UK fails to meet target of at least six rapid EV chargers on motorways by 2023

Only four-in-10 motorway services in England currently meet the target of having six or more high-powered chargers

Despite the many inroads made into boosting Britain’s electric car charging infrastructure last year, it seems that it wasn’t enough in some aspects, as the latest research from British automotive service company RAC shows.

The Department for Transport, which according to its pledge made in 2022, was supposed to have six or more rapid or ultra-rapid electric vehicle chargers at every motorway service area in England by the end of 2023, fell “well short” of its target. In fact, according to RAC, only 40 per cent of England’s roads currently meet the required criteria.

As many studies have shown in the past, long-term range anxiety is one of the biggest hindrances obstructing the uptake of electric vehicles amongst the British populace. One way to resolve this anxiety is the presence of a reliable, accessible charging infrastructure on the country’s motorways, making long-distance emission-free travel via cars possible.

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In December, the RAC, a breakdown cover and insurance provider, looked at data from charger locator business Zapmap. It found that 178 additional faster EV chargers had been installed since April.

However, only 46 of 119 sites now had six of these high-powered charging facilities in place. Rapid charge points can add about 100 miles of range to an electric vehicle (EV) in around 35 minutes. RAC said that “worryingly”, four have no charging facilities whatsoever: Leicester Forest on both sides of the M1, Tebay South on the M6, and Barton Park on the A1(M).

Osprey EV chargers in Devon
Osprey EV charging site in Devon

RAC EV spokesperson Simon Williams told ev.tips: “It’s clear from our research that the Government has fallen well short of its target of having six high-powered chargers at every motorway service area in England. While that’s the case, some very good progress has been made since the end of April when we last carried out our survey, with four-in-10 services now having met or exceeded the target number of EV chargers, compared to just under a quarter eight months ago.

“There is undoubtedly an eagerness among charge point companies and motorway service operators to install these types of units but unfortunately, it’s often the high-power cabling to the grid that’s the major barrier which is out of their hands. More clearly needs to be done to make this process simpler than it is currently. Hopefully, once the Government’s Rapid Charging Fund kicks fully into action some of these hurdles will be overcome.

“We continue to believe that the wide availability of ultra-rapid charging is crucial in giving both current and future EV drivers confidence to know they can easily make journeys beyond the range of their vehicles in a time-efficient way.”

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The Telegraph also reported that although the Government wanted around 6,000 of these charge points on strategic roads by 2035, so far, only 581 have been installed on England’s motorways. There would be at least 714 if the Government had met its target for 2023.

In 2020, the Government set aside £950m to support the rollout of these chargers. The fund was designed to provide grants covering the cost of upgrades in motorway service areas where it is not commercially viable for private firms to install chargers.

However, as of last month, the Department of Trade had allocated just £70m from this pot to a pilot scheme involving upgrades at 10 motorway service stations.

Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Transport Louise Haigh also criticised the DfT’s delayed response on social media, replying to a tweet by Transport Secretary Mark Harper and accusing him of “bragging about funding for electric charging”. Harper had announced £70 million power-up motorway services to enable ultra-rapid EV chargers, but Haigh pointed out that it was only seven per cent of a £950 million funding first promised 3.5 years ago.

However, RAC’s report concluded that it wasn’t all doom and gloom for drivers. It said that 70 per cent of all high-power motorway charging is now ultra-rapid, reducing the time drivers need to spend ‘filling up’ significantly.

Encouragingly, there are now 14 services in England which have more than 12 such devices – up from only six in the spring. The Moto-run services at Exeter on the M5 have the most high-powered chargers of all motorway services, with 24 devices. Looking at all high-powered motorway chargers collectively, there are currently an average of five devices at all 119 service areas in England – up from 3.4 at the end of April.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT) told the BBC: “The number of public charge points is surging across the country and around 96% of motorway services now offer charging facilities for drivers. As well as our £70m pilot to help roll out ultra-rapid charge points on motorways, we are driving forward the biggest reforms to our electricity grid since the 1950s – halving the time it takes to build networks and speeding up connections.”

DfT is expected to collect the latest data from motorway service operators and make it available to the public early in the new year.

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