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Charging the capital – is London set to drive the EV revolution?

In less than eight years' time you will not be able to buy a new petrol or diesel car or van in the UK, with the exception of hybrid vehicles with significant zero emission capability.

This fast-approaching deadline has focused the minds of both local authorities and transport operators on how to establish the infrastructure necessary to power the next generation of electric vehicles.


As of 1 October 2021, there were just 25,927 public electric vehicle charging devices available across the UK, according to the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles. Fewer than one in five of these – 4,923 – were rapid chargers. Unless significant investment is made into installing more charge points, the charging infrastructure will be unequal to the task of refuelling what is expected to be a burgeoning segment of the car and van market.


It is true that new public charging devices are being added almost daily and since 2015 the total number of public devices has grown by 9% quarterly and rapid devices have increased by the much higher rate of 13%. However, in the 12 months to October 2021, the average quarterly growth for total and rapid public devices had reduced to 7% and 9% respectively.

The geographical distribution of charging devices across the UK is also wildly uneven, leading to fears of electric charging ‘deserts’ appearing in more peripheral parts of the country.


London has stolen a march on the rest of the country, accounting for almost a third of the total public charging points – more than 8,600. This is an 85 per cent increase since 2019. While the UK has an average of 39 public charging devices per 100,000 of population, London has more than double this proportion at 87 per 100,000. At the other end of the spectrum Northern Ireland has just 18 per 100,000, followed by the North West and Yorkshire and Humber regions with 23 and 24 devices per 100,000.

London also has the largest zero-emission bus fleet in western Europe, and highly regulated emissions-based road user charging via a tightened London-wide Low Emission Zone and an expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone covering inner London.

By 2030, Transport for London (TfL) estimates there could be between one and 1.4 million EVs, which is between 34 per cent and 49 per cent of London’s total car and van fleet.

Do these facts mean that the capital is ripe to spearhead the electric vehicle revolution? Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, certainly hopes so. His ambition is for the capital to be a zero-carbon city by 2030 and he hopes improvements in air quality will be achieved in large part due to his transport strategy.


To achieve this, in December 2021, TfL published its London’s 2030 electric vehicle infrastructure strategy, which aims to support and accelerate the shift to zero-emission technologies. This sets out what is needed to ensure sufficient electric vehicle infrastructure is in place in London by 2030 – the year that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be phased out.

Building on its 2019 Delivery Plan, TfL uses its 2030 strategy to set out its vision by looking at recent trends and policy changes and considers how the required infrastructure can be delivered.


Focusing specifically on the infrastructure needed for cars and vans, the strategy highlights that “new modelling indicates that in the most likely scenario, where there is increased use of rapid, on-the-go charging, London will need around 40,000 to 60,000 charge points by 2030, of which up to 4,000 will be rapids.”

This indicates that the total number of public charging points in London will need to increase at least fivefold in the next eight years and possibly by as much as sevenfold. However, TfL estimates that this infrastructure would support impressive reductions in carbon dioxide emissions of between 1.5 and 2.6 million tonnes per year by 2030.


Initial estimates show that public sector land could accommodate a quarter of the 4,000 rapid charge points London may need by 2030. TfL maintains that its commitment addresses one of the main barriers to charge point implementation – namely the availability of suitable land. In its overview to its strategy, TfL states its commitment to unlocking GLA (Greater London Authority) Group and other public sector land in prime locations to accommodate the required infrastructure.


The strategy also acknowledges that government funding has been vital in enabling London to meet the demand for EV charging. While TfL anticipates most of London’s charge points will be delivered by the private sector, it said London will still require ongoing funding “to help maintain consumer confidence and accelerate the switch”.


Logistics UK is a member of the Mayor's EV Infrastructure Taskforce and has long pressed for the needs of commercial vehicles to be recognised in the strategy. The business group is therefore pleased to see that the strategy said that space requirements for larger vehicles must be considered at EV charging hubs, as well as ensuring that locations are open for charging at all times of day. TfL also plans to establish a commercial fleet database to assist with future planning and infrastructure investment to support commercial fleets to switch to EVs. Subject to funding, this should begin this year.

The London EV Business Leaders' forum will also work with private fleets and commercial fleet operators to address specific issues, including their transition to EVs and how they support the delivery of London’s charging needs.

Michelle Gardner, Head of Public Policy and decarbonisation lead at Logistics UK, said: “Since the government announced 2030 as the phase out date for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans, operators of light commercial vehicles have felt an increasing sense of urgency to decarbonise their fleets.

“However, while the development of the vehicle technology has been rapid, concerns remain about the speed at which the refuelling infrastructure for electric vehicles is being installed. The capital appears to be leading the charge in this regard. Transport for London’s 2030 electric vehicle infrastructure strategy is a strong statement of its commitment to investing in the refuelling infrastructure necessary to decarbonise its transport network in the coming years.”


Published On: 13/01/2022 16:00:03


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