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The development of rapid/ultra-rapid charging in the UK

16 September 2021 BlogEV for Local Authorities

Why the deployment of rapid and ultra-rapid EV chargers is going to be a gamechanger, and what it means for UK motorists.

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A fully renewably powered, publicly accessible ultra-rapid 150kW EV charger has appeared in a retail park in Solihull

Delivered by EV charging specialists Mer, the unit will have an enormous impact on electric vehicles drivers, slashing recharging times and massively reducing range-anxiety amongst electric vehicles motorists.

Until recently, ultra-rapid chargers have only been available to Tesla drivers.

However, this push by Mer to install the next generation of chargers onto public locations could be the game-changer the sector needs as it ramps up to supporting millions more electric vehicles ahead of the Government’s revised 2030 ban on the sale of internal combustion engines.

We spoke with Anthony Hinde, Managing Director for Mer in the UK, to find out more about ultra-rapid chargers, why they are a step-change for the EV sector, and how many more could be appearing on streets and car parks near you soon:

Anthony – first question – let’s start with the basics – what is the difference between the various charging speeds that chargers on the market at the moment can deliver, and what impact do they have on drivers?

Great question – and the reason it’s a great question is because as you allude to, there are a multitude of charging options for EV drivers now.

So it can be a confusing picture – but that’s really because this industry is still quite nascent, and also it is innovating at a huge rate as more and more businesses realise EVs are the future and want to get involved.

Let’s start with some fundamentals. Electric cars, vans and lorries need to be charged with direct current – DC. However, what comes out of standard three pin sockets is AC – alternating current. So, when you want to charge your EV from a standard socket – either at home or at work – the vehicle has a built-in converter that transforms the power into DC.

There are, though, limits on how much AC you can pump into an EV via its converter – meaning that really, this type of charging reaches its maximum capacity at around the 22kWh mark, in some vehicles, and at speeds as low as 3.7 kWh in others.

There are 3 general types of charging available to EV drivers: slow chargers: 3kWh – 7kWh – which people quite often have in their garages, for example, or the 7kWh – 22kWh fast chargers that are the most common on the UK market – typically seen in car parks, for example.

For faster charging, rapid and ultra-rapid DC chargers can handle power outputs of 50kWh up to 300 – 350kWh.

They also tend to be more expensive to make and install – not least because dedicated high-powered connections to the grid are needed. The most common in this range are the rapid charging units – operating between 43kWh – 50kWh – which are found in city car parks and retail parks. The hyper or ultra-rapid chargers are newer to the market and operate at speeds over 50 kWh.

rapid charger in Winchester

What are the advantages of rapid and ultra-rapid chargers for drivers?

In a nutshell, speed of charge, which in turn makes charging more convenient but which also significantly reduces range-anxiety – both of which are cited as main factors in hindering widespread EV adoption.

It can be likened to filling a water tank with a larger hose pipe, therefore getting your car more charge, faster.

To put it in real terms, let’s use some figures from VW related to their new electric ID4 SUV.

The car has a range of 310 miles. To charge it from 0 – 100% on a traditional 7.2kWh AC wall mounted plug-in charger takes 12 hours 40 mins. Up that to an 11kWh AC charger and that time drops to 7 hours 30 mins. But using a 100kWh DC rapid charger, you can go from 5% to 80% in just 38 mins – so you can see there’s a huge drop-in charging time. Incidentally, most rapid chargers slow the charge rate down when the battery is above 80%, to help protect the life of the battery.

Then, once you start deploying 150kWh and above Ultra-Rapid chargers, the time is slashed even further. The Government’s own report into how the UK builds out its much needed ultra-rapid charging network states that:

“For a typical electric vehicle with a battery size of 62kWh, and a range of 200-240 miles, a 15 minute charge at a 150 kilowatt charge point would deliver a range of 120-145 miles.”

This, really, is a game changer – because once you get to the point where you can add 100+ miles – bearing in mind the typical UK car journey is under 9 miles – in under ten minutes, it’s not far off the time it takes to refuel with petrol and diesel.  Kia’s new EV6 – which can take ultra-rapid charging of up to 350kWh, can add 60 miles range to the battery in just 4 and a half minutes.

With that, you start to negate the fear people have of range-anxiety. Yet the real impact is convenience – you can fill up quickly and move on – which has always been the beauty of personal transport.

It is worth noting that not all cars can make use of the fastest charging speeds. This is true for both AC and DC charging, where typically cars could be limited to 7 kWh AC, and 50 kWh DC. This will mean that even if you plug into the fastest chargers the rate of charge cannot be higher than the maximum speed that car can accept. The latest cars are of course coming with higher speed charging as standard, although this is more the case on DC, rather than AC.

The Government has stated it is investing to ensure people are never more than 25 miles from an ultra-rapid charger on UK motorways and A-Roads? So, that’s EV charging sorted then?

Well, no – not quite. First the good news. The UK’s EV charging infrastructure is growing – stats from Zap-Map show there are now around 25,000 chargers across the country, most of them fast chargers, but the share of rapid and even ultra-rapid chargers is accelerating.

However, the real issue here is location. While it’s great people can now feel less anxious about range when on UK main roads, just having access to ultra-rapid chargers on motorways doesn’t address the real need.

The real need is ensuring that both private and commercial drivers can access rapid and ultra-rapid chargers during their day-to-day usage – at the shops, charging when they get back from work, topping-up between deliveries, adding 100-miles before finishing the day’s shift so you are ready to start work again the next day etc.

For us at Mer, this is a critical part of the UK charging infrastructure that is still being overlooked – and which is seriously detrimental to EV adoption. Take, for example, people living in residential areas where they don’t have access to off street parking and charging. For them, research shows what is needed are rapid / ultra-rapid charging hubs close to their homes – where they can add enough charge for the next couple of days, in quick time, before parking as usual outside their houses.

Only once we get this infrastructure in place will we really see parity between internal combustion engines and electric vehicles.

zoe charging at ultra rapid charger

But if that’s the only issue left to solve, it still sounds like we are close to fixing this?

Actually, really there are two other core considerations we need to take into account too.

The first is around pricing. If you have your own off-street parking and charging facilities – or if you are lucky enough to work for a progressive business that offers it – then typically that will be AC chargers. As we noted earlier, these are great when you can leave your car in the same spot for a few hours to charge – and because they run off standard electrical supplies, they tend to be cheaper too. Added to that, either as a private owner or a commercial fleet owner, you can choose to charge your vehicle off peak, furthering the cost-effectiveness.

But installing and running DC rapid / ultra-rapid chargers is more complex and expensive – so the charging prices go up. This creates an inequality imbalance between those with access to cheaper charging, and those reliant on the pricier DC chargers – either rapid or the even more expensive ultra-rapid.

Our experience at Mer deploying charging infrastructure across Europe is that penalising people because of where they live or work, and therefore what facilities they have access to, does slam the brakes on EV adoption. To be clear, we have the same tariff for rapid and ultra-rapid charging, so our customers don’t pay more.

However, the good news is that the Government is focusing on this issue, and their recent Transport Decarbonising Plan  does offer a range of initiatives aimed at supporting businesses and particularly local authorities to roll out more accessible rapid and ultra-rapid changing facilities. These include:

  • A £950 million Rapid Charging Fund for the roll-out of 6,000 ultra-rapid charge points.
  • An On-Street Residential Scheme to support local authorities in installing EV infrastructure.
  • And a new £90 million Local EV Infrastructure Fund. The Government has also said it will review the National Networks National Policy Statement to further accelerate EV rollout.

The second issue, which to be fair is an industry-wide work-in-progress, and which Mer is heavily involved with, is about ease of use.

Just as with petrol stations, we need to make sure that whichever EV charging facility a customer turns up at, they can use it without burden. We must ensure we remove barriers to EV adoption and having EV chargers where customers need specific accounts to use with specific payment solutions, does not help.

Instead, collectively, we must support widespread roaming agreements – so customers of one brand can use another’s facilities. At Mer, we are totally committed to this and have signed a number of agreements this year demonstrating that.

Furthermore, we also have to make sure that we simplify the recharging payment process too. By that, I mean it should be easy for customers to pay with credit / debit cards, and via mobile payments – not just via dedicated accounts with the charging provider.

The keywords here are ease of access and simplicity – boosting this will make the user experience for EV drivers so much better.

Any other points you feel are important for businesses or local authorities looking to support rapid / ultra-rapid EV charging infrastructure deployment?

Two last things. Firstly, power sources. Mer, as part of Europe’s largest renewable energy company – Norwegian giant Statkraft – is firmly committed to supplying our charging units with sustainably sourced electricity, using only wind, solar or hydro. Obviously, there might be occasions where this isn’t feasible for a business or council, but clearly as we look to drive down harmful emissions caused by internal combustion engines, we believe only powering EVs with environmentally friendly electricity should be a priority.

Lastly, no business or council should feel they have to solve this challenge on their own. The deployment of rapid and ultra-rapid chargers is far easier than it was even just a few years ago, but it can still be complex.

However, there are now dozens of organisations, like Mer, specialising in building out this infrastructure, and who already have the partnerships and experience in place to roll things out at speed and scale.

So, my last piece of advice would be, speak with these organisations – learn from them, work with them, and share the responsibility more collectively – as in the end it will be easier and better for all involved.

We have a dedicated EV charging infrastructure checklist that anyone can download, and which helps walk people through the process. It can be downloaded below.

EV Charging Checklist

Whether you’re part of a team choosing to procure charging installation through an existing framework, running your own tender or exploring options, this checklist will help you identify what you need to know before stepping into EV charging infrastructure project.

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