Installing EV chargers into national parks

What is the reality of putting electric vehicle charging ports into national parks?
03 April 2023

Interview with 

Melanie Shufflebotham, Zap-Map & Graeme Patton, Joju


Electric vehicle sign


Many National Parks lie in breathtakingly beautiful, but often therefore remote places, which are difficult to access by public transport. Unsurprisingly, data from The National Parks shows that over 90% of the journeys to them are made by car, the majority of them powered by petrol or diesel. Electric vehicles are becoming increasingly commonplace - there are now over a million EVs and plugin hybrids on our roads as environmentally-conscious drivers seek to operate more sustainably. But therein lies the problem: drivers of the very type of vehicle that can help to keep national parks pristine and peaceful are likely to be deterred by anxieties that Parks won't have enough public charging points and they will run out of charge somewhere remote. This is the issue that the recharge in Nature project - which is a collaboration between car makers BMW and the National Parks and in their words aims “to fortify the charging infrastructure around some of these remote venues, and support vital nature restoration” - aims to tackle.

But what’s it going to take to deal with the range anxiety issue and the paucity of charging points that is a cause of intense frustration at the moment for electric vehicle users. And indeed how big is the problem. With me are Melanie ShuffleBotham, COO and co-founder of Zap-Map one of the first apps designed to help people to find charging points, and Graeme Patton who is the head of EV charging at the company Joju who work with local authorities and other organisations to install large-scale vehicle charging infrastructure.

Melanie - So I think overall the EV charging infrastructure is INS being installed at a pretty fast rate. As you said, there's around a million EVs on the road at the moment. Two thirds of which are pure electric vehicles, so only use electricity. And in terms of charging, the great thing about electricity is that it is available everywhere. And by far the biggest rollout of charging infrastructure is actually currently at home or at work. I mean, estimates vary, but around 80% of drivers are able to charge at home. So there's at least 500,000 charge points installed on people's driveways and, and more at workplaces. So those people who do have off-street parking or access to charging at work, they can charge up overnight, low powered charging, and generally only use public charging on longer journeys. But of course, looking at the public charging network, which is where we, Zap-Map, are really focused. At the moment, there's around 40,000 charge devices across about 20,000 locations across the whole of the UK. This has grown by about 30% since last year. So a really good increase. Yes, there needs to be more. And of course as more and more people go electric, more and more need to be installed. And I think the other thing I'd say on this is that while it's useful to think about that top line number, really charging comes in many different forms. Three key forms. Firstly en-route charging. So that's when you are on the longer journey. And really your whole objective is to find an available reliable charge point that you can charge up with as quickly as possible. So these are really what people think, typically think about when they're thinking about charging and they're on the strategic road network, you can add around a hundred miles of charge in 15 minutes and there's around 7,000 of those across 4,000 locations. Secondly, there are destination chargers. So this is really anywhere where you might stop for one or two hours and this is sort of linked up to the national parks. It can be found at all sorts of places - car parks, supermarkets, national trust, properties, B&Bs. So those are very pertinent to this sort of national park question. And then thirdly, on-street charging. So this is really the other end of the scale, very much low powered charging where people who don't have off street parking or who are parking somewhere for a long period may use these charges overnight instead of off street parking. And they are actually typically found, not always, but typically found in a converted lamp lamppost. So that's sort of where we are at the moment.

Chris - I just want to bring in Graham, because interesting what Melanie is saying, making the point about different sorts of charging regimes and timings that people allow, Graham. If we think about a national park, I would think if someone drives there, they don't want to waste the time in the national park charging a car, they will probably want to park and go, won't they?

Graham - Absolutely. I mean, this destination charging segment that, that Melanie mentioned, it is all about exactly that, you know, being able to turn up in your EV, park, charge, and be at your leisure to take the 2, 4, 6 hours that you may be wanting to spend in the national park, going for a walk, seeing the beautiful nature, et cetera. Whereas often, and what we're seeing in the towns and cities near the major road networks, this push for rapid charging where there's a rapid charger. Yes, you can get on your way up to 80% battery charge within 40, 45 minutes which is ideal to go and grab a coffee. But that isn't the type of infrastructure that we would want up in the Cairngorms, for example.

Chris - Because if you had a car park with some charging points in it and everyone parked and walked, then very quickly it'd be saturated and useless. So what sort of thing are we looking at? Are we looking at fast charging where we put in really high current, really high power devices that will give people the charge but then get rid of them? Or are people thinking well we do need an acre's worth of parking where people can park and then walk for four hours while the car charges up? Do you know what's in the mind of people who have got these sorts of plans?

Graham - The market and the drivers out there need both ,need access to both, but it really depends on the type of location that you're going. So if we're talking about the national parks, in my opinion, you're going to be wanting what we're saying, you know, fast chargers, which is typically a single phase, a seven kilowatt charger, typically charging a vehicle in four hours, four, six hours. Whereas the rapid charger, the owner of the rapid charger, the investor in that rapid charger, they want 24 people to use that charger every day for an hour. They don't want somebody parking up and blocking it for four hours if they've charged their car in 45 minutes.

Chris - Yes, I mean the economics is going to be very important with this, isn't it? Because presumably for someone to fund this, they've got to know that they can make their money back. And so if they're going to get the odd car, I mean, I know we said earlier there's a hundred million visits to national parks, 90% of them petrol and diesel cars at the moment. But we can imagine in the future there'll be a very heavy EV presence in a national park. But someone's still nevertheless got to be persuaded to park with some pretty serious cash to put the infrastructure in to lay the cables in and do it in a way that will obviously be environmentally friendly so that people can use this and not block it up and quickly block all the chargers.

Graham - Exactly. And it's that cost. And who foots the bill of that? You know the ChargePoint operators, you know, they could put in a bank of rapid charges in the city for a fraction of the cost of what it would cost up in the Norfolk Broads, for example. So it's definitely the mixture of technologies, the mixture of power, but also appealing to all the different demographics of drivers that ultimately need to charge their cars.

Chris - Melanie, will operators of apps like yours have a role in the future so that we avoid the sorts of= congestion we got for charges over Christmas? There were a lot of headlines over Christmas where people were saying they were queuing for hours at services and things because all the charging stations were full. Could you have a system where you can actually route people to optimize their journeys so they minimize their wait time so we don't end up with crowding at one particular hub. And would that potentially play into this sort of idea for national parks?

Melanie - I think so. I mean, at the moment what we do at Zap-Map is we aggregate all data from all the different charging operators all into one place. And we do have live availability data coming through on the app so that people, when they're driving down the motorway, can take a look at the app and see, 'oh, this charging station is busy, maybe I need to go to a different one.' But there is no doubt that there have certainly been pinch points. I think Tebay services was a particular one just up north of the Lake District. Probably people were looking to go to the Lake District. So certainly as time goes on we will be introducing more and more features to allow people to select the appropriate ChargePoint and look at user comments and understand the availability and the queues at different charge points.

Chris - And Graham, do you see this as a realistic prospect, the electrification of national parks so that they become sustainably accessible to people as we move into an EV powered transport regime?

Graham - Definitely.It needs to happen in all car parks, let alone in the town and cities where there's high footfall presently. Up in the national parks, people want to drive there, need to drive there, going to be driving there more in their electric vehicles. So therefore the infrastructure needs to be in those car parks and, and it's schemes like this recharging nature project that are hopefully going to drive it in these parks. But also then other organizations and rural locations will follow suit.


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