UK facing up to EV charging challenge

Latest figures show new charging connections trail sales of plug-in cars in the UK

The UK added less than one new public charging point for every six new plug-in cars sold during 2017, Auto Express can reveal.

A total of 3,178 public connectors of varying speeds went live over the 12 months from January to December last year – but the latest Department for Transport figures show that more than 20,000 plug-in cars had been registered during the first nine months of the same period.

Data from charging infrastructure website ZapMap ( shows that the UK ended December with 14,093 charging points in 4,960 locations, compared with 10,986 and 4,042 at the start of 2017.

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The data includes public charging points that are free to use, plus those run by card-based charging schemes such as Chargemaster’s POLAR network. The numbers break down into three categories – slow chargers (usually those based on a three-pin socket connection), fast (7-22kW) and Rapid (50kW and higher). Tesla’s Supercharger network is excluded from the figures, because it’s restricted to owners of those vehicles.

The table (below) also shows the number of cars eligible for a plug-in grant licensed in the respective areas. This is based on data from the DfT, accurate up to the end of September 2017, and includes pure-electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles – but not standalone hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, or quadricycles like the Renault Twizy. It also excludes vans and motorcycles.

The DfT information shows that by the end of the third quarter of last year, there were nearly 113,000 cars eligible for the plug-in grant licensed in the UK – 100,145 in England, 5,995 in Scotland, 2,365 in Wales, 1,610 in Northern Ireland and 2,283 vehicles where the region was unknown.

Factor in the figures on quadricycles, motorcycles and vans, and there are 8.9 plug-in vehicles for every public charging point – close to the European Union’s preferred maximum ratio of 10 per public charging point.

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The Scottish network appears to have benefited from government investment through ChargePlace Scotland; the country accounts for around six per cent of all licensed plug-in cars in the UK, but has 15 per cent of all fast chargers and a quarter of all rapid chargers.

The figures make grim reading for early adopters in Wales, however. Despite having around half as many plug-in vehicles registered as Scotland, it has just a tenth of its total of rapid chargers.

Chargemaster operates the largest publicly accessible charging network in the UK, POLAR. The firm’s chief executive, David Martell, said that public charging is only part of the overall picture because most EV owners are happy to charge at home.

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“There are well over 100,000 dedicated EV charging points in total when home and workplace units are taken into account,” Martell said. “By 2022, we expect there to be around 100,000 public charging points, with around 20 per cent of these being rapid chargers.”

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Chargemaster also believes that a ratio of 10 EVs per public charging point is manageable. The firm recently experienced 1,000 users charging simultaneously for the first time on the POLAR network – which comprises more than 5,500 connection points.

How each region is performing

Rank Region Cars per connector Licensed plug-in cars Total locations Slow chargers Fast chargers Rapid chargers
1st Scotland 2.97 5,995 775 134 1,318 564
2nd North East England 3.17 2,524 303 101 546 122
3rd Northern Ireland 3.46 1,610 229 14 414 37
4th Greater London 3.90 11,097 654 995 1,740 106
5th Wales 5.65 2,365 220 120 246 52
6th North West England 6.44 6,176 372 127 664 167
7th East Midlands 9.62 5,725 208 190 332 73
8th South West England 10.64 11,863 478 220 686 208
9th Yorkshire and Humber 10.81 7,236 276 104 450 115
10th South East England 12.25 21,950 613 327 1,034 430
11th East of England 18.76 17,303 376 181 612 129
12th West Midlands 21.98 16,271 290 138 472 150
  Isle of Man N/A N/A 10 23 18 0

*Data provided by ZapMap

Does the UK's charging network put you off buying an electrified car? Let us know below...


John started journalism reporting on motorsport – specifically rallying, which he had followed avidly since he was a boy. After a stint as editor of weekly motorsport bible Autosport, he moved across to testing road cars. He’s now been reviewing cars and writing news stories about them for almost 20 years.

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