registered that can access public chargers was 305,281 – that’s a public chargepoint for every 40 vehicles.

There is an uneven geographical distribution of charging devices within the UK. Some local authorities have bid for Government funding for charging devices, and others have not

Department for Transport 

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said the government would need to address these issues in the ‘medium term’, else it could risk Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ efforts.

Ben Foulser, head of future mobility at analyst firm KPMG UK, said: ‘As electric vehicle adoption rises, it’s encouraging to see more public charging points installed. 

‘But there’s no doubt that the pace of delivery will have to increase in order to both cope with the demand of the coming years, and to convince others to transition to EVs.

‘It’s also vital that any use of public funding to de-risk investment by the private sector is targeted and successful. 

‘This includes development of commercially attractive portfolios that incorporate rural and smaller sites, enabling a just transition to zero-emission mobility across the UK.’  

Best and worst public charging networks ranked 

Electric car owners have been casting their verdicts on public charging infrastructure in Zap-Map’s annual survey for the last four years, with the latest edition released in December 2021 taking feedback from 3,000 EV drivers.

The latest edition produced by the UK’s leading EV mapping service has, for the first time, awarded a ‘Best EV Charging Network’ accreditation to the top scorer, and ‘EV Driver Recommended’ badge given to the top three providers.

Each rating is an aggregated score given by EV drivers for the overall satisfaction for the networks they use regularly, which is then used to rank each network out of a maximum of five stars. 

They also rated their level of satisfaction with the networks in four key areas: reliability, ease of use, cost and facilities.

In first place overall this year is InstaVolt – the rapid charging network scored particularly highly for reliability and ease of use, securing its ‘Best EV Charging Network’ badge. 

It took second spot in last year’s survey, having been outscored by Tesla’s Supercharger network.

However, Tesla’s service has been omitted from the results in 2021 as Zap-Map now only ranks networks that are available to all EV drivers and not specific customers, which is currently the case for the US brand.

That said, Elon Musk did state earlier this year that it will open its ‘super chargers’ to all EV owners soon.

InstaVolt, which has around 650 chargers up and down the country, was rated the best network in the UK in a survey of 3,000 EV drivers

InstaVolt, which has around 650 chargers up and down the country, was rated the best network in the UK in a survey of 3,000 EV drivers

InstaVolt provides devices at popular public sites, such as McDonald's and Costa car parks as well as at motorway services

InstaVolt provides devices at popular public sites, such as McDonald’s and Costa car parks as well as at motorway services

InstaVolt’s network currently consists of more than 650 chargers across Britain, with many available as part of partnership with the likes of McDonald’s, Costa Coffee and motorway service.

It has pledged to install 10,000 chargers over the next 10 years. 

Alex Earl, of Zap-Map said: ‘With the increasing competition in the charge point operator market, effectively holding onto the top spot is an impressive result which the team at InstaVolt should be very proud of. 

‘It’s a real testament to their laser focus on both customer experience and reliability, and in so doing they continue to set the bar for others to follow.’

Adrian Keen, chief executive at InstaVolt, said: ‘To claim top spot as the Best EV Charging Network is testament to our company ethos which is to make charging simple and reliable for all EV drivers. 

‘We won’t be resting on our laurels as we move into 2022. EV adoption is at an all-time high, and we plan to install even more rapid chargers, deliver exciting new partnerships and invest in even smarter technology.’

MFG EV Power - a newcomer in 2021 - took second spot in the standings and shared Zap-Map's 'EV Driver Recommended' network award with Osprey

MFG EV Power – a newcomer in 2021 – took second spot in the standings and shared Zap-Map’s ‘EV Driver Recommended’ network award with Osprey

Taking the ‘EV Driver Recommended’ second and third places respectively are two other rapid charging networks, MFG EV Power and Osprey.  

MFG EV Power is a new network that has installed charging hubs at its network of petrol stations, and has entered the list for the first time. 

Also new in the standing for 2021 is Gridserve, which has rolled out its pioneering electric forecourt in Braintree and announced last year that it is building a dedicated EV charging hub at Gatwick – the first at any international airport around the world.

Gridserve late last year announced it is creating a bespoke EV charging hub at Gatwick Airport

Gridserve late last year announced it is creating a bespoke EV charging hub at Gatwick Airport

Gridserve is currently in the process of updating every Electric Highway charge point at motorway services having bought it from Ecotricity in 2021

Gridserve is currently in the process of updating every Electric Highway charge point at motorway services having bought it from Ecotricity in 2021

The British company also bought – and is in the process of upgrading – Ecotricity’s network of motorway chargers, rebranding it as the Gridserve Electric Highway.

Its network was ranked fifth overall, while Ecotricity’s ‘legacy’ charge points – around 100 devices at motorway service stations that have yet to be replaced by Gridserve – came bottom of the standings with a two-star rating. 

ChargePlace Scotland – which came in 13th place overall – took first place for cost, thanks to many of its extensive network of rapid charge points being free to use.  

Melanie Shufflebotham, co-founder of Zap-Map, said: ‘EV drivers are clear about the factors that make for a good charging experience, namely reliability and ease of use – and these should be key priorities for the UK’s public charging networks.

‘The Zap-Map survey shows that while this is being delivered by some, others are falling short and there needs to be improvement. 

‘As we move from the early adopters towards mass EV adoption, making public charging simple becomes more important than ever.’  

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