Light of the Charge Brigade

COP27 launched today in an atmosphere of bleak resignation that 1.5 degree warming is a myth and the current 2,8 esyimate will drown thousands and displace millions. Now that Sunak is attending, his government’s claim to still be going green seems more plausible. But a ban on onshore wind and the issue of drilling licences sits badly with that.

More comfort comes from the Scottish Government, which remains resolutely against fracking and open to all manner of renewables. They also make great play of being ahead in providing infrastructure to make electric vehicles (EVs) both viable and economic. Scotland is certainly leading the way in the UK. But with fossil fuel engines to be phased out in less than a decade, is it enough?

By the end of this decade, Scotland is expected have a million EV cars on the road. To support these, we will have to work 10 times faster to achieve the necessary infrastructure in 8 years. Scotland currently offers 2,300 charging points for 50,000 EVs currently on its roads—just 2% of all cars. As more people buy EVs, competition for use of those points rises, especially by people in flats and without private drives where private points can be installed. Modern EVs can go 250 miles but the bulk of older models have less range. 

The issue is not purely one of numbers. Over 2/3rds of all charge points are slower “trickle” chargers, designed for overnight charging. This is not suitable for EVs passing through, such as tourists.  The fast ones take only 45 minutes for a full charge. But they are few and far between on tourist routes, such as the North 500. 

A recent documentary (Disclosure: Electric Cars on BBC1 at 8pm on Wednesday, November 2nd tested that route: there were two at Ullapool; fifty miles on, one of two at Gairloch was working; another fifty miles to the two at Loch Carron.

 ChargePlace Scotland, funded by the Scottish Government (but a subsidiary of the private company Swarco eVolt since 2020) set up to develop and administer the network:

The charge points on the CPS network are owned by over 400 different charge point hosts (also known as ‘owners’.) across 2,388 individual charge points. The owners are local authorities, other public bodies, charities and businesses who have received grant funding from the Scottish Government to procure and install EV charge points for public use. It is the owner who decides what type of charge point to procure and where they wish to install it. In addition to this, the charge point owners are responsible for ongoing maintenance and the tariff rate applied to the charge point.

—ChargePlace Scotland website

ChargePlace Scotland claim the uptime for the network overall was 96.8%. This is what is shown on their website for every council area. Indeed, this week’s list showed only 13 points unavailable, meaning a 99.5% performance. 

However, the Disclosure programme disputes this rosy picture, finding none of the five found not working on the North 500 was listed as faulty that week. By checking all points via the app, they found 100% of Scottish Borders and 95% of Highland points had been faulty that month and some 500 (i.e. 25% of the network) were unavailable. They reckoned almost half of all points deserve anything close to a 100% record. When interviewed about this, Scotlamd’s  Transport Minister said:

“In the round, we run a relatively reliable service”

—Jenny Gilruth.

Since 2013, the Scottish Government has invested over £45m in the development and expansion of the ChargePlace Scotland Network, delivering over 1,800 public charge points. Scottish Ministers have also funded the ChargePlace Scotland back office.

—Scottish Government website

The government has taken a self-congratulartory report Report on Public Electric Vehicle (EV) infrastructure in Scotland. But we’ve been at this for nine years, we should be halfway there to our 2030 goal. But even if we are leading the UK, how successful has the network been in persuading Scots to switch to eVs?  According to ChargePlace Scotland’s own statistics, only the four main cities, N&S Lanarkshire, Highland and Dumfries & Galloway average more than 100 charges in a month.

Comparison within the UK may show us in a good light but not if we compare with our neighbour. Norway is a world leader in EVs.  It has a fast network of over 3,000 rapid chargers (roughly 10 times Scotland’s) out of 17,000 altogether. Today, 78% of all new cars are EV, encouraged by network accessability—otherwise people get frustrated. They have other incentives,  including cut-price parking, ferry discounts and exemptions. Norwegians have a conscience; they feel their habds black from the oil that make them rich, so deek obliged to lead the way on EVs. Even their ferries are electric (Fergusson’s take note!).

By comparison, Scotland has a long way to go, being toughly where Norway was 12 years ago. It needs to change its approach if it is to catch up. Norway used private capital for non-government investment, a move Scotland is still just contemplating. Its green approach of low tariffs or even free charging won’t pay for the network or its maintenance. A private company Fastnet wants to install superfast points, but to charge more for speedier service at better points. 

But their problem is many councils provide the charge free, giving away £2.8m in the last year. This distorts the market and causes and drives overused if free ones, blocking others who would rather wait than pay.

So it seems past time for Scotland to feel good about its progress on EVs by comparing to laggardly England. We must realise we are 12 years behind, with only eight years to go. The answer is to invole the private investment ready to engage to create a superfast net and suspend the low tariffs that are precenting that.

#1052—956 words

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
This entry was posted in Commerce, Politics, Transport. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s