Cities Team Researcher
Widespread on-street charging is essential to enable households without driveways or garages the chance to switch to electric vehicles.
In County Durham 43% of residents live in rural areas and 40% of housing is terraced with no off-street parking. That’s why the County Council has placed accessible public chargepoints at the centre of its plans to promote electric vehicles. The council’s Chargepoint Delivery Plan 2021 has five key actions:
The authority’s long-term goal is for every Durham resident to live within a five-minute walk of an electric vehicle chargepoint. Its short-term goal is to have at least one chargepoint in each of the county’s 77 wards. To do this, the council is taking part in three schemes.
All of these schemes aim to increase on-street charging provision, especially in places overlooked by the private sector. Companies tend to focus on installing chargers in dense urban areas that already have higher electric vehicle usage, rather than to encourage uptake in rural areas or villages and small towns.
Currently, Durham’s chargepoints are 22kW and cost 30p per kWh to use. The average charge amount on Durham’s network is 15kWh, costing about £4.50 for an average charging time of 1.5 to 2 hours. The Zap Map tool catalogues public chargepoints across the UK, enabling comparison with Durham on cost, power and charge time. There are numerous options for public charging, each varying depending on provider, location and function (for instance, charging at a motorway service station).
More charging points
By December 2021, about 100 new charging points had been installed. This will increase to between 160 and 170 chargepoints by early 2022.
County Durham is part of the wider SOSCI project which will install 200 chargers over 18 months across Northern England, to bring numbers closer to those found in London and South East England.
Example – Stanhope village
Stanhope in Weardale was selected as the site for the Weardale Electric Vehicle Accelerator project, where a row of 10 chargepoints were installed in the village. The Stanhope charging bank helped support an already existing and highly popular car club. Residents pay £6 a month and can book an electric car out for a few hours, giving them car access without the cost of maintenance or insurance.
Making chargepoints accessible
The council is also making sure local chargepoints are designed to be accessible to people with disabilities, hiring a consultant to oversee this work. This is particularly important as many disabled people are dependent on private vehicles as their main form of transport. In October 2021 the council invited residents to an open event on the issue, where they could try using a chargepoint. Their feedback will be used to inform future chargepoint design.
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Broad external partnerships
Durham County Council has engaged a wide range of partners to make its chargepoint rollout as successful as possible. The council is one of 13 partners on the SOSCI project, for example. Beyond the organisers of the three schemes mentioned above, collaborators have included parish and town councils, the North East Combined Authority, the LA7 group of local authorities in North East England, Durham University, Northern Powergrid and Charge My Street (a community benefit society that installs chargepoints).
To find the best sites for new chargepoints, the council is working with parish councils to identify possibilities at village halls, scout huts, community buildings and elsewhere.
When the first Covid-19 lockdown occurred in March 2020, council officers used the time to plan and plot 246 prospective sites for chargepoints. In doing this they used Northern Powergrid’s auto design tool, which estimated the installation cost of each specific chargepoint depending on grid connectivity. The cost of installation on some sites can be unjustifiably high, but by ensuring that extra potential sites are mapped in advance, when one is ruled out, another is waiting in reserve.
Partnership within the council
Installing chargepoints needs cooperation across council teams: legal, procurement, planning, assets, highways, health and safety. To facilitate this, Durham set up an internal electric vehicle working group on the council which meets every two to three weeks. Durham has benefitted from senior officer support, notably from the Head of Environment and Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change. These secured the internal funding needed to cover the inevitable overflow costs that come with any infrastructure project.
Key action five in Durham’s Chargepoint Delivery Plan has a particular focus on education, as the council strongly believes that greater knowledge amongst residents about the benefits of electric vehicles will help increase uptake. The council is committed to sharing the latest information and has done so via extensive outreach, spreading the word at open events hosted in communities themselves.
The council also has an electric vehicle community working group, which meets every four to six weeks and includes council members, members of the Scaling On Street Charging Infrastructure initiative, and residents. The ability and willingness of residents to report concerns and offer their own suggestions has made the rollout more effective. For example, one resident asked for a chargepoint at the Tanfield Business Centre, where they spend most of their day; the council installed one. After making a request, Newton Aycliffe also had a chargepoint installed in the town’s youth and community centre.
Keeping up to date
Key action five also outlines the council’s commitment to itself remain fully informed. As the market for electric vehicles grows and evolves, the council intends to closely monitor changes. In 2018/19 the council worked with Durham University to survey electric vehicle drivers in order to better understand driver behaviour. In August 2021 the council signed on to the Rev-Up research project, funded by Innovate UK, which will explore alternative models of fitting chargepoints. Durham wants to share its learning and is drawing up a briefing pack of lessons learned to distribute to other local authorities across North East England in particular. Durham’s informed and proactive attitude will establish its reputation as a leader on electric vehicles.
The council won funding for chargepoints from multiple sources:
In 2019, Durham County Council created the role of Electric Vehicle Project Officer to oversee the implementation of the Chargepoint Delivery Plan. This role sits within the council’s Low Carbon Team.
Inequality in electric vehicle uptake and charging
Increasing accessible charging infrastructure will make the switch to electric vehicles more viable but will not on its own lead to their widespread adoption. Currently, most electric vehicle owners are relatively wealthy. Charging will not benefit individuals who cannot afford an electric vehicle in the first place.
Even once lower income households begin to take up electric vehicles, they could face charging inequalities. Using on-street public chargepoints is currently more expensive than private home charging (which comes through homeowners’ domestic tariff) but is the only option for some residents. As electric vehicles become more widespread the UK government should work with local authorities to lower on street charging costs.
With many low-income households not owning a car, improvements to public transport will remain a key solution to help address transport inequalities as well as cut emissions.
From 2030 sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK. To be prepared, local authorities need to begin planning for wider provision of electric vehicle infrastructure.
Councils must choose between rapid chargers, which take 30-45 minutes per charge, or fast chargers, which take three or four hours. There is a significant cost differential; three fast chargers can be installed for the price of one rapid charger. However, residents may prefer the convenience of a rapid charger over the greater availability of fast chargers. Which type of charger is most suitable will vary from site-to-site.
Choosing the right sites can be tricky when weighing cost considerations against prime accessible locations. Site ownership can also prove problematic so ideally chargepoints should be installed on local authority land to minimise barriers, where possible.
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