“Plugging the Gap” in Britain’s Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Network

This article describes SYSTRA’s work for the Committee for Climate Change on “Plugging the Gap” in Britain’s electric vehicle (EV) charging network. It also suggests some of the wider uses for the tools developed by SYSTRA to facilitate the roll-out of EV chargers, such as developing and evidencing local and regional EV strategies, and analysing key long-distance transport corridors.

The Rise of EVs and the Need for Charging

With the transport sector overtaking the energy sector as the UK’s biggest source of carbon emissions in 2016[1], recent years have seen alternative fuels, and EVs in particular, rise to the forefront of the climate change debate. This interest has been further strengthened by discussions around the serious risks to public health from vehicle emissions such as nitrogen oxide.[2]

In line with similar announcements from other countries, the UK is set to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040. A further call has been made from thinktank Green Alliance to bring this deadline even further forward to 2030 to ensure emissions targets are met.

This impending ban has brought home the realisation that the role of EVs in our transport system needs to be taken very seriously, and that this needs to be done quickly.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is aware of this need and suggests that 60% of new cars and vans will have to be electric by 2030.[3] The number of EVs on our roads is indeed growing, with new registrations of plug-in cars rising from approximately 3,500 in 2013 to around 150,000 at present. However, perceptions surrounding the ability (or rather the inability) to charge EVs is still seen as a potential barrier in the decision-making process of individuals as they consider the switch from internal combustion engine vehicles to EVs. Therefore, to realise the uptake suggested by the CCC, it is essential that the UK has a charging network that provides users with absolute confidence in their ability to charge when needed.


Considering Britain’s Charging Requirements for the CCC

The CCC have recently published their “Plugging the Gap” report, which was produced by SYSTRA with the support of Cenex and Next Green Car. This outlines the findings of new analysis on the demand for public EV charging infrastructure and the optimal supply needed to support the CCC’s suggested growth of EVs by 2030.

The research considered the impact of important factors in EV use, such as:

  • advances in vehicle technology, such as increased battery size and range;
  • the availability of different types of chargers, and their associated charging speeds and times;
  • the number and pattern of trips taken using EVs; and
  • behavioural aspects like ‘range anxiety’.

Two tools were developed by SYSTRA to analyse the supply and demand for two categories of public EV charging, e.g. at on-street parking spaces or in public car parks:

  • Long-distance en route charging, e.g. charging that is largely needed while travelling on the strategic road network; and
  • Parking-based charging at the destination of trips, e.g. while a driver is parked for another purpose, such as using local shopping facilities. This also includes charging close to home for those who don’t have access to a private charging point in a garage or driveway.

Charging on Long-distance Travel – En Route Charging

Whilst, unsurprisingly perhaps, the research highlighted the need for the expansion of the public EV charging network on the strategic road network, one of the interesting results was that while the number of electric cars on mainland UK roads is expected to rise from just under 150k in 2017 to over 10 million by 2030 (a factor of over x70), the number of charging points required to meet long-distance travel demand from this fleet increases by a factor of just x2.5.

This is largely a result of two of the biggest changes affecting the EV market: bigger capacity batteries, resulting in cars being able to travel further before requiring a charge; and faster chargers, with the newest types of chargers (350kw) able to provide charge for a 300km journey in just 20 minutes, meaning more charge can be provided quickly and the utilisation rate of each charger can be higher. The charging network solutions presented in the study suggest that such advancements in charging technology mean that the proportion of long-distance EV trips that require a charge en route could fall to less than 1% by 2030.

Information on the number, location and type of chargers required on the strategic road network is presented in the research based on a number of different optimisation strategies; such as driver-focussed, carbon-focused, and commercial focussed scenarios.

Charging at Destinations – Parking-based Charging

A similar story was true for the parking-based charging results; a much more efficient charging network was seen to be possible in the future due to advances in chargers and vehicles, for example the number of chargers required per 1,000 EVs reduces from approximately 52 to 2.3 by 2030.

Regardless of this, the increase in EV uptake means that there will still be significant demand for public charging shown for both ‘top-up’ charges and for those without access to private home charging, such as those in city tenements. Overall, approximately 28,000 chargers were determined to be required to meet the CCC’s central EV uptake scenario for 2030.

Moving Forward – Wider Applications of these Tools for Understanding EV Charging Requirements

The results of the research suggest that we are currently on the cusp of a revolution in EV use. As technology advancements continue to improve both the rate of charging and how far people can travel before requiring a charge, the gap will narrow between the behavioural aspects of users’ travel and the technological limitations of EVs.

For long-distance travel, far fewer journeys will require a charge, and for those that do, the effective provision of rapid and ultra-rapid charging could mean that it would take longer to recharge the driver (with a coffee stop and a sandwich) than to recharge their car. For our cities, towns and villages, a well-planned local charging network could mean that users never have to think too hard about when they need to charge, as charging becomes integrated with any other task they are undertaking.

At SYSTRA, we are continuing to expand both our modelling tools and EV expertise to ensure that we can help facilitate the delivery of the charger network that is required to realise the full potential of EVs. By combining use of these modelling tools with our wider transport planning experience – such as in developing parking strategies, modelling low emission zones and influencing travel behaviour – we can offer local, regional, and national level bodies insight into the potential demand for EV charging and the optimal and cost efficient solutions for providing this.

A copy of the “Plugging the Gap” report is available online from the CCC here. If you are interested in exploring the wider uses of these model, such as in the development of EV strategies, please get in touch with David Connolly This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Ralph Anderson This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/final-uk-greenhouse-gas-emissions-national-statistics-1990-2016

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/emissions-of-air-pollutants

[3] https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/the-fifth-carbon-budget-the-next-step-towards-a-low-carbon-economy/