The Importance of the Charging Infrastructure to EVs

As in many countries, the roll-out of charging infrastructure in the UK is critical to the transition to electric vehicles (EVs). The UK charging infrastructure network needs to be expanded quickly, not only because EV ownership keeps growing rapidly, but also to reduce range anxiety and provide people who do not yet own an EV with the confidence to purchase one. This means that charging points need to be in the right place and of the right type, with more offering smart charging and vehicle-to-grid capability. Moreover, the existing network will have to be technologically compatible with next-generation batteries, but needs to be future-proofed with respect to evolving charging behaviour.

As EV charging demand, patterns of charging and EV usage become clearer, a charging network such as described above is in the process of being delivered. But if the UK government wants the electrification of transport to occur at the rate needed to meet its strategic targets, charging points will need to be installed ahead of demand across the entire UK. In order to achieve this, the private and public sectors need to work together. Otherwise consumer needs will not be met.

A table titled "Characteristics of different types of public charging infrastructure" lists four types: Slow (3-7 kW, 7-16 hrs), Fast (11-22 kW, 2-4 hrs), Rapid (50-100 kW, 30-40 mins), and Ultra-rapid (100+ kW, 10-20 mins). Source: Transport & Environment, January 2020.
Source: The Importance of Charging Infrastructure to the Electric Vehicle Revolution | Faraday Institution

This Insight explores the main issues that come with developing a reliable, robust and extensive charging infrastructure network in the UK. In determining infrastructure requirements, the performance of EV batteries plays a significant role. Batteries with more capacity and higher performance will increase EV range and therefore require a less dense charging infrastructure network. Batteries with a faster charging speed would make it more convenient to charge EVs on long journeys. This, in turn, would result in increased demand for public rapid chargers.

Present situation

Presently, the charging infrastructure varies across the UK and the roll-out needs to be accelerated outside London and the South East, and particularly in rural areas. Now, EV drivers can choose where to charge and what type of equipment to use. Based on these choices, the equipment can be categorised by type and the frequency of use will define the future infrastructure landscape.

Bar chart showing the number of publicly available EV charging devices per 100,000 population in various UK regions from 2020 to 2022. London leads with over 120 devices in 2022. Scotland follows, while regions like Yorkshire, Humber, and North West have the fewest.
Source: The Importance of Charging Infrastructure to the Electric Vehicle Revolution | Faraday Institution

The charging preferences of the consumer (slow, fast or rapid) will determine the characteristics of the charging infrastructure network (home, work, transit) of the future. However, the performance of EV batteries will influence these choices. The same goes for a better understanding of the impact of rapid charging, smart charging and V2G applications on battery life. The use of rapid charging, for example, needs to be balanced against the impact on the battery, as continued rapid charging will decrease capacity and battery life.

Battery performance

Another aspect that will directly influence the characteristics of the charging network is battery performance. When EV batteries have a longer range, the demand for charging during transit will be reduced. Meanwhile, improvements in battery chemistries enabling rapid charging without as much battery degradation will facilitate wider demand for rapid chargers.

A graph titled "Figure 6: Minimum time required to charge hypothetical battery packs with different maximum driving ranges." It shows charging time against charger power for 300-mile and 500-mile battery packs with exponential decrease in time. Source: The Faraday Institution.
Source: The Importance of Charging Infrastructure to the Electric Vehicle Revolution | Faraday Institution

The extent to which people charge at home will likely be influenced less by battery performance. Home charging is driven mostly by convenience, cost and access to a charger. There are some possible actions that could improve the benefits of home charging, like setting open data and software standards for home charging points and making data on the EV battery SoC available to third parties, such as electricity service providers and data aggregators, to help manage the demand response of EVs.

Ready for the future

Increased battery capacities cater to people who want to drive longer distances. This means, however, that the current public charging infrastructure, including rapid and fast chargers, should also be outfitted for these longer-range batteries.

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