The Electric Car Revolution: Was the Charging Question Just an After-Port? - Pager Power
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The Electric Car Revolution: Was the Charging Question Just an After-Port?

The Electric Car Revolution: Was the Charging Question Just an After-Port?
August 14, 2023 Aaron Williams

Scientific research on climate change is conclusive that human action has influenced global warming and extreme weather events, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.” – IPCC report on climate change 2021. [1] As a result, it was no surprise that United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres concluded that this report was a ‘code red for humanity’.

The path to a brighter and greener future will inevitably require a multitude of rapid technical solutions and lifestyle changes. Some of these solutions will involve commercial and publicly funded solutions requiring significant financial investment. In recent years, conferences with the aim of signing off international agreements on tackling climate change have received muted responses due to the underwhelming commitments they make. For example, wealthy nations have still failed to meet a commitment made at COP15 [2] in 2009 to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance for developing nations by 2020 [3].

Whilst there have been significant sweeping promises to cut all greenhouse emissions by 2050, how this is to be achieved has been severely lacking. The failure of government action to cut CO2 emissions has therefore emphasised the need for individuals to act within the confines of their own lives. Individuals may act by undertaking lifestyle changes such as reducing meat consumption, composting, recycling and using eco-friendly alternatives for household items, flying abroad less often, using public transportation or cycling to work, or purchasing an electric car. 

An Electric Car Revolution?

In 2022, carbon dioxide emissions in the transport sector made up 34% of the overall total in UK [4], placing even greater emphasis on the need for clean energy alternatives. Government action on encouraging electric car use may not be entirely underwhelming. In fact, an electric car revolution may be just on the horizon, with many nations [5] having committed to banning the sale of electric cars in the future. The UK has committed to banning new non-electric cars by 2030, new hybrid car sales from 2035, and new CO2-emitting lorry and bus sales from 2040 [6]. However, it must be noted that this is still many years down the line and does not ban existing non-electric vehicles (or used car sales thereof) and is solely focused on new vehicle sales. In contrast, Norway is leading the way whereby all new passenger petrol/diesel cars will be banned by 2025, and commercial petrol/diesel vehicles will be banned by 2035.

electric car revolution

Figure 1: BMW i8 plugged in and charging. [23]

The UK has seen reductions in electric vehicle grants in recent years; however, that shift in focus away from subsidising expensive electric cars and towards salary sacrifice electric car leasing schemes and vehicle charging may be the appropriate direction going forward. This is especially true given that the electric car revolution may be driven by businesses and individual consumer choice. Globally the best-selling vehicle of Q1 2023 was the Tesla Model Y [7]. Electric car sales in the UK have risen year on year but remain behind pre-pandemic levels [8] and are dominated by fleets and business buyers rather than private buyers [9]. The UK government has marginally shifted focus in making changes to home-building regulations, which ensures the installation of electric car charging points for new homes. Whilst this is a positive change, it may have limited effect given that the UK government has failed to meet its own targets of 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s [10] as we approach a potential housing crisis with rent and mortgage rates skyrocketing.

Electric Vehicle Users Look on With GRIDded Teeth

Electric vehicles are a hot topic, and the BBC has recently produced two documentaries on electric cars. Notably, ‘Electric Cars: Is it the time to buy?’ by Panorama [11] and ‘Electric Cars’, a new series under the title ‘What they really mean for you’ [12]. In these documentaries, the most pressing concern raised by electric vehicle users is range anxiety, availability of working electric car charging points, and the duration it takes to charge. 

Whilst salary sacrifice schemes for electric car leasing are a positive, the upfront cost of electric vehicles does remain expensive, and this is amplified by the cheap used car market for petrol/diesel vehicles. Furthermore, arguments are sometimes made that continuing to use a used petrol/diesel car is better for the environment than purchasing a new car albeit electric; however, this is a contentious point [13]. A large contributing factor to the cost of an electric vehicle is the incredible cost of batteries. In the BBC documentary, it was stated that one set of electric car batteries would cost £1000 (used), and 16 sets are required in a typical Tesla car, meaning that the cost of Telsa is heavily influenced by approximately £16,000 worth of battery cost. The weight of the batteries is also significant and contributes to the limited range capability of most electric cars. Battery technology also has a long way to go, the lithium-ion batteries found in electric cars are not much different from those you would find in a laptop or mobile phone, and we are all aware of how these degrade over time. Battery technology is though gradually improving [14]. Batteries also require a whole host of different metals to be produced including lithium. Global lithium mining is currently at 1million tonnes per year and expected to increase to 2.5million tonnes by 2030 [15]; however, with the increased demand for electric vehicles, some experts predict that over 5million tonnes will be required. Lithium is a common element; however, there are shortages in the supply due to the lack of mines and refining capacity at present to meet the demand. This has led to the price of lithium going up by over 1000% between September 2020 and January 2023. Nickel is also required, and Russia dominates the market, with the supply having been reduced recently and therefore prices have spiked at approximately $40 per kilogram last year. The war in Ukraine has influenced the cost of materials. China dominates the market by producing 80% of batteries and most associated materials. Supply chain costs therefore remain a significant factor acting as a traffic jam to the electric car revolution. 

The production of batteries will need to increase significantly and as part of the net zero strategy for the USA the US government has offered $20 billion in loans and grants to encourage electric vehicle manufacturing, and the Chinese government has invested more than $130 billion since 2009. Therefore, the investment opportunities across the world are far more attractive than the UK offering and if the UK government does not offer support, car manufacturing and potential battery production in the UK may be dead. A £3.8billion Gigaplant in Cambois, Northumberlund, was set to be produced by Britishvolt with £100million of government grants to support the project however concerns were raised regarding the company’s viability to carry out the project and the UK government pulled out. It was set to revitalise the UK battery game but unfortunately investment was further pulled by private investors due to the uncertainty over the UK economy when Trussonomics tanked the pound.

Fears about charging remain a large factor putting off electric car adoption. Many homeowners do not have off-street parking and, given the long time it takes to charge an electric car, there is an obvious preference to have a charger near to the home and likewise for insurance purposes. Hundred’s of thousands of electric charge points will be required. ‘To reach the government’s minimum target of 300,000 chargepoints by 2030, the SMMT says, the installation rate must treble to almost 10,000 chargers per quarter, every quarter’ [16]. There are currently 44,000 electric public charge points in the UK, however, 1/3 of these chargers are located in London. In fact, there are more chargers located in Westminster than there are in cities such as Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, and Newcastle, combined! This situation is in fact, getting even worse. In 2020, there were 16 cars for every public charger, now it is estimated to be 32 cars for every charger [17]. This situation is partly brought about due to a lack of coordination from central government on the installation of electric charge points. Currently, multiple private companies apply for licences from different local planning authorities from across the UK and there are significant rules and regulations in place holding up approval (proving that the chargers are safe, permission to dig the holes, Section 115 permits for every set of charge points sometimes for each charge point etc.). Furthermore, each private company has its own charging system which may not afford cross-compatibility. For example, ‘Trojan Energy’ is one such company and provides charge point solutions that involve a lance (a metal tube that hooks into electric cables under the street) that users must transport around with them in the boot of their car.

Most electric car users are though generally happy with their choice [18]; however, not everyone is satisfied with their experience. An opinion piece, ‘Why I’ve pulled the plug on my electric car: The spark is gone — you’re better off walking than relying on useless, unreliable vehicles and chargers that never work’, by Times columnist Giles Coren [19] grabbed attention this year. In an interview with the BBC, he explains how he has sold his Jaguar EV. Although the limited real-world range of the car was a contributing factor, his main upset was caused when trying to drive on a long journey due to the lack of enough charging facilities and those that actually work. “We’ve had it, we’re going back to petrol…if they do (if the charging situation changes) then absolutely marvellous then I’ll buy another one and come back to it…we obviously have to change, we have to save the planet…but it cannot be done with the infrastructure that exists now, the pace, even at the accelerated rate we are going at now…” – Giles Coren.

Figure 2: Lithium-Ion battery for BMW-i3 electric vehicle. [24] 

There is potentially some light at the end of the tunnel. Britain now has its very first dedicated electric forecourt – Gridserve’s Charging Station in Braintree. Electric cars can take around 10 hours to charge from home. In contrast, the forecourt has rapid chargers which are capable of charging in 40 minutes and also an ultra-fast charger (350kW) capable of charging an electric car within 15 minutes. There aren’t though many electric cars that can use the ultra-fast charger just yet. The question is then posed as to why would you position Britain’s first electric forecourt beside an ‘A’ road and not a busier and potentially more profitable ‘M’ road nearby? The answer, much like the viability of many solar projects, lies in the capabilities of the nearest grid connection. To power the electric charging points a significant electric supply is required. The grid connection at the forecourt in Braintree has a 5MW grid connection which is sufficient for providing 20,000 miles of EV charging every hour. The grid often does not have the capacity to provide the electricity capability required for the rapid electric charge points. The UK government has stated that it is best for ‘the market’ to identify the best sites for electric charging locations which hands over the responsibility to the likes of Gridserve and Trojan Energy. National Grid has admitted that significant upgrades will be required and have requested a revamp of planning laws to meet the demand.

The UK government has committed to a plan for increasing the number of electric chargers [20,21], “convenient, affordable and reliable charging for all as government commits £1.6 billion to expand UK charging network – with around 300,000 public chargers expected to be available by 2030…(By 2035) England’s motorways and major A roads will have around 6,000 high powered charge points”. However, how the UK government plans to achieve these goals is severely lacking in detail.

Is Hydrogen the Solution?

Synthetic fuel is made from carbon dioxide in the air we breathe, and hydrogen contained within water. ‘Fisher-Tropsch’ is the process of combining hydrogen and carbon into hydrocarbons and has been known for approximately 100 years and was used by the German army during the 2nd world war; however, due to the availability of cheap oil and a lack of awareness surrounding climate change there hasn’t been a significant case for its use until more recently. Unfortunately, at present the cost of synthetic fuel is approximately six to seven times the cost of fossil fuels. Furthermore, synthetic fuel still produces pollution due to the release of carbon dioxide when the fuel is used and it requires a significant amount of electricity to manufacture. The argument for its use to tackle climate change is that although carbon dioxide is released in use, the process of creating synthetic fuel re-absorbs the carbon dioxide once again making it a balanced system. Furthermore, you do not have that frustrating trouble of waiting for the vehicle to charge as the vehicle is filled up with fuel instantly much like that of petrol/diesel vehicles.

Hydrogen fuel cells may provide a cleaner alternative. Vehicles that make use of hydrogen fuel cells, take in oxygen from breathable air, use hydrogen from the fuel tank, and then through a chemical reaction electricity is produced to power the car and only water is discarded from the car meaning that it really is ‘zero emissions’ – assuming the hydrogen fuel can be produced sustainably. Due to the significant amounts of energy required for the creation of hydrogen fuel, its creation will need to be powered by significant amounts of renewable energy. The cost of refuelling varies depending on the size of the vehicle. Generally, the larger the vehicle, the more efficient it is to use hydrogen fuel cells and the smaller the vehicle, the more efficient it is to use batteries in an electric vehicle. Therefore, hydrogen fuel cells may have a future best placed with trains, HGVs, and potentially aircraft. Hydrogen fuel cells are already used in Germany for some of their trains and there is already some hydrogen HGV’s on the roads already. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla has said the following about Hydrogen: “It’s just very difficult … to make hydrogen and store it and use it in a car…The best-case hydrogen fuel cell doesn’t win against the current case batteries, so then, obviously…it doesn’t make sense,” [22]. At present, the green energy car revolution for now remains an electric one.

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[2] 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference
[5] China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Japan, Singapore, the UK, South Korea, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Slovenia, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Canada, 12 U.S. states adhered to California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Program, Sri Lanka, Cabo Verde, and Costa Rica.
[17] SMMT/ZAPMAPS/UK government
23] The Blow Up (November 2020) from Last accessed on 14th August 2023. Available at:
[24] Rudolf Simon (November 2012) from WikiCommons. Last accessed on 14th August 2023. Available at:


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