Last week we hosted an Electric Vehicle Charging webinar with speakers from E.ON, Energy UK, the Renewable Energy Association and an ex-Corporate Director of London Councils. As a membership association it is important to us that our members get access to the latest information on subjects they are directly involved in or could be affected by. Being able to hear multiple sides to a problem also encourages better solutions. More than 180 members tuned in to hear what the latest thinking is on EVs and the position of our key speakers.

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Electric vehicles are gaining in interest, popularity and discussion. Although climate change and its damaging effects have long been known, the harm to our environment has reached the point where it cannot be ignored any longer. The West traditionally expects environmental fixes to be technological and developed by the private sector rather than to penalise companies for the negative impacts of production - the polluter pays principle - but as individuals we are unlikely to change the way we consume unless the financial incentives are clear (the small 5p levy on a plastic bag is perhaps the exception).

The UK Government’s Road to Zero strategy ramps up the pressure to reduce emissions and encourage low emission transport solutions. The positive spin is that the UK benefits economically from EV infrastructure investment, which is the digital equivalent of World War II Keynesian economic policy.   However, it does force us to progress our efforts as environmental damage and harms to our health in urban areas accumulates from all sides like a category 5 hurricane brewing on the horizon.

Electric Vehicles are continuing to improve, although range is still an issue as is the time required to charge the battery. The latter is something our speakers focused on, but where are the best places to site an EV charging station when there is a lack of on-street parking and lamp posts are positioned on the wrong side of the pavement making them unviable for charging cars? A ‘parklet’ has been trialled with great success by Arup, which comprised of a small island built into the road to provide EV charging and a bit of green space. This delivered additional social benefits despite the green space being so small and an uplift in the local economy. However, being built into the road does mean the amount of parking is reduced and if every car on a residential street required charging, there could be problems of displacement and an increase in the cost of permit parking, for example.

There are potentially many places where EV charging could take place; at home, hotels, motorways, retail parks and public car parks but the type of charging facility, maintenance responsibility and sheer numbers are all unknowns. And there appears to be an ideal EV owner - someone with a healthy income in order to afford one in the first place, a home with a garage and charging point (currently subsidised by the government), who doesn’t take trips further than 100 miles (unless they are super rich and can afford a Tesla or Jaguar) – hmmm, know many people like that? Anyone wishing to travel long distances will undoubtedly be put off by lengthy stops to recharge unless rapid charging becomes standard and cars are certainly the mode of transport choice for comfortable door to door convenience. 

Barriers to providing EV charging points are mostly financial. Local authorities as we know are strapped for cash, although parking surpluses could be reinvested to provide them. That said, not many councils produce a surplus from parking accounts despite what you read in the papers! The government has said that subsidies will continue, but they are already being reduced just at a time when people are beginning to think about adopting greener alternatives, but haven’t done so yet. Private companies exist for profit, but without demand there will not be a return.  There are also unknowns when it comes to the maintenance of charging points and third party access on the highway. We are in danger of being stuck in the mud waiting for someone to make a move. Who will it be? 

Owners of EVs already find there are problems with non-EV vehicles parking in bays set aside for EV charging, something analogous to the experiences of Blue Badge holders and the misuse of disabled bays. Simply substituting the fuel cars use is unlikely to reduce future demand for them, consequently parking management will inevitably need to be specific to cater for motoring diversity, especially as EVs are looking like a more viable option than autonomous ones.