The switch to electric vehicles can’t just be driven by carmakers. The infrastructure to support mass changeover has to be put in place too.
While more chargers are needed, it would also help if existing ones were better policed. A survey undertaken by the Irish Electric Vehicle Owners Association (IEVOA) earlier this year found charge point blocking remains a problem for EV [electric vehicle] owners who need to charge their vehicles in public, and a cause of "significant inconvenience and frustration".
More needs to be done by charge point operators to ensure that charging bays are not blocked, it says. There needs to be a way for charge point operators to easily determine when a charging bay is occupied whether the vehicle located there is actually plugged in and charging, and not just being left by an inconsiderate EV driver.
That need will become more pressing because the good news, for the planet at least, is that EV sales figures are continuing to accelerate.
"It is hugely encouraging to see the increase in the sale of electric cars and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles [PHEVS], with electric vehicle sales for the first five months of the year [3,952] close to the full-year volume for 2020 [4,013], and further growth is expected as the year progresses," says Brian Cooke, director general of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (Simi).
“In this context it is vital that the Government provides ambitious State funding for the EV project, both in terms of the rolling out of national EV charging infrastructure as well as vehicle grant supports for both private and corporate car buyers.”
The pace of change, both in terms of charging infrastructure and in terms of charging technology, needs to increase to keep up with the forecasted rise in EVs and PHEVs, he cautions.
“If this doesn’t happen, it will become a barrier to change and potentially slowdown the uptake of EVS.”
He believes that in the medium term, and in urban areas, charging infrastructure will become commercially viable, with the private sector the key provider. “However, in the short term and even in the medium term in rural areas, it will need direct State support and investment,” he says.
“Home charging for many will be key, but for those living in apartments or with no off-street parking it is essential that the number of on-street fast chargers available is increased rapidly.”
There also must be sufficient electrical capacity for the national grid to support home charging and fast chargers, he adds.
The Simi believes all new planning permissions for commercial and residential buildings should be required to have an EV charger, or a number of chargers based on size criteria, installed.
The current Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland funding for a consumer to install a home charger should be maintained and extended to businesses, particularly for hotels, he says. Fast chargers should be installed along popular tourist routes such as Ireland Ancient East/Wild Atlantic Way and could tie in with an incentive for EV car hire," he suggests.
Notwithstanding its recent survey results, the infrastructure question "can be a little overplayed," suggests IEVOA spokesperson Kevin Dowling.
“Ireland is in a pretty decent place in this regard and the Government needs to future-proof it. We need to avoid a situation where we store technical debt in the future by having too much unnecessary infrastructure. In fact, the focus on it acts as a detractor for many potential EV owners, who get scared by the doomsayers as regards infrastructure around the country.”
Suppliers and innovators
Every new build, whether a home or a shopping centre, needs to have charging infrastructure included as part of it, he says.
“The idea that new estates, apartments, offices or shopping centres are opening up in 2021 without being future-proofed for mass EV adoption shows a lack of planning or future vision.”
More dedicated forecourts on our motorways are necessary too, to facilitate longer journeys, especially by larger vehicles running deliveries, he says.
"Tesla innovated here initially with super chargers, and we now have ESB eCars, Ionity and even the petrol stations themselves providing fast chargers. But more dedicated resources is a hat tip to the future. Looking at our European friends and neighbours, Fastned, some new Circle K outlets, and Gridserve in the UK are operating EV-only forecourts, driving as much power from renewables as is possible at each site."
Some local authority legislative powers should be used to mandate carparks having some percentage of spaces allocated to electric vehicles, he suggests.
But what he calls “centralised thinking” around how people charge is important too. “When using public infrastructure, there are several apps, cards or services folks may need to sign up to. Having a single Leap card-esque service for consumers would make this incredibly easy,” he says.
The IEVOA is undertaking a new survey to get a fuller sense of what EV drivers think of public infrastructure, and, importantly, what they do when they use it.
“My hypothesis is that in the 15 to 30 minutes they spend at a charge point, they spend more in store on coffee, snacks or lunch, which are huge margin generators for retailers,” says Dowling.