With public and private charging networks shifting out of first gear, it is still early days for electric car take-up in the UK
A G-Wiz electric cars being recharged.
Electric car infrastrcture is slowly shifting out of first gear in the UK. After the launches of a Boris-backed recharging network in London (216 points) and a so-called national network from Ecotricity (12) this year, Chargemaster on Wednesday opened what it described as the “UK’s first privately funded nationwide electric vehicle” network (around 150).
These new additions join the UK’s hundreds of existing public points, designed to alleviate the “chicken and egg” problem for electric cars that I’ve blogged on. “Range anxiety”, the fear of running out of charge in an electric car is, while overegged by the likes of Top Gear, nevertheless a real deterrent to people switching from petrol and diesel cars.
Chargemaster’s new network, Polar, should go some way to reduce that fear. It says it’ll have 4,000 points by the end of next year, built at the rate of around 300 a month with its partners, Waitrose, NCP and others.
What doesn’t look so good – and is often used as a selling point for electric cars – is the money side. Membership of Polar works out at £24.50 a month, and you pay 90p per charge. That seems steep in comparison to Boris Johnson’s Source London network, which while limited to the capital for now, costs just £8.33 a month and comes with free charging.
Yet David Martell, the company’s chief executive, isn’t worried about competition between public and private charging networks, as 160 of the Source bays are operated by Chargemaster. “The idea is to build the infrastructure, regardless of who it’s owned by,” Martell said. It wins either way.
What’s not clear is whether the driver wins either way. These are embryonic days for electric car take-up in the UK, a technology seen as crucial to hitting carbon targets for transport. Yet just 465 electric cars were sold under the government’s £5,000 grant in the first quarter of 2011, falling to 215 in the second. The figures for the third quarter have been delayed, the Department for Transport told me.
Charging points aren’t everything when it comes to supporting electric cars – most research suggests the majority of charging will be done at home – but there’s a clear fracturing of competing charging networks going on here that doesn’t benefit the consumer at all. Polar users can use Source London points, but not vice versa. A new scheme launching next month in Manchester with 300 points, by the Manchester Electric Car Company, is unlikely to be linked with other schemes at launch, a spokeswoman said. Expect similar for the numerous other local schemes in the pipeline.
Lessons learned from privatising railways on complicated ticketing and incompatible schemes spring to mind. Given the government is part-funding some of these points via its £30m plugged-in places scheme, it has a responsibility to make sure they’re all interoperable too. Until it does, it risks electric cars in the UK never getting into second gear.
Author: Adam Vaughan
Photography: Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images
Source: The Guardian