Electrifying Everything: the EV Charging Network

The UK automobile industry wants to see 2.3 million publicly available electric car chargers installed in that country by 2030. 2030 is the magic date, because that is the year the UK will end the sale of gasoline / diesel powered vehicles. So an electric charging infrastructure will need to be in place.

2.3 million seems like a lot of chargers, doesn’t it? For comparison purposes, as of 2019 the UK had just over 8,300 filling stations. Even if you suppose that each filling station has 8 pumps, and that recharging an electric vehicle will take 4x longer than refilling a gasoline vehicle, you still only end up with about 256,000 public charge points needed.

The truth is that we have no idea how many chargers are actually needed. In this (now dated) EV charging behavior study 8,300 EV drivers were tracked over three years, and 6 million charge events. The data showed that over 80% of charging was performed at home, even when public chargers were made widely available. This is a completely different behavior to filling a car with gasoline. After all, with gasoline there is no option to fill at home!

Similar circumstances, 1900

In the year 1900 New York City had a population of 100,000 horses on the streets which produced 2.5 million pounds of manure per day that had to be constantly removed. The tonnes of dried and pulverized manure attracted a steady population of disease carrying pests, not to mention the ever present layer of manure stuck to shoes.

Over 40 horses also died each day, and these had to be removed as well. And finally, feeding and stabling 100,000 horses was, in itself, a massive logistics problem.

By 1912, automobiles outnumbered horses on the streets of New York, and by 1917 the last horse car was retired. And with that retirement, the industry that housed, fed, used, and cleaned-up after the horses also faded into history. Disease rates fell, air and water quality improved, carriage houses became first garages, and then later prime Manhattan real estate.

Today’s disruption

We don’t yet understand the consequences of electrifying everything. But we do know that broadly adopted technologies, like the horse and buggy and then the automobile, inevitably create infrastructure to support them. History has also taught us that the infrastructure to support one wave of innovation may not be required in the next.

Widespread adoption of electric automobiles will impact fueling stations, the businesses attached to those stations like restaurants, corner stores, and repair shops, and many others. It will likely drive the cost of electricity higher, at least temporarily, as generation capacity catches up. The adoption of electric vehicles will also drive urban planning / zoning as homes will need to be upgraded to have suitable service to accommodate the extra power draw, and will also need to have suitable high voltage service installed in garages. Electrifying everything will create opportunities, but also eliminate other business types.

And that brings us back to the UK auto industries 2.3 million chargers. The number of chargers needed is, in the words of the recently deceased Donald Rumsfeld, a “known unknown”. We don’t know how many chargers will actually be needed, but it’s going to be a lot. 2.3 million still seems excessive, but who really knows today?

What we can’t see yet are the unknown unknowns. Time will reveal them to us, as well as the opportunities.

By Alec

Nerd, entrepreneur, adventurer, father, and enthusiastic amateur photographer, blogger, baker and cook. Aspiring yogi. Lifelong learner. Lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the USA with Joanne, and the demanding feline Mr. Lucky Stripes.

Obligatory lawyer words: I'm just a climate nerd with an opinion. Although I work for Microsoft, please don't confuse my personal statements here with the company's official position.