The transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is taking place gradually in the UK and is dependent on the parallel development of charging infrastruc­ture. Fully electric vehicles accounted for over 16% of the new UK car market in 2023.

EV ownership is expected to grow significantly and will need a range of charging options

The Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate officially became law in Great Britain in January 2024. It states that by 2030 80% of all new cars and 70% of vans sold must be zero emission, increasing to 100% by 2035.

For charging infrastructure to effectively support the widespread uptake of EVs that is expected given this mandate, it needs to offer diverse options for charging. Charger technology must be placed in locations that will meet a variety of charging behaviours and be fit to serve all types of vehicles. This means looking beyond the total number of charging points installed to ensure the infrastructure is suitable for all users, which will encourage quicker uptake.

Home charging installation is on the increase

According to a Department for Transport (DfT) 2022 survey of electric and/or plug-in hybrid vehicle drivers, almost all respondents (93%) had access to home charging, with the majority of these charging their vehicle overnight. The government expects this behaviour to continue. DfT figures show that grants contributing to private residents’ costs of installing EV chargers at home had resulted in the installation of more than 340,000 domestic charging devices by January 2024.

The government is planning further support for the installation of charging points and other EV infrastructure, including offering grants to residential landlords, residential car parks (which could claim up to £30,000 or 75% off the cost), and owner-occupiers and renters of flats (grants of up to £350).

Energy companies are also taking action to support the effective use of EV charging, for example offering attractive charging tariffs at home and on the road, plus low prices for installing an EV charger. Other support includes the first ‘vehicle-to-grid’ tariff, offered by energy supplier Octopus, which rewards users that sign up to smart charging and discharging to the grid.

Charging on-street and at work premises is increasing

For those not able to charge at home because they do not have a
driveway, options include on-street charging or charging at public locations and places of work.

Alongside the more traditional on-street EV charging points, slower 5kW chargers can be installed directly onto street lampposts, suitable for rapid rollout to further increase access in residential areas. Some are already embedded in the city landscape, but according to a recent estimate there are 300,000 lamp posts in the UK suitable for chargers that are not yet utilised in this way. For businesses, the government’s Workplace Charging Scheme (WCS) contributes up to £350 to the upfront cost of purchasing and installing an EV charging point. As of January 2024, the WCS had funded the installation of more than 51,000 sockets in workplace carparks since the scheme started in 2016, with a significant increase in the installation rate over the past year.

Current infrastructure will meet most drivers’ needs, but distribution and usability of charging points will need to improve

As of April 2024, there were nearly 60,000 public EV charging devices available in the UK across nearly 33,000 locations. Nearly 12,000 of these are 50kW rapid chargers. Over the year to 2024 there was a 47% increase in public charging points installed.  

While there is uneven geographical distribution of charging points, good progress is being made on addressing this issue. For example, Wales has lagged behind in installing public charging devices but as of April 2024 its rate of charging devices per 100,000 population, at 82, was only slightly lower than the UK average of 89. Wales exceeds the UK average for rapid chargers, with nearly 18 per 100,000 population versus around 17 on average.

Currently, every class of vehicle has an electric option, and battery ranges reach almost 300 miles for the newest models. Innovations that have increased the energy density of batteries mean that EVs can now cover greater distances on a single charge. The average car journey in the UK is around just 8 miles and any EV with a range of 200 to 300 miles would easily fit most people’s lifestyle and driving behaviour. 

Drivers with longer distances to travel require facilities to charge while they are on the road network. Ultra-rapid chargers are already installed at many motorway services, and people are used to stopping at these for 15 to 20 minutes when driving long distances. The National Grid has identified that there is grid capacity to guarantee that no driver is further than 30 miles from ultra-rapid charging.

Some challenges remain, though proposals to address them are under discussion. These include the fact that currently VAT on electricity is charged at 20% for public charging but only at 5% for private charging, which penalises those who cannot charge at home. Further, there is a currently need to use specific apps to access preferential charges.  

More charging public charging points will undoubtedly be needed in future to support growth in EVs. However, the number and diversity of existing installations show that the charging infrastructure will be able to support a rapid transition to EVs.

Authors and contacts

This background briefing was written by Liana Cipcigan, Professor of Transport Electrification and Smart Grids, Cardiff University, with editing and review by Caterina Brandmayr, Georgina Kyriacou and Esin Serin.

It was produced as part of a UK-focused ‘myth-busting’ project between the LSE and Imperial College London Grantham Institutes. The series of ten explainers will be published as a single volume in spring 2024. The project is designed to deepen understanding of climate change action among current and prospective decision makers, the policy community and the public in the UK in the run-up to the 2024 general election.

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Read other essays in this series:

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How reliable is a renewables-dominated electricity system in comparison to one based on fossil fuels?

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Why should the UK take action on climate when it is responsible for only a relatively small fraction of today’s global emissions? (LSE)

How the transition to net zero will affect the UK economy (LSE)

What do times of economic hardship mean for the UK’s transition to net zero? (LSE)

What does more North Sea oil and gas mean for UK energy supply and net zero? (LSE)

How will climate policy impact the British public and what factors underpin support for climate action? (LSE)