The challenge of meeting demand for charge points as the UK moves to electric vehicles is huge: The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders estimates that the country needs to be installing around 500 new public chargers per day to meet demand. Currently, we are only installing around 500 chargers a month!
However, there is strong evidence that increased public charging capacity alone will not facilitate the shift to electric motoring needed to meet emissions targets. With at least 40% of the UK population living in accommodation that cannot have a charger at home, the case for switching an EV for around 15 million motorists has, up to now, not stacked up for most.
As a result, these motorists are around four times less likely to own an EV. Research by Connected Kerb and others suggests that for the majority of these people the switch will only become viable once they have access to the three key benefits of charging while at home:
- Reliable – bookable and consistently working.
- Practical – the ability to leave the car plugged in and return when convenient – ideally while at home, overnight.
- Affordable – closer to home tariff rates than public charger rates.
Some public charging can offer this. ConnectedKerb is a good example of a scheme that can deliver some of the above benefits, in streets where kerbside chargers are viable. The ongoing improvements to public charging are also essential to build the perception that electric motoring is practical for all – but unless those chargers are near peoples’ homes, bookable and cheap to use, they do not actually remove the blocker.
Workplace charging, supported by OLEV grants, will also play an important role and tip the balance towards EVs for some motorists. Charging while at work carries many of the benefits of charging while asleep – but not everyone drives to a workplace with a dedicated car park.
These key components of Home Charging, Destination Charging and Workplace Charging are all essential to supporting the cultural, legislative and commercial forces behind the EV transition. But they are expensive, disruptive, time-consuming – and ultimately unlikely to deliver the 500 chargers per day needed.
The missing piece of this jigsaw can plug that gap quickly and cheaply: Community Charging.
Community Charging is the utilisation of community resources – chargers, space, infrastructure, people or finance – to enable members of that community to run electric vehicles.
While there are already an impressive 35,000 public chargers available in the UK in over 12,000 locations, this is dwarfed by home chargers, which already number around 300,000 and is growing by over 500 per day. Moreover, those chargers are in residential areas, unused for over 90% of the time, come with their own space for parking the car, and are already paid for: exactly the factors needed to fulfil the three criteria of reliability, practicality and affordability.
Peer-to-peer charger sharing schemes such as ZapHome, Plugshare and BookMyCharge utilise home chargers in providing an alternative to public chargers for existing EV owners – usually from outside the community. These are not aimed at, not optimised for, enabling motorists to switch to EVs in the first place, and as such they are primarily part of the destination charging infrastructure.
There are currently two main, national schemes that fit directly into the Community Charging sector, with others expected to appear rapidly once the benefits of the approach become more widely apparent:
ChargeMyStreet is a community benefit society which installs and operates community chargepoints, raising money through community shares. It supports various models, including the renting of space for a charger in a neighbourhood space such as a pub car park. With successful schemes already in place, ChargeMyStreet aims to install hundreds of Community Charging points in the UK. Because each scheme is driven by the people using the charger it is inherently scalable.
Co Charger is a collaborative scheme and app that enables someone with a charger to rent it out, on a regular basis, to a small number of neighbours so that they can make the switch to an electric car. The company works with public sector and automotive stakeholders to raise awareness so that an inability to charge at home is no longer a reason to buy fossil-fuel vehicles. The scheme offers a free, non-disruptive and immediate means to scale the UK’s available charging infrastructure and will self-scale as EV ownership grows. It has the potential to add tens of thousands of charge points to the UK’s capacity within months just for the cost of raising awareness.
Community Charging is no silver bullet, but it is the only means that is quick enough and affordable enough to ensure EV ownership is viable for all UK motorists at the rate driven by consumer demand and legislation. Because it utilises existing resources it has the potential to bring the EV transition forward by years compared to Home, Work and Destination Charging alone.
All that is needed to deliver this huge boost to sustainable motoring is for Community Charging to become a part of the narrative, planning and support of the UK’s charging infrastructure. Local and central government, the automotive retail sector, utilities and charging equipment manufacturers all need to promote Community Charging so that it can help to create millions of new EV users to everyone’s benefit.