The UK’s £30m scheme to install an electric-vehicle charging network has begun rolling out in north east England, but the scheme’s initial proposals are already in doubt, just as it faces possible closure by the new government.
The first year of the Plugged-In Places initiative was supposed to see over 2,500 charging points set up by March 2011. But The Engineer has discovered the expected number has fallen by around 10 per cent and several of the companies involved have not yet confirmed how many units they will be installing or when.
‘These things always take a lot longer than expected because politics puts things on hold.’
Calvey Taylor-Haw, managing director, Elektromotive
Although the government has confirmed £8.8m of funding for the first year of the scheme, further investment is under threat as the initiative is subject to the comprehensive spending review due this autumn.
The first round of money was awarded to three consortia representing London, Milton Keynes and North East England in February this year, made up of businesses and local authorities or regional development agencies.
So far, only the RDA One North East has announced concrete plans to install charging points, awarding a contract for 200 units to Brighton-based Elektromotive last month. It has also announced plans for 12 quick chargers around the region and aims to install around 600 stations by the scheme’s first annual deadline of March 2011.
Meanwhile, Milton Keynes Council has slowed down the plans put forward in its original funding bid and now aims to install 50 units by March next year, instead of 134.
Council spokesperson Tony Bacon said: ‘We feel that this provides a better match to the expected roll-out of electric vehicles, as well as a number of other low-carbon programmes in Milton Keynes.’
The London consortium, led by TFL, hopes to see 1,600 charging points rolled out across the capital by the first deadline, with 600 in public locations such as on streets and in car parks, and 1,000 in private workplaces.
TFL spokesperson Nike Onakoya said: ‘Preparation work to deliver the introduction of these charge points is currently underway, with the first of them expected before the end of this year.’
TFL was also keen to point out that ‘the responsibility of points installation rests with our partners’. But several of the businesses in the consortia – including Nissan, Sainsbury’s, Hertz, Streetcar, and Scottish and Southern Energy – told The Engineer that they had yet to decide how many charging points to install and couldn’t say when they would be installed. The list of private workplaces where units will be placed has also yet to be finalised.
Elektromotive’s managing director, Calvey Taylor-Haw, said he doubted whether it would now be possible to meet the original target. ‘These things always take a lot longer than expected because politics puts things on hold,’ he said.
‘We can manufacture upwards of 1,000 units a month, but putting the infrastructure in is different. Installing them on the pavement needs a public consultation that takes six weeks with admin. Then there is putting in the grid connections and that can take a few weeks. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes legislation and consultation.’
The previous Labour government launched Plugged-In Places in November 2009 and, when the first round of funding was awarded in February 2010, the stated plan was to install 2,500 charge points in the first year and over 11,000 in the next three years. A second round of proposals from other local consortia has been requested, with a deadline of 30 September.
While the coalition government has confirmed funding for Labour’s electric-car subsidy, the autumn spending review puts the future of Plugged-In Places in doubt. If the consortia does not succeed in rolling out as many charging units in the first year as they said they would, there may not be the money to fund them in the future.
The Department for Transport (DfT) told The Engineer that it was open to changes in the original proposals, according to circumstance. ‘It’s not simply a case of setting a target for installing X charging points by X date,’ said spokesperson Rachel Fowell. But funding is paid quarterly on implementation, so if the schemes fail to deliver they will receive less funding.
Delays to the project could also raise questions about whether it’s the most effective way to encourage the development of an electric-vehicle infrastructure, which is needed to help kick-start sales of electric cars.
Taylor-Haw pointed out that it could be an unpopular area of investment if front-line public services are threatened. ‘If hospital budgets start to be cut then there will be a complete embargo on politicians talking about funding this,’ he said.
‘But I’m sure it will still go on in the background – the automotive industry is still so important to UK manufacturing. If the car manufacturers don’t see the infrastructure going into the UK, they’ll divert their attention to other countries.’
A DfT statement said: ‘The Plugged-in Places project is something that we are currently considering very carefully as we review our departmental commitments. We understand the need to give some clarity and certainty here, and we will provide further information as soon as possible.’
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