Heavy charge

The potentially huge cost of the infrastructure needed to support mass adoption of electric cars emerged when technical experts revealed that each recharging point could cost up to £6,500 to install.

Government plans to offer UK drivers up to £5,000 incentives for purchasing plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles could mean a surge of low carbon cars on Britain’s roads when the scheme goes into effect in 2011.

The effort has been championed by the government as a way to help the UK meet its target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 26 per cent by 2020.

Technical specialists, however, have told The Engineer that the government is spending too much money on incentives to buy electric vehicles and not enough to build up the infrastructure needed to charge them. The £250m strategy only sets aside £20m to install charging points alongside the UK’s roads and inside car parks.

‘It’s good that they’re making a start, but we have a very big task ahead of us,’ said Greg Simmons, the technical director of Elektromotive, a Brighton based manufacturer and installer of charging posts.

Elektromotive has already worked with EDF Energy to install nearly a hundred charging posts across the UK.

Simmons estimated it costs up to £6,500 to manufacture a single charging post, commission and test its installation location and fit it into the ground. A wall-mounted installation can be slightly less expensive.

Simmons said the actual process of installing a post in the ground normally takes 48 hours but the pre-planning required is much more laborious.

‘For a city like London the real trick is understanding what’s under the surface because there is so much history below it,’ he said. ‘Whether it’s knowing where new optical fibre cables are or finding cables nobody knows anything about.

‘Within central London, power distribution is actually excellent. You don’t tend to have so much of a problem but selecting a site incorrectly at the planning stage could add £5000 to an installation.’

If the government’s incentive plan is successful, up to 40,000 new electric vehicles could be on UK roads in the next few years. These cars would add to the approximately 260,000 electric vehicles estimated to be on the road now by the Department for Transport. Boris Johnson has recently called for 100,000 electric vehicles on London’s streets as soon as possible, equating to five per cent of the total number of vehicles on London’s roads.

The mayor has also called for the installation of 25,000 charging points by 2015. The number would be a massive increase on the 73 charge points currently found on streets and in car parks throughout the city.

Simmons suggested that studies will need to be undertaken to determine where there is demand for electric car charge posts. The first, he said, is at drivers’ homes. If a driver does not have a garage or parking facility close to their home it could be difficult to charge up a vehicle.

‘The other site that would be fantastic to charge at is in the workplace,’ he said.

Simmons said there are several areas throughout the city of London that are already overburdened with electric cars needing charge during work hours.

‘In Berkeley Square in London for example there are only two charge posts but there are six electric cars that use it,’ he said. ‘The actual ratio for charge points should be greater than one to one.’

A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport said the government’s initial funding of £20m for infrastructure is simply to ‘kick start’ the process and it hopes contributions from industry will take the programme the rest of the way.

Siobhan Wagner