A £1 billion fund designated for the expansion of an electric vehicle charging network remains inactive even after three years.
Over £1 billion intended for the development of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Britain has not yet been allocated, even though it was initially announced by Rishi Sunak over three years ago.
In March 2020, prior to the initial Covid lockdown, the “rapid charging fund” was promised by Sunak during his early weeks as Boris Johnson’s chancellor. The purpose of this fund was to aid in increasing the electrical capacity at motorway service stations, allowing for multiple electric cars to be quickly charged simultaneously.
The application process for the fund has not yet begun. Initially scheduled for late 2022, the pilot program was later rescheduled to spring 2023 and then to the current year’s summer season.
Last week, the government announced that there would be more delays as the transport minister, Jesse Norman, acknowledged to the House of Commons that they are still working on a pilot project, which will be launched at a later time. Sunak had previously faced criticism for retracting their net zero policies.
According to industry insiders, the pilot program may not start before Christmas. They also cautioned that this setback could potentially delay the remainder of the fund until after the upcoming general election, which is anticipated to take place next year.
Simon Williams, the policy director at the RAC, expressed his disappointment that the rapid charging fund is not yet operational. He also cautioned that the government may not fulfill their promise of having six high-powered chargers at every motorway service area in England by the end of 2023.
The RAC discovered in May that only 25% of 119 motorway services had the required amount of chargers, leading to doubts about the possibility of meeting the target.
“Motorists who are planning to travel beyond their vehicle’s driving range should have the reassurance that they can easily and efficiently recharge at designated locations. Failure to fulfill this promise could impede the progress towards widespread use of zero-emission vehicles.”
The goal of the rapid charging fund is to alleviate concerns about driving range and promote the use of fully electric vehicles. It aims to provide financial support for the installation of charging stations at service areas along motorways and major A roads in order to prepare for a future with all-electric car and van fleets.
This was a key element in Johnson’s 10-point proposal for a “green industrial revolution” that he revealed in late 2020. The government also pledged to implement an electric vehicle infrastructure strategy last year, with plans to pilot the program at specific sites in 2022 and fully launch it in 2023.
However, the fund has been under investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority for potential competition distortion among motorway service area operators. The final report was published in June. Companies have opposed suggestions to enhance competition by mandating two charge point operators at each motorway service that receives funding.
Labour’s shadow business minister, Bill Esterson, stated that the government’s efforts to support drivers are falling short. He emphasized that a functional charging network should be the minimum expectation for electric vehicle drivers, but the constant delays from ministers are hindering its progress.
While its purpose is to assist in the placement of charging points in areas where profitability is limited, certain companies argue that government funding may not always be essential.
Maurice Hochschild, the head of Osprey Charging, stated that his company may be interested in bidding for the funds, depending on the conditions. However, he also mentioned that the majority of the industry is not facing a shortage of funding due to the involvement of international energy companies and infrastructure funds.
“He expressed the belief that the money could be put to better use in other areas. From a taxpayer perspective, is it necessary? No, he does not believe so.”
On the other hand, some argue that backing is crucial in initiating funding for the highway system due to the increased expenses of establishing electricity infrastructure in far-flung regions where rest stops are commonly situated.
The CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Mike Hawes, stated that the funding for rapid charging is crucial in order to make necessary upgrades to the grid for a nationwide ultra-rapid charging network. He emphasized that further delays must be avoided in order to meet the goal of achieving net zero emissions.
A representative from the Department for Transport stated: “Although approximately 96% of motorway service areas currently have charging options, we are aware that the industry intends to add even more charging points in the next few months.”