In many places it is easier to buy an electric vehicle than to juice it up quickly. A recent move by the UK to give a jolt to the creation of a competitive national charging network is timely. There are about 25,000 public charging stations in the UK — about one for every 20 EVs. That is barely a tenth of the number that will be needed in 2030 when new petrol and diesel cars will be banned, reckons the Competition and Markets Authority.
Europe will need about 6m public charging points by then in order to meet car emissions targets, reckons the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association. The current total is 225,000. Early adopters include the Netherlands which, with roughly a quarter of the UK's population, boasts more than three times as many charging points.
There is a chicken-and-egg problem everywhere, however. Motorists who cannot recharge at home are reluctant to buy EVs when there is no extensive public charging network. Building one is complicated. Electricity suppliers, landlords and equipment makers all have to get onboard.
Automakers such as Volkswagen and BMW are ploughing in funds. In a surprise move, Elon Musk has signalled plans to open up Tesla's charging network to other EVs. But subsidies will still be needed. These must require operators to standardise pricing and accommodate all types of EVs. Substantial investment will be needed. Dutch company Fastned pumped an average capex of about €400,000 ($679,036) into each of the 17 stations it built last year; that figure is expected to rise as it prepares for busier use.
The UK's £950 million ($1.8 billion) Rapid Charging Fund should encourage more competition. At present, Chargepoint operator Electric Highway, part of privately owned Gridserve, has an 80 per cent stranglehold at motorway service stations. A third of available funds for on-street charging, disbursed through grant funding, is idling.
Consolidation is under way in the fragmented equipment market. German-listed Compleo, which has delivered 3,500 charging points, is in talks to acquire innogy eMobility, which develops technology, from Eon, the European utility. Shares have doubled in the past year. There will be plenty of activity to occupy trust busters such as the CMA.
- Lex is a premium daily commentary service from the Financial Times.
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