Charging points: managing the future for EVs

From people's homes to workplaces to on the motorway, charging points are being placed all over the country...
03 August 2021

Interview with 

Colin Herron, Zero Carbon Futures


A sign for an electric vehicle charging station.


Chris Smith spoke with automotive expert Colin Herron from Zero Carbon Futures about the future of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and Robert Llewellyn from Fully Charged weighed in...

Chris - Do you drive an electric vehicle?

Colin - I'm in my eighth year of a fully electric car. Up to now, I don't go on extremely long journeys. I tend to use it within an urban environment. So probably the longest journey will be about an 80 mile round trip.

Chris - Which is perfect, isn't it? Because that sort of scope is well within the envelope of what the batteries can cope with. And it's not a major inconvenience, but if you want to go farther, then it becomes more of a headache, doesn't it?

Colin - Well, it does, but there is massive infrastructure going in, especially on the motorway services. Companies like Gridserve are now putting 12 high power chargers. And I know you mentioned the three kilowatt potential at home. We're now installing chargers which are a hundred times more powerful than that. 350 kilowatt in 150 is standard. So it can take a very long time to charge a car, but with a high power charge, you're now down to forty minutes.

Chris - How many of these charging points are there? I mean, if I go up the main motorway up the backbone of England up the M1 or up the A1 for example, and I need to charge up, how many charging points can I rely on there being available for the car I drive on the way up there?

Colin - If you're actually using only motorway stopping, there will be at least two and soon six in every motorway service station. Nationally around the country, there's about quarter of a million charge points. But I will add, as you pointed out with the three pin plug, there's at least 28 million homes with a three pin plug. Some people are very worried about running out of charge. What the situation is, is that this infrastructure is going in at a massive rate and it's going in in parallel with the car sales. The challenge which we will find is unfortunately not all of them are in the right place. And that is because we haven't currently got a national strategy for the rollout of charge points. That's the problem.

Chris - We've been hearing from Robert Llewellyn on the programme, who he was saying he lives in a rural area, and luckily his rural local shop happens to have a charging point. But some people are, I think, legitimately highlighting we are in danger of having rural no-go areas for electric cars because there just isn't the density that you've been talking about on motorways for people to charge up.

Colin - That is a challenge which a lot of people are looking at, and to be quite honest, there are actually some houses in the Northumberland area where I am, where the house isn't actually powered by grid electricity either. But one thing to put in perspective is that we don't end up in the full situation til 2035 for new vehicles, and it will be about 2045 before we really do run out of conventional vehicles. So this is not something which has to be solved this year or in the next five years, because we only have a quarter of a million BEV on the road now. So we've got approximately one charger in the country for every BEV, but it's a long way to go before we have 35 million BEV.

Chris - I'd like to put to you a point from MPs debating in the House of Commons this week. They said there could be blackouts caused by electric cars if all the drivers charged them at night. MPs are warning that they want to see people on some kind of dynamic charging system so they plug in at low peak periods to stop the country running out of electricity. Is this rubbish?

Colin - There is some logic in that, but I would point out that my car at the moment is not plugged in. And if everybody filled up with petrol at six o'clock at night, the fuel system would collapse as well. And people don't fill up at six o'clock every night and people with an electric vehicle with 200 miles like me do not plug in at six o'clock every night. It's a fallacy, it's a myth.

Chris - So is the solution then to just have a more dynamic system so people's cars are a bit more intelligent and they only take the juice out of the grid at a time that's convenient for the grid.

Colin - No, unfortunately we are still trying to guess the behaviours of the population, what they will do. So for instance, until recently where I work, I can charge at work or I can charge at home. If I can charge at work and it is potentially cheaper at work, I will not be plugging in at home. I may want the convenience of going to a replica petrol station, which has got EV pumps so I can charge quickly. I may just top up when I go to a supermarket. The thing we've got now is we are rapidly changing the method of charging; store charging, fast charging, rapid charging, and the battery capacities are increasing all of the time as is the range. So what we're trying to do now is guess what about 35 million drivers will do who've never, ever driven an electric vehicle. So the technology now is changed from, I first got a car and I knew when Robert Llewellyn got his first Leaf, we could do 86 miles if we were lucky, not 200 miles. So we're constantly trying to guess and work out to put this infrastructure in and shape a grid, not knowing what people will do with the technology that they've never had before.

Chris - Robert, what's the Fully Charged take on this?

Robert - What my experience of this is, is when I first had an electric car, 2009, there was one, literally one, rapid charger that was behind a locked gate at the Mitsubishi headquarters in Cirencester. That was the only one in the country. It very rarely worked. The instructions are in Japanese. It was a really comical experience to go and use it. It was ridiculous. Colin said how many there are now there's thousands and thousands of them. The company here, Gridserve, who are installing really tens of thousands of chargers around, at the moment they're touch-to-pay, but they have a system now where you literally lift up the cable, put it in the car, the car starts charging, you don't do anything. And it has to be like that. If it isn't like that, it isn't going to work. It's got to be frictionless. And that's the point I think. The point is that the painful process we've been through up to this point, of working out how to operate a charging network that can make money for the people who put it in, but is reliable and predictable, and when you're driving along you can see that there are chargers available at the location you're aiming for, but also really, really important: I rarely use the public charging network. Really once or twice a month. And I drive a lot. I drive way above the average mileage because I drive all over this country to film things. So way, way more than most people do. When I do go on longer journeys, they are really long. I'm talking thousands of miles and it's easy. It's boring, it's tedious, and my bladder needs to stop far more often than the car.

Chris - What about the time it takes? I don't mean the bladder emptying. I mean, to charge the car. I mean, that could be an advantage if you do need to make a lot of toilet stops, but this is the other issue, isn't it? The time it takes to recharge.

Robert - So the speed of all these things are going to get faster very quick. So a 350 kilowatt charger, the only car that's currently available in the UK that can use that is the Porsche Taycan, which is over a hundred thousand pounds. But that will charge, when I first plugged one of those into a 350 kilowatt capable charger, it added 22 miles in probably a minute. So that sort of charging is the level that we're going to be looking at in the next five years. So by 2030, a really critical point I think, is what roles electric cars have other than driving us around. So currently we have petrol and diesel cars, we'd sit in them and we drive them. And then we park for 95% of the time we own them. If you have an electric car, you can run your house off it. And if you don't, if you're not running your house off, you can help run the grid off it and get paid money. So there's a whole array of technologies, which will really have an enormous impact and a great beneficial impact on our society.


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