To enable this transition, Scotland’s charging infrastructure must be significantly expanded to meet the estimated one million electric vehicles operating on Scotland’s roads by 2030.
For EV charging infrastructure – ranging from home wall-box charge points to public on-street charging stations and hubs used by fleet operators – to be effectively implemented, the sector has to be able to efficiently mobilise the required capital investment.
In January 2022, Scottish Net Zero Secretary Michael Matheson announced a £60m public electric vehicle infrastructure fund. It is important to put this announcement into context, with Transport Scotland’s Draft Vision for Scotland’s Public Electric Vehicle Charging Network noting the expansion of the public charging network between now and 2030 could require investment of up to £1bn.
Expanding Scotland’s charging infrastructure will require significant capital investment from both the public and private sector. To maximise access to capital, the market for charging infrastructure investment must create stable and sustainable returns.
Major energy firms are already investing in charging infrastructure. BP, Shell and TotalEnergies have all recently acquired independent EV charging networks and committed to significant expansion over the next decade.
The required expansion will also open the door to new players offering innovative operating models. At Shoosmiths, we are already seeing clients from other industries, from housebuilders to telecom providers, moving into the transport sector as EV charging becomes a complementary addition to their existing core businesses.
EV charging infrastructure can also generate broader value through the creation of smart charging systems – helping manage the impact on the National Grid due to the increase in fluctuating supply from renewables. This will see charging sessions match periods of low demand or surges in supply, as envisaged by the Electric Vehicles (Smart Charge Points) Regulations 2021, due to apply from June 2022.
There are still hurdles within the electric vehicle charging ecosystem that are creating inefficiencies for implementing projects and potentially hindering investment.
For example, the current financial model of government support for public charging infrastructure provides grants from Central Government to local authorities for use on projects with private partners. This requires each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities to have the available resources to manage the application process, develop expertise in relation to charging infrastructure projects and to build working relationships with private partners.
Whether this duplication is an efficient use of local authorities’ finite resources is open to debate.
When combined with the lack of standard planning guide requirements for EV charging infrastructure between local authorities, this complexity can impact the efficiency and scalability of charging infrastructure projects in Scotland.
At an industry level, greater technology standardisation is also required to avoid duplication of investment. We are already seeing a scenario where certain charger connection types are being phased out. This will impact existing charging infrastructure, with operators potentially having to invest capital to update, as opposed to increase the capacity of their network.
Scotland’s size and mix of urban and remote terrain also presents a geographical challenge for the efficient roll out of EV charging infrastructure.
According to ZapMap, Scotland has 9.8 per cent of the UK’s charging points by geographical area, behind only Greater London and the South East of England, which covers 77,910 km/sq compared to the 1,569 km/sq of Greater London.
It is important to highlight that geographical density, not just the number of charge points, of EV charging infrastructure will be key to mitigating ‘range anxiety’ – still prominent in consumer decisions whether or not to buy EVs. As a result, Scotland’s EV infrastructure model has to be flexible and incentivised to ensure rural and urban populations can adopt electric vehicles, safe in the knowledge that a charge point will never be too far away.
As 2030 nears, there are tremendous opportunities for expanding Scotland’s EV charging infrastructure. To realise its full potential, the Scottish Government and industry must work together to ensure the creation of an efficient, sustainable market that unlocks the significant capital required to put the infrastructure in place and ensure it’s commercially viable to operate.
Calum Stacey is a legal director (Commercial) at Shoosmiths in Scotland