With sales of all new petrol and diesel cars banned in the UK from 2030, Scottish drivers are increasingly buying into the electric alternative, but in many places the public charging network is not keeping pace with the change.
While Scotland currently has the most public electric vehicle (EV) charging points per capita outside of London - and the most rapid charge points anywhere in the UK - the rest of the country is catching up in terms of new installations.
A recent report also revealed how much of the existing infrastructure is not up to standard, with almost one in four Scottish charging points failing to work properly.
Over a six-week period in August and September, 535 of the 2,200 chargers installed using Scottish Government money had problems working, according to research led by the BBC.
The majority of chargers are owned by councils, which were surveyed in the investigation, finding that the worst performing units were in the Scottish Borders, where every single charger had logged a fault. Highland, West Lothian and East Dunbartonshire councils also had issues on more than 94% of their machines.
Transport Scotland claims the government-owned network was used successfully 1.7 million times by EV drivers last year, but the national transport agency acknowledged there may be issues with availability of the units.
Across more rural areas of the country, poor digital connectivity is also being reported.
Research by connectivity consultancy FarrPoint of 4G signal coverage at 96 public EV charging locations across Scotland and the north of England found that one in five locations had only a 50% chance of getting mobile coverage, while 67% of locations had access to mobile coverage from all four mobile operators - and one in 20 received no mobile coverage at all.
Mobile connectivity at public EV charging points is vital because many charge points don’t allow users to just park up and plug in, instead often requiring an app download or process via a web page to pay for the charging session. Poor signal may also leave users unable to access support if something goes wrong during their charging session, or if they feel unsafe in locations which are often in dimly-lit corners of car parks.
Meanwhile, Scottish uptake for home charging grants has fallen behind English regions, according to figures from the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles.
The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme’s demand across Scotland amounted to 410 grants per 100,000 homes last year, lower than any rate in England, barring London.
Almost 3,000 Scottish electric vehicle owners took advantage of the scheme in 2020, which was a 45% increase on 2019, and the highest number since the scheme was launched in 2014.
Earlier this year, the Scottish Government said it will legislate to ensure developers provide EV charge points in the construction of new residential and non-residential buildings.
Public/private partnerships are increasingly seen as essential to deliver the required standard of network, according to the Scottish Government.
In its Vision for Scotland’s Public EV Charging Network, Net Zero, Energy and Transport Secretary Michael Mathieson said: “Tomorrow’s public electric vehicle charging network will be very different to the one of today - enabling drivers to conveniently and simply charge their vehicles with confidence, at the right place and time, whether at home, work or in public will be crucial.”
It is widely predicted that by 2030 there could be up to a million electric vehicles on Scotland’s roads - meaning significant changes will need to be made over the next decade.
Across Scotland there are more than 38,000 ultra-low emission vehicles on the road, but only 1,856 public chargers - or one for every 20.8 vehicles.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats said if the more than three million vehicles on Scottish are going to be switched to low emission versions, achieving the same ratio would need more than 16,000 new charging points to be built.
Sanne Dijkstra-Downie, the party’s net zero spokesman and an Edinburgh councillor, said: “To give people confidence that they will always be able to charge electric cars when they need to, we need a massive expansion of our car-charging network with thousands of additional public charging stations in every urban and rural corner of Scotland.
“That’s the level of ambition and drive that will be necessary for the transition away from fossil fuel-powered cars.”
Scotland’s Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth, opening the largest Fastned station in Hamilton recently, said: “Public and private sector partnerships are key in attracting investment and scaling up provision.
“Scotland is very much at the forefront of the electric vehicle revolution and we are seeing impressive growth in uptake - we want to ensure that the public electric vehicle charging network keeps up with demand to meet the needs of people and businesses across the whole of Scotland.”
In the City of Edinburgh Council area there were 67 public chargers as of September 2021, while in the Glasgow City Council region there were 151. There were 92 registered in the Dundee City Council area, while Fife Council had 84 within its boundaries, and Angus had 60.
As well as the 1,856 public chargers, there are another 219 charge points owned by private companies, according to data collected by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
A Transport Scotland spokesman responded that £50m of taxpayers’ money had been invested into the ChargePlace Scotland network, which has more than 2,200 points.
“High quality charging infrastructure is key to building confidence and helping people to make the switch to electric vehicles,” the spokesman said. “We’re clear on the need for a just transition, where accessibility, availability and reliability is key, and where no-one is left behind from the positive shift to zero emission transport system – including rural communities.
“We have also launched a £60m Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Fund to further grow the public charging network across Scotland through partnership working between Scotland’s local authorities and the private sector.”
The Electric Vehicle Association (EVA) Scotland, which advises government on policy and represents the growing number of EV owners, has been advocating for even greater private/public sector partnerships to deliver fast charging facilities at scale.
Neil Swanson, a director at EVA Scotland, commented: “We are seeing sales of electric vehicles in Scotland continue to grow exponentially and we expect the market to beat the 2030 deadline when the sales of all petrol and diesel cars banned.
“To ensure we maintain the momentum, it is imperative that existing and future EV drivers have the confidence in the charge point network that supports their commitment to going all electric.
“There has been a steady growth of EV sales over the past 12 to 18 months, so it’s really important to have a charging infrastructure that includes fast and rapid chargers, capable of supporting the challenges ahead, ensuring equitable access that leaves no part of Scottish society behind.”
On the private sector side, installers are lining up to increase their involvement in Scotland’s EV plans, with companies such as Fastned, Osprey Charging, Connected Kerb all planning new investments.
The latest estimates show that investment of around £1bn will be required for Scotland’s public charging network, creating considerable opportunities to attract a range of service providers and private capital, with the majority of Scotland’s local authorities focussing on installing EV charging infrastructure to meet demand.
A spokesman for Fastned confirmed that Scotland was a “key strategic location”, adding: “We’re preparing to construct another new site in the coming few months, while developing a pipeline of location opportunities as far north as Inverness, bringing the EV revolution to every corner of the UK.”
Osprey Charging - which already operates 30 rapid chargers in 18 retail parks, pubs and restaurants - also has plans for expansion in Scotland. Earlier this year, it opened a new charging location at Haddington Retail Park with three 75kW rapid chargers, and is now looking at Aberdeen and Inverness.
Ian Johnston, Osprey’s chief executive, said: “Installing in Scotland, including major routes throughout the country and north into the highlands, is vitally important to ensure drivers feel confident that they can get a reliable rapid charge wherever and whenever they need to.
“We will be adding to our current sites with two further ultra-rapid charging hubs in development near Glasgow and Loch Lomond.”
The role of Scotland’s 32 local councils is also key to ensuring adequate charging facilities for local communities, with most discussing options with such companies as ubitricity and Connected Kerb.
A spokesperson for ubitricity, the Shell-owned business whose charge point system enables councils to provide on-street charging for EV owners who do not have home charging facilities, said: “Rapid and fast charging is brilliant for long journeys when EV owners need to quickly recharge, but when it comes to day-to-day needs, perceived long wait times for charging are sometimes viewed as inconvenient for many, particularly for those who travel as part of their job.
“Most of our end users plug into our 5kw street chargers when they return from work and unplug in the morning before their morning commute - multiple charging options are needed to ensure there is a fit for purpose EV charging infrastructure network across the country.”
Another concern is that demand is at risk of stalling due to a lack of affordable models and high energy prices.
A report by consumer website Electrifying.com stated that there are just seven new electric cars on sale in the UK for under £30,000 - compared to 107 petrol or diesel cars in the same price bracket.
The analysis also found that the amount of money saved by running an electric car instead of a petrol model has reduced in recent months, as energy prices have spiralled and pump prices have fallen from record highs.
Latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show the increase in sales of new pure electric cars has slowed down in recent months.
The number of registrations during the first three months of the year was 102% more than during the same period in 2021. At the end of August, the year-to-date increase had fallen to 49%.