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Hitting the accelerator: building an electric vehicle charging grid for all

Five years from now, low emission vehicles – predominantly electric vehicles (EVs) - will be transforming the streets of our cities… but only if these new vehicles have somewhere to charge. How can cities, infrastructure owners and transport authorities make joined-up decisions around EV charging infrastructure to reap the benefits of low emission vehicles?

The right location 

Cities are densely populated. Owners of EVs won’t have driveways in which to charge their cars, and will need lots of public charge points – whether during the journey or at the destination. Applying our modelling and analysis to one UK city, we’ve estimated it needs to expand its existing charging network by 500% in the next five years to help it meet its aspirations for a cleaner, lower-carbon future. Across the world, from LA to New Delhi, every city faces this problem. So, where should these charge points be located?

Preparing for plug in

• Charging infrastructure is key to EV take-up and needs to support different road users with different behaviours.

• On-street charging in residential areas will not happen at pace or scale. People without off-street parking need destination and en-route charging to convince them to use EVs.

Let the data speak

If everyone is to benefit from the coming EV revolution, city authorities urgently need to lead a collaborative effort to install the right number of charging points in the right places. A data-driven collaboration between different city bodies and stakeholders – transport authorities, regeneration teams and energy distribution network operators – will enable municipalities and local authorities to implement an EV charging network that works for everyone. 

City authorities already have access to data on socio-economic factors such as the types of housing in different areas, and to transport data that plots the origins and destinations of people’s journeys. Combining this data in a detailed model can provide a picture of how many charging points are needed, the types required for the likely mix of vehicles, the benefits that could be derived from charge points in different locations and the likely demands on the energy network.

Modelling demand

We’ve created a detailed model that combines socio-economic, housing, transport data, with EV adoption rates and vehicle performance data. These data points are brought together in a proprietary demand model to provide a detailed picture of EV charging demand through the day, across an entire city. This allows us to test different scenarios and create masterplans integrating EV charging demand, with charge point placement and grid capacity.

Preparing for plug in

City authorities need to take a leading role in creating a joined-up plan for installing EV charge points, otherwise coverage will be patchy. And they urgently need a lot more charge points.

Modelling combines city data to help define the optimum number, type and location of charge points. 

Don’t leave it to the market

Taking a network-wide approach is vital. Municipalities and city authorities could leave installing chargers entirely up to commercial charging companies. This is too important to leave to the market alone, or indeed to any single body. It’s not clear that the market will ensure a cross section of society has access to charging - firms could potentially cherry pick the most profitable locations. It’s also doubtful the market would investigate how electric buses (which Arup is studying for a city in the UK), could share their charging infrastructure with private cars.

Charging infrastructure has implications for issues like air quality, decarbonisation and more broadly a city’s reputation, everyone needs to be involved. Ideally, local government creating an EV masterplan focused on achieving the widest-ranging benefits and supported by the whole community.