Plug-in vehicles, plugged in policy - Transport Committee Contents

3  Providing infrastructure

Plugged-In Places

19. The Coalition Agreement commits the Government to "mandate a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles."[46] The Plugged-In Places scheme is the "key mechanism" by which the Government hopes to introduce recharging infrastructure across the UK. Plugged-In Places "offers match-funding to consortia of businesses and public sector partners to support the installation of electric vehicle recharging infrastructure in lead places across the UK."[47] There are eight Plugged-In Places trials across the UK: Central Scotland, East of England, Greater Manchester, London, the Midlands, Milton Keynes, the North East of England and Northern Ireland. These pilot projects are expected to perform a number of roles including: helping to raise the profile of low carbon transport amongst local transport providers, encourage private sector involvement with infrastructure installation or helping to test equipment.[48] The data collected through these trials will then be used to shape the design of a national recharging infrastructure network.[49]

20. The Government's plug-in vehicles strategy outlines its approach to vehicle charging as follows

We want to see the majority of recharging taking place at home, at night, after the peak in electricity demand. Home recharging should be supported by workplace recharging for commuters and fleets, with a targeted amount of public infrastructure where it will be most used, allowing people to make the journeys they want.[50]

Part of the Plugged-In Places scheme included an element of home charging.[51] We heard that vehicle owners tend to prefer recharging their cars at home or at work.[52] However, "drivers very much welcomed the public charging infrastructure"[53] as "people are worried, if they travel somewhere that is 45 miles, whether they have enough energy to get home."[54] In this report we concentrate on the provision of public infrastructure, due to the public spending in this area.

21. In the period up to the end of March 2012, Plugged-In Places had installed 1,673 charge points.[55] The DfT provided us with the following breakdown of the number of chargepoints installed by each Plugged-In Place in the period up to 31 March 2012 (Table 1):[56]

Plugged-In Place Chargepoints installed
East of England135
Milton Keynes115
North East399
Northern Ireland85

Table 1 The number of chargepoints installed in each Plugged-In Place up to 31 March 2012.

In addition to the Plugged-In Places scheme, some private chargepoint providers are also installing electric vehicle infrastructure. The total number of chargepoints in the UK may therefore exceed 3,000.[57]

22. Table 1 shows considerable variability in the number of chargepoints installed by each Plugged-In Place. This is in part a result of the trials having started at different times and therefore being at different stages of development. However, we have heard that other factors are also at play. The SMMT states that "there has been varying success in the eight Plugged-In Places projects, with some locations demonstrating commercially viable plans for when government funding ends and others whose status is less certain."[58] The characteristics of the plugged-in place may also have a role, with larger cities tending to have a greater population of individuals willing to adopt new technologies.[59]


23. Standardisation of access to chargepoints is an emerging concern from Plugged-In Places. If the Government wishes to encourage sales of plug-in vehicles, then consumers may need confidence that they will be able to charge their cars in public spaces, if required. Although the Plugged-In Places pilots trials have made progress towards providing infrastructure, there is further work to be done in standardising access to infrastructure, both in terms of widening access to membership schemes and ensuring interoperability of cars and infrastructure in different locations.

24. At present, many vehicle users must pre-register with a payment scheme in order to use chargepoints in their area. There are a variety of membership or registration schemes currently in operation. General Motors told us that

Different charging schemes from across the UK should be harmonised. At the current point in time in order to use electric points in different parts of the country you would have to be a member of multiple schemes. [...] This is off-putting and complicated for customers and only serves to reinforce concerns over range anxiety."[60]

Making sure that vehicle owners can access chargepoints across the UK should be a priority in the DfT's plug-in vehicle strategy. The DfT should set out how it will work to remove barriers to chargepoint access across the country.

25. There are also different types of infrastructure in use in different areas of the UK and abroad. The use of different types of connector, which allow vehicles to be plugged into chargepoints, in different areas is a particular concern. Mr Baker told us that "we have to try to settle on something that is efficient and safe to use and that is standard as far as possible". The DfT's approach is to push for agreement in Europe on the type of connector to be used as standard, though it recognises wider international agreement may be needed and "there is only so much the UK or even the EU can do to get international agreement on that matter."[61] The DfT should set out how it intends to reach agreement in the EU on the type of infrastructure to be used as standard for plug-in vehicles.

Infrastructure provision and vehicle purchases

26. There is something of a "chicken and egg" problem in encouraging the switch to plug-in vehicles. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers describes this as follows: "without a recharging infrastructure consumers will be reluctant to purchase electric vehicles, but the network will need to be in place before usage starts to increase".[62] So drivers will not buy vehicles without ready access to charging infrastructure, but private companies that could install chargepoints will not invest in this technology unless they can be guaranteed a sufficient market of drivers wanting to charge their cars.[63] The Government expects that the Plugged-In Places programme will help solve this dilemma by providing initial infrastructure investment and alleviating potential consumers' range anxiety. This should "de-risk" subsequent private sector involvement.[64]

Chargepoints and registrations

27. With the assistance of the National Audit Office, we have looked into the relationship between provision of infrastructure in an area and the registrations of plug-in vehicles in that area to see whether readily available public chargepoints can be shown to stimulate consumer demand for plug-in cars. The DVLA provided us with data regarding the number of licensed vehicles that are eligible for the plug-in car grant across different areas of the UK. We compared these data against the location of chargepoints, as listed on the National Chargepoint Registry. The National Chargepoint Registry is a database provided by the DfT, which it states "will enable all chargepoint manufacturers and infrastructure scheme operators to make data on their chargepoints available in one place."[65]

28. Table 2 compares the number of licensed cars that would be eligible for the plug-in car grant with the number of chargepoints from the national registry across devolved authorities and English regions.

RegionNumber of Licenced Cars eligible for PIG Number of Charge Points on NCR
Northern Ireland6 44
Scotland70 82
Wales14 2
East Midlands47 18
East of England67 9
London147 19
North East77 213
North West37 10
South East313 14
South West 180 10
West Midlands168 28
Yorkshire and Humberside 283
Unknown Region20 0
Total1174 452

Table 2 showing the number of cars eligible for the plug-in car grant (from DVLA written evidence) and the number of chargepoints from the national registry across English regions and devolved authorities.

It is notable that the figures in the National Chargepoint Registry differ from those provided to us by the DfT for the number of chargepoints installed by the Plugged-In Places programmes across the country (table 1). From tables one and two, there does not appear to be a clear relationship between the number of plug-in vehicles registered in an area and the abundance of chargepoints in that area.

29. We have taken data from the National Chargepoint Registry, which the DfT has released so that the public can see where they are able to charge their plug-in cars, in order to reduce range-anxiety. However, this dataset is clearly far from complete. According to DfT estimates, the total number of chargepoints in the UK is more than 3,000,[66] but the National Chargepoint Registry has fewer than 500 entries. We understand that the registry is under development, but it is hard to understand why the DfT's database does not contain at least those chargepoints it knows to have been installed using public funds.

30. The Government believes that the provision of public charging infrastructure for plug-in vehicles will provide reassurance to potential consumers and help overcome the range anxiety associated with these cars. This reassurance should encourage consumers to buy plug-in cars. However, the analysis above shows no relationship between the demand for plug-in cars and the supply of public charging infrastructure. It is unclear whether this is because of gaps in the National Chargepoint Registry. The data provided by the DfT in table 1, relating to the Plugged-In Places scheme, does not provide any greater clarity. This may raise questions about the assumption that providing infrastructure will stimulate demand for plug-in cars.

31. While the registry remains incomplete, the Government cannot have a clear picture of the availability of charging infrastructure. Without such a picture, it is difficult to see whether Plugged-In Places is helping to stimulate consumer demand for plug-in cars. The DfT is due to renew the plug-in vehicle infrastructure strategy over the next year. The DfT should evaluate the effectiveness of the provision of public infrastructure in encouraging consumer demand for plug-in vehicles.

32. The DfT must take the lead in providing data on the location of chargepoints so that the public can see where they can charge their vehicles. Making this database more comprehensive by adding the location of publicly-funded chargepoint should provide an incentive for private chargepoint providers to follow suit and upload the location of chargepoints they have installed. An accurate and comprehensive registry of chargepoints installed by the Plugged-In Places scheme should be made available within the next six months. Publication of a full registry should encourage private chargepoint providers to upload their data for public use. We recommend that it be made a requirement of Plugged-In Places funding that details of the location of chargepoints installed using this funding are uploaded to the National Chargepoint Registry.

46   Coalition Agreement p31 Back

47   Ev w45 para 1.20 Back

48   Ev 32 Back

49   Ev 48 para 24 Back

50   Making the Connection p7 Back

51   Q 11 Back

52   Q11-12 Back

53   Q12 Back

54   Q 11 Back

55   Ev 47 para 17 Back

56   Ev 50 Annex C Back

57   Ev 48 para 20 Back

58   Ev 41 para 32 Back

59   Ev w36 para 3.3 Back

60   Ev 45 para 5.2 Back

61   Q101 Back

62   Ev 36 para 6 Back

63   Ev w11 para 4.2 Back

64   Q60 Back

65   Ev 48 para 20 Back

66   Ev 47 para 17 Back

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Prepared 20 September 2012