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Accelerate electric car ownership by standardising charging points, say experts

Amit Katwala, at Smart to Future Cities

credit: iStock
credit: iStock

Charging an electric car can be a bit of a nightmare, but experts are calling for regulation to make it easier.

Currently different vehicles need different types of charger, and there’s no standard adaptor that you can use with all of them, with the exception of the very slow and basic one which plugs into a standard three-pin domestic socket. 

But if you want to top up on the go, at the moment you need to find a charging point with the right kind of socket for your car, and hope it belongs to a network you’re registered with. Today, there are more than 30 different organisations installing electric car-charging networks in the UK.

Some networks offer pay-as-you-go models, while others require a subscription fee, but each one requires the driver to register and carry a network-specific swipe card in order to use it.

It’s all very confusing, and it’s something that needs to change if electric cars are going to adopted more widely, according to a panel of experts at the Smart to Future Cities event in London today. “We’re not anywhere close to a charging network that is convenient,” said John Davies, who works with the UK government on developing smart cities.

He was reminded of chargers for phones, which varied hugely for years before being standardised across the majority of devices (iPhones being a notable exception) with the adoption of micro-USB. “We’ve had the experience already with these things and we still haven’t cracked it,” he said. “Ultimately it should be regulated to speed up adoption.”

Others agree, but suggest waiting for the market to come up with its own solution before laying down laws. “Regulation is always a tool that we have in our arsenal,” said Lucy Yu, head of innovation at the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. “But we shouldn’t assume that the market won’t potentially resolve some of this. I remember with cash machines – 15-20 years ago you had to go and find a cash machine for your bank. Now we have Link machines, and there is a potential for that kind of thing coming to market here.”

Generally, the experts agreed that more investment is needed to increase electric car ownership, as well as improved battery technology to reduce so-called ‘range anxiety,’ – where people don’t feel confident embarking on long journeys because of perceived lack of charging points. “There is more investment in charging infrastructure needed,” said Yu. “In more urban areas, people are probably more interested in a faster charge, and less interested in long range.”

Yu also believes more could be done to encourage people to try electric cars. “On the softer side of things, there are potentially grants or tax breaks to kick-start that market,” she said. 


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