Analysis
10 May 21

Why fleets need slow on-street EV charge points

The race to develop electric vehicle charging infrastructure on Europe’s roads risks the creation of a network of charge points that undermine fleets’ total cost of ownership calculations.

These forecasts show EVs to be cheaper than their internal combustion engine equivalents largely because of their significantly lower ‘fuel’ costs. Tax advantages and lower maintenance costs also reduce the TCO of battery-powered cars and vans, but it is the dramatically cheaper price of electricity, compared to petrol or diesel, that delivers the most substantial savings.

Low cost charging

To maximise these savings, EVs ideally need to recharge slowly overnight to take advantage of low cost, off-peak energy tariffs. At fleet depots and employee homes, these tariffs can be as low as 13.5 cents (14p) per kWh, which would make the power cost per kilometre driven to be about one-third of the price of diesel.

At Mitie, which runs a fleet of 1,100-plus EVs and will transition its 7,200-strong fleet to electric by 2025, Simon King, director of sustainability and social value, said: “The first question I ask is ‘where do your vehicles sleep?’ – because this is where you need your EV infrastructure. If every vehicle starts the day fully charged, in most cases it will do a full day’s shift without being recharged. But if you haven’t got the charging infrastructure where the vehicles are kept overnight, then the whole solution falls apart.” 

This is a particular issue for fleets whose drivers do not have off-street parking at home, and therefore do not have the opportunity to install a domestic charge point. Estimates suggest that about 35-45% of drivers fall into this category, with an additional social aspect to the issue because the percentage of van drivers without their own driveway likely to be higher than for company car drivers. Put simply, van drivers are more likely to be blue collar workers and earn less. 

Paul Hollick, chairman of the Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP), said the need for kerbside recharging was the number one priority for AFP members looking to electrify their fleets, especially van fleets.

"It’s a real challenge at the moment for people running national fleets if the employees do not have a driveway to make sure they can find a way to charge up outside their home," he said. "The AFP has been lobbying on this for the 38 to 45% of employees who don’t have the benefit of having their own driveway to put their own charging unit in. When you are ordering e-vans and it’s taking five hours to charge them, you are going to want somewhere close to home to charge so the employees can walk home."

This problem is likely to become more significant for all fleets as companies move beyond early adopter EV drivers, who can typically install a charger at home, to company-wide EV policies.

Slow charging benefits

For these drivers, the cheapest and most convenient charging solution is a slow, AC, on-street charge point that they can use overnight. Shell subsidiary Ubitricity, for example, has installed thousands of 5.5kW charge points in street lights in London, charging just 16.2p (18 cents) per kWh (plus a modest monthly subscription fee), which is only a little bit more than a domestic energy tariff.

Lex Hartman, ubitricity’s CEO, said: “Our integration of EV charge points into existing on-street infrastructure makes EV charging easy and accessible for everyone who needs it, where they need it. Particularly in larger cities where there is limited access to off-street parking, this is the solution many people have been waiting for to allow them to transition to EV ownership.”

Industry experts suggest, however, that it is much more difficult to make a profit from slow AC chargers, given the small amounts of electricity delivered per hour and the costs of maintaining the network.

If company car and van drivers need to recharge their vehicles at rapid public charge points, the cost savings over diesel swiftly erode (although the productivity gains of shorter vehicle charge times do have to be taken into account). Tesla Superchargers, for example, charge about 30 cents (28p) per kWh, while tariffs at the high power Ionity network are 79 cents (69p) per kWh. Paying two to four times as much for electricity at a public charge point compared to a home or workplace charger, could make battery electric vehicles more expensive to power than their ICE counterparts.

1 million new charge points

The European Commission’s Green Deal forecasts that about 1 million public recharging points will need to be deployed across the 27 European member states by 2025 to support the 13 million electric vehicles it expects to see on EU roads within four years. This represents a four-fold increase in the number of charge points, and a quick glance at data from the European Alternative Fuels Observatory (EAFO) shows where governments, city authorities and businesses are investing in EV recharging infrastructure, with a clear focus on rapid and ultra-rapid DC chargers, rather than slow, on-street charge points.

 

The chart below shows the percentage of rapid (22kW+) chargers as a proportion of the total public charging infrastructure over the past five years. Only in Belgium and the Netherlands have slow (<22kW) chargers maintained a similar or smaller market share, which the EAFO attributes to housing stock.

“While in less urbanised areas one- or two-family homes with the likelihood of access to private home recharging facilities dominate, multi-family condominiums are the typical dwelling type in dense urban areas. For example, in the Netherlands, residents living in city areas usually rely on kerbside public recharging. Therefore, a number of municipalities provide public recharging points on request of an electric vehicle owner in case he has no access to home or workplace recharging. This partially explains why high power recharging infrastructure plays a less important role in the Netherlands than it might be in other markets,” said the EAFO’s policy paper, ‘Europe on the electrification path towards clean transportation’, published in March.

In the UK, the Government has pledged £20m to support on-street recharging infrastructure, and £950m to support the roll out of rapid charging hubs along the country’s strategic road network.

For Mitie's Simon King: “National on-street charging infrastructure is the biggest challenge for the UK and for the electrification of our fleet. There seems to be a real drive to replicate the old model of petrol stations [with high speed charging], and while that absolutely has a role to play, if you buy into the concept of electric vehicles being most effective if they are charged where they sleep, then making sure we have that on street charging infrastructure is a priority.”

 

Image: Shutterstock

Authored by: Jonathan Manning