The future is wireless: changing the UK’s approach to EV charging

After what the government described as their "biggest review into transport in a generation", Sarah Wixey from WYG believes we should look to our European neighbours and how removing the "charging anxiety barrier" would help encourage a switch to zero emission vehicles.

The UK government has published its long-awaited Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy. The document sets out the key guiding principles that will steer the government’s approach to emerging mobility technologies and services. It included a technology specific programme and £400 million for a new Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund for zero emission vehicles. 

Any investment in electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure is a positive step forward. On the 25 March, Zapmap recorded the total number of public charging point locations in the UK as 7,141 and the total number of connectors at 20,408. A stark contrast to the 195,000 new registrations of plug-in cars and 8,500 plug-in vans in February 2019 . 

The strategy does however lack any detail about how much of the £400 million budget will be invested in the different types of charging infrastructure. For example, how much will be spent on opening new charging hubs like the one recently opened in Milton Keynes, or installing new publicly accessible charging points and street lamp solutions in residential areas, or more importantly for some vehicle users, investing in wireless technology?

In the same week, the city of Oslo announced its ambitious plan to become the world’s first city to install wireless, fast-charging infrastructure for electric taxis. The city will be working with Finnish energy company Fortum, and American wireless charging company Momentum Dynamics, to install charging plates in the road at taxi stands.

Receivers will also be placed in the vehicles. Whilst waiting for customers, taxis will charge via induction at a rate of up to 75kW. From 2023 onwards, all taxis in Oslo will be emission-free as the Norwegian government wants all new cars to be zero emission by 2025 – significantly different to the UK’s ambition for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040.  

As well as being ambitious, the Oslo announcement also showed that wireless technology is no longer a theoretical proposition. The technology is available now and should be considered as part of an urban area’s strategy to improve mobility and air quality. It needs to come out of the ‘too-difficult’ and ‘long-term’ box and included as a potential solution for commercial fleets where access to charging points is not practical or feasible. 

At this stage, wireless infrastructure could be the preferred option for many sites, including hotels, workplaces, retail, depots, bus and taxi ranks. Removing the charging anxiety barrier will help to encourage a switch towards effectively zero emission vehicles and help to improve air quality in our urban areas. 

At the end of this week, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and Innovate UK will receive the results of their phase 1 wireless charging feasibility studies. Nine consortiums each won a share of £645k to develop business cases and deploy new approaches to EV wireless charging for commercial vehicle users.

This will be followed by a separate application for phase 2 funding, which will focus on demonstrators. It will be interesting to see what the various consortiums found. But one thing to remember, as with all new and emerging technologies, demonstrating commercial viability and proving the business case will be challenging.

We only have to compare an early electric car to one that is produced today to see how quickly technology develops and price decreases. As with other technologies, the key difficulty to overcome is less about the charging infrastructure itself but the challenge to ensure interoperability, safety and the need for an agreed EV charging industry standard. 

Sarah Wixey is an associate director of transport at WYG.