Charging infrastructure

As part of my role on the Irish EV Owners Association committee, one of the most common gripes people have is around infrastructure. This comes in four flavours:

  1. Home charging incentives: Government spending to incentivise people with homes, apartment carparks or on-street parking to install chargers for their own domestic usage.
  2. Destination chargers: Hotels, tourist sites, recreation facilities, etc. providing chargers in their car parks. I wrote a piece on this topic a little while back.
  3. Public "slow" charging: Normally provided by eCars, EasyGo or similar vendors. 50kW or less chargers, including AC 22kW, that are available to the public.
  4. Public fast/rapid charging: The definition of "rapid" is changing all the time, but let's assume this covers bigger units that can deliver above 50kW, up to 300kW of charging speed. Normally found off motorways in/around typical car refilling forecourts.

If we address the public infrastructure first (flavour 3 and 4 above), let's first dig into a comparison of two countries. Norway does considerably better than Ireland in almost every regard. While Denmark is surprisingly lacklustre. Each country is inside the EU, has similar demographics with regard to geographic population density, population in total (all around 5m) and economic outcomes; bar Norway who has more spending money than the rest of us.

  • EV Population: Ireland has about 30,000 EVs on the road, Norway has 10x that with 300,000 EVs on the road. Our Danish cousins are about half of Ireland, with about 15,000 EVs on their roads.
  • Public charge points: Ireland has between 4,500 and 5,000 chargers available. The vast majority would be considered 'slow' (50kW or less). Norway has about 17,000 chargers with infrastructure capability of 3,500 simultaneous rapid chargers operating. Denmark has approx 3,600 chargers; and similarly to Ireland, the delta between rapid and slow charging favours slower charging speeds.

Those numbers paint a picture. But to avoid using those numbers to greenwash, Denmark may appear to lag behind Ireland, but they have invested a lot in cycling infrastructure. So their overall sustainable impact is much, much better than ours.

Doing some napkin math, Ireland has about 7 vehicles on the road for every charger. If Ireland is to hit it's target of 1m vehicles by 2030, the current rollout would call for over 140,000 chargers. But that number of chargers could be lowered quite significantly if we had a few elements baked into our future growth:

  • Much better incentives for home charging. Including solar PV and home battery storage.
  • Targets on public accessibility of fast charging. Norway has baked fast/rapid charging into their targets, allowing for as many fast-charging sessions to occur on the grid simulatenously as Denmark has chargers. This is a critical component to EV adoption; nothing will stall new EV sales more than seeing queues at chargers. Imagine having a petrol station in Dublin with only 2 pumps that took longer than they needed to fill cars?
  • Target on distance-to-chargers. Guaranteeing that every town, village, tourist spot or amenity with a car park or publicly notable location has a charger is a key. Even better, notable targets on how far away you can be from a charger would significantly ease range anxiety. New cars might be fine, but our adoption of EVs will be fuelled by second-hand, older cars as much as shiny new Teslas.
  • Easy of use. Right now, Ireland benefits from having a relatively low number of charging providers (largely eCars, EasyGo, Tesla, IONITY). But each of these has their own membership card, app or accessibility gate. The government should bake-in some regulations to force them to accept basic card payments at the machine/through the app, without the need to sign up to a membership scheme. Sure, offer members better rates, but do not force everyone to join an increasingly fragmented network of providers. It's like asking people to join an electricity provider for your wall sockets separate from a provider for your kettle.

As a comparison, there are over 1,750 petrol stations in Ireland. Most of which have 6-8 pumps. Their adoption of EVs has been painfully slow as they cling onto their €2bn annual revenues through carbon emissions, rather than adopting new standards and accepting the future is here. So we cannot rely on those vendors to provide infrastructure alone.

I think the conclusion here is that we're potentially stifling EV growth in Ireland as a result of infrastructure; something that is controllable by governments, local authorities and private companies. EVs are being sold, and represent upwards of 10% of new car sales with over 100% YoY growth in 2021. Providers, public and private, need to get real and we need to go big on this.

I won't dig into it here, it's a talk-track for a future day, but it's also worth noting that the more we adopt sustainable powering of these stations, the better we will be long-term. Ireland has infinite renewable resources with long summer days, winty winter days and an aggressive power-generating ocean to the left of us. Leaning in there to store and transfer energy into our national fleet, even using that fleet to run the grid to some extent would bring us from catch-up to innovation stages. And none of it is impossible, or even difficult. It just requires political willingness and real, big boy, investment.