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Charging ahead - The need to upscale UK electric charging infrastructure

The UK is seeing a growing number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road. Since 2012 the EV stock in the country is doubling year on year. The UK government is also making EV development a priority. It announced the introduction of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill to set requirements for the provision of charging points. In the Autumn 2017 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer pledged over £500m to fund the charging network and provide grants for plug-in-hybrids.

However, based on the findings of our research, in which we surveyed over 1,000 respondents across the UK, there are a number of potential challenges that could hinder the growth of EVs in the UK. Our latest report on electric vehicle infrastructure charging explores some of the potential ‘pinch points’ and their implications. We suggest a strategic road map needs to be agreed by government and industry to provide a framework for the roll-out of the charging infrastructure the country needs. If the UK is to be a world leader for new vehicles technology and wishes to pioneer the transition to a low carbon economy, delivering this road map will be critical.

Low carbon policies

In recent months there have been a number of high profile announcements from industry and government, illustrating the push towards a low carbon economy.


  • The UK government followed in France’s footsteps declaring the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2040.
  • The UK government has reaffirmed its commitment to “develop one of the best electric vehicle charging networks in the world.” In the Queen’s Speech in June 2017 the government announced the introduction of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill which will set requirements for the provision of charging points.
  • In the Autumn 2017 Budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer pledged £400m for a national charging network, £100m to a grant for plug-in-hybrids and £40m for research into creating new technologies for electric car charging.

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  • Volvo announced it would only manufacture electric or hybrid vehicles from 2019. Other automotive manufacturers have since followed suit, including Volkswagen which plans to invest some US$12bn by 2025 to develop and manufacture electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
  • Both Shell and BP are planning to install charge points across their UK retail networks. Shell has also acquired an EV charging infrastructure operator, NewMotion, is partnering with Ionity (a venture between German automotive manufacturers) for super-fast highway charging, and is considering opening a ‘no petrol’ service station in London in 2018.
  • Southern Rail has begun an upgrade project of its free-to-use EV charging point network, installing them at key stations.

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Key findings

Home charging infrastructure

Irrespective of vehicle type, the majority of drivers in the UK have off-street parking at home.

Homeowners are the largest share of vehicle drivers – 78% of them have access to off-street parking.

While battery electric vehicles (BEV) drivers plug in to charge throughout the day at different locations, the most common group 35% charge at home (off-street) and typically between 5pm – 8pm.

Many UK drivers have access to off-street parking meaning a lot will choose to charge their vehicles at home. To cope with this extra demand it is critical that residential power grids are reinforced and / or smart technologies are deployed.

Public charging infrastructure

Availability of off street-parking is lower in cities, particularly London.

In London, only 48% of vehicle drivers have off-street parking compared to the UK average of 72%.

Other major UK cities have similar challenges, where levels of vehicle drivers with access to off-street parking range from:

  • 61% in Edinburgh
  • 61% in Cardiff
  • 65% in Manchester

Those who live in a cities are less likely to have access to off-street parking, meaning access to public charging points will play an important role in supporting EV adoption rates.

BEV sales and charging infrastructure

Concerns about the initial price and the availability of charging remain the most important reasons discouraging internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle drivers from buying a battery electric vehicle (BEV).

Of those ICE vehicle drivers surveyed, 60% said they had not considered a BEV when they last chose a vehicle. As for the reason why they had not considered a BEV, the number one ranked reason was initial price 32% with the availability of charging 22% a close second.

But on the whole 51% of respondents ranked ‘initial price’ and ‘availability of charging’ separately as their number one or number two reason why they had not considered acquiring a BEV.

The availability of charging, along with BEV prices coming down will be important for supporting EV adoption rates.

BEV sales and educating the public

Consumers are still uncertain about certain aspects regarding electric vehicles in general. Internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle drivers were not aware of who actually installs charging infrastructure at home or what the economic benefits were of electric vehicles.

Among ICE vehicle drivers, with petrol and diesel cars, the highest level of response to our question ‘Who installs charging at home?’ was ‘Don’t know’ with 22%.

Other responses about ‘Who installs charging at home?’ were lower than 22% and ranged across a host of other market participants.

As for the running costs of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), among ICE vehicle drivers, only 11% responded they would be comfortable evaluating the total cost of BEVs.

There needs to be greater clarity around who is responsible for the provision of home charging infrastructure and what the economic benefits of EVs, if more drivers are to switch.


The evolution of national charging infrastructure will be very important for increased adoption rates of electric vehicles in the UK. There are still key issues that need to be addressed to make this a success, from reinforcing residential power grids and deploying smart technologies, to investing in workplace and public charging points. Once EV infrastructure networks are upgraded this will pave the way for the private sector to innovate and create new products and services.

This is the type of challenge that one cannot expect market forces to address on their own – this is a classic case of a “public good” where markets require government help to get to the right answer.

What is required therefore, is a strategic road map to be developed by government and industry. This road map will clarify the type of charging infrastructure the country requires and where key investments need to be made across the power networks (transmission and distribution). It will also set a target roll out timetable and establish the commercial and regulatory framework.

There are of course risks. Given the disruptive impact of technology, it is not difficult to envisage a scenario where advances in inductive and dynamic EV charging make current technology and infrastructure investments rapidly redundant. Equally, how will the £25bn in fuel duty evolve over time? In sum, it is therefore critical to bring government and industry together to agree the way forward and plan a sustainable and comprehensive approach. Failure to do this might not only mean the ‘lights go out’ but the wheels could come off as well.

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Drew Stevenson

Drew Stevenson

Leader of Industry for Energy, Utilities and Resources, PwC United Kingdom

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