This week the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, announced a new £37 million package of measures for the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points. This includes:
- £13.5 million for a 75% grant for UK homeowners wishing to have a domestic charging point installed;
- £11 million for a fund for local authorities in England to: (a) install on-street charging points in their localities, covering up to 75% of the cost, and (b) provide up to 75% of the cost of installing rapid charging points in their areas around the Strategic Road Network;
- £9 million for funding for the installation of charging points at railway stations;
- £3 million to support the installation of charging points on government/public estates by April 2015; and
- a commitment to review government buying standards to lower fleet CO2 emissions and promote the take-up of plug-in vehicles in central government.
Investment in electric vehicles, particularly charging points, remains a bone of contention. Some would argue that providing charging points en masse overcomes the chicken-and-egg problem of mass-market uptake: you need to put in place the infrastructure before people use electric vehicles. Others would say that this is money ill spent, as they think the government is wasting its money on a technology that is surrounded by uncertainties about expensive batteries and limited overall utility, notably limited range.
Leaving that discussion aside, it is necessary to understand where and when charging points make sense.
It is, in short, where people can (and in practice actually do) park for extended periods of time – at least several hours in the case of slow charging points and around 30 minutes in the case of rapid charging points. In other words, they make sense where there is little or no immediate competition for parking spaces. This effectively means, in order of preference: homes with off-street parking, workplaces with off-street parking facilities, and car parks, including those at shopping centres, park-and-ride and railway stations.
Charging points do not make sense where the above criteria are not met, that is, where people usually do not park for longer periods of time and there is thus competition for parking spaces. Essentially this includes most on-street charging points, particularly in city and town centres and especially if they are slow chargers.
With this in mind, most of the grants seem sensible. If people are lucky enough to have access to off-street parking they will now be able to receive a grant of the order of £750 since a typical domestic charging point installation costs about £1,000, perhaps a bit more. (Perhaps a weatherproof outdoor plug would do it though!) But providing £11 million to local authorities for the provision of on-street charging points seems like a lot of money to be spending on trying to give people mere psychological reassurance.